Hey you! If you usually skip everything except the blog, please take a moment to browse through the new spring additions. Over the past two weeks I have updated the Must Read List, changed some formatting such is the nifty slide show on the home page and added some of my research. The research section has some of the projects I have worked on since coming to graduate school and my goal is to continually publish my writings here for easy access. I am really excited about these changes, spurred by a need to procrastinate on my thesis research but also a desire to continually improve my online presence and representation. Please let me know what you think!
On another spring cleaning note, I painted a wall in my apartment! Partly on a whim, but also because I had been considering how to make my little space more "me". It is just acrylic paint and I made up the pattern as I went. I highly recommend this little DIY to any one in need of a change inside to mirror the weather outside.
Today I spent 3 hours working on the phrasing of one question. Writing and rewriting. re-phrasing.
and again. write. rewrite.
The question is the first step to the thesis research project. What am I studying? More broadly, what am I doing here?
I understand why this is a regularly heard phrase in the graduate student lounge.
It is interesting to put a mover on a slow path. At times I feel like Brer Fox hitting the tar baby. Do you know what I mean?
By the end of the semester will I be covered in tar, startled and dumbfounded by my own stupidity and the pickle I have put my self in? Or am I in fact, Brer Rabbit who will look back on this struggle, even if my own struggle, with humor as I skip down with gregarious laughter.
Ironically this person who hates change has just learned that she is now in a self imposed process of continuous change.
I will end right here with this here quote:
"A research problem is motivated not be palpable unhappiness, but by incomplete knowledge or flawed understanding. You solve it not by changing the world but by understanding it better."
Today marks one month since uprooting, leaving everything I knew and moving to the Windy City. What a journey! All I can seem to come up when asked about the city life is "it sure is different!" Are you homesick? Of course, but mainly on Clemson football game days! Go tigers!
The month has flown by so fast that I have not had a moment to take pictures, much less recollect and analyze. Instead, I am going to give you a smorgasbord list of observations- some may seem obvious or a bit trivial. As with any blob, there is no order.
1. Drivers Honk here a lot! I still jump and look for the impending wreck every time. Down South honking is seen as rude, here is is just a normal method of communication.
2. It is always loud, partly due to above but also because the city is always in motion- that can be said for the people and the wind.
3. It is not true that everyone here only wears black but it is very prevalent, especially once the temps started to drop. My Southern style sensibilities have been commented on as a high fashion statement.
4. Chicago is a foodie heaven! From gourmet cupcakes to pizza pies and crazy grilled cheese sandwiches, you can find and eat it all! What pics I have taken have all been of food. (shameless plug: check out my Instagram on the right bar)
5. Lots of walking does not mean practical shoes. The true Chicagonista takes her miles in heels. Bonus: You burn off the above food with so much walking!
6. Diversity is my favorite. Coming from their own societal experiences, the people in my classes argue that there are no defined identity labels anymore. I would not agree in terms of the structure of my home state but in this city, full of people from every conceived background, that could be possible. Diversity makes people-watching exponentially better.
7. Christianity is still at work in this city; Bible Belt, you were wrong! The North's temperature may be cold but the people's hearts are not.
8. Chicago has a great selection of hats. This makes my heart (& head) so happy! Only a true old soul would understand. Basically I have take it upon myself to bring Sunday morning hats back into the foreground of finery.
9. Tall buildings make me feel like I live in a doll house. Or perhaps a movie set. I have no explanation for this but at least I can wear a fun hat to represent my mentality.
10. The only things Chicago needs: Sweet tea, Zaxbys, and buttery biscuits.
Here's to Month Two! May it be full of memories and hopefully accompanying photo documentation!
Without the customary selfie, many may have missed the start of this new chapter, Graduate School. I am attending the School of the Art institute of Chicago for a Masters in Art Education. This first week was a whirlwind of syllabi, google mapping, excruciatingly long readings and the return of personal insecurities. Will I make friends? Can everyone tell I'm lost and clueless? Am I smart enough, creative enough... good enough? As a graduate student, everyone assumes you have it all together: that you know the campus, the customs, the ins and outs. In reality, we are all new to this like any freshman.
Day 1 was marked by a bubbly undergrad orientation leader coming over to me as I quickly ate lunch.
"Are you a freshman," she asked eagerly, expecting a new mentee.
"No. I am a graduate student," the crisp air and disdain coated my voice.
Even still, she insisted on walking me to class because I must have appeared quite lost ( I wasn't actually at that moment).
I walked towards my art history course with comfort in the familiarity. It was a survey course and my 8th in the long string of college level Art History courses. It should be a cake walk! The first discussion left me intimidated and bewildered but with a revived competitiveness. (I can now say the second class was much better!) It is interesting how a difficult situation often makes humans just work harder, we have a drive to be the best for better or for worst.
In this new academia world, full of art people, creative thinkers and individuals, the typically stand outs are just one of the blur. Pink hair is the norm. I have seen more man buns this week then I care to take account of. I find myself grasping and holding onto my identity with everything I do, say or wear. I am one of the minority: I am southern, I am a practicing Protestant Christian, and I am on the conservative side of the spectrum and I am proud. I find myself asking many questions about my personal identity and identity in general. Should I immerse myself in the dress and look in order to experience and immerse myself in urban culture? Are my traditions hindering me? Is it bad that I refuse to change? Will the new location alter my identity significantly even if only a 2 year excursion after 22 other formative years? What are other peoples identities around me? How do we relate?
The introspection and focus on identity is an aspect of graduate school I did not expect. It is another way in which grad life is about balance.
In the art ed program we have begun to look at culture and identity as a way to understand a community and be able to relate to them. You must understand people and build trust in order to teach them. In the same way, I think you must understand where your teacher and peers are coming from to build respect and be able to learn.
This is one of the beauties of art education. Through art you can communicate and put a piece of yourself out for the world the see. You self-reflect, become vulnerable, grow and learn through the creative process. As an art teacher, I hope to instill the importance of self reflection and the drive to make in my students in hopes that it will build confidence and problem solving, skills that go much farther than the classroom. I am realizing that my observation and experiences as a student, even at the graduate level, will inform my habits and understandings as a teacher.
Over the past couple of weeks I have learned a whole lot about teaching and leading in a classroom setting. My classes are 3 hours for 5 days and how I fill that time is completely up to me. Woah, that is a lot of freedom and responsibility...
I teach with one main goal that my students are creative, expressive and make something they are proud of. I like to allow for choices and freedom which may mean they face obstacles and mistakes. They may get upset, with me or themselves or the silly tiny piece of wire that just won't bend the right way. Then they figure it out. It is that shining, spectacular light bulb moment that I teach for.
Balance is the little piece of wire I have been struggling with all summer. I want to find the perfect balance between freedom and direction. I like to give demonstrations and guidelines but that can also limit my students' creativity because then they will simply copy what I am doing. They will probably mimic me perfectly without mistakes and then no light bulb moment. Where is the creativity in that? On the other hand if I give my students complete and total free reign, my classroom will turn into a chaotic war zone, glue, wire and paint flying everywhere. They will not be able to focus on one thing that they could learn and grow from, so again no Ah Ha moment.
I have turned to simple demonstrations followed with free make time to find a pretty good balance (pretty good, as in nothing is ever perfect. I am only human). At the beginning of the class I outline the project, give an example and show them the techniques they need to know. Then I always give some suggestions on how they can explore the material and personalize their work. Then its Go time! You can see the knobs and wheels turning in their heads as their tiny fingers start moving and the room gets quite. The quite never lasts but hopefully their drive and focus on making something they are proud of does.
God is our great teacher. No I am not comparing myself to God in my classroom. Not even close because God is perfect, with never ending patience and mercy. He gives us free will to make and do things which sometimes means we run into obstacles because we make mistakes and this world is not perfect (that is an understatement. Have you seen the news lately?).
Life is tough, sometimes I wish that God had just not given me so much free will and that I just mimicked him and did everything perfectly all the time. But free will is love. Love is God watching His children make giant messes until they fix the problem and experience the light bulb moment. No free will would mean no light bulb moment and no personality or individuality. That would be pretty boring and sad. Our Heavenly Father is the great teacher who is with us always, guiding and supporting us so that we can be the best we can be and make something we are proud of. He also gave us a demonstration on how to live in the world, that demos name was Jesus. He was flesh but also perfect and holy. He loved without boundaries and was selfless and humble even when surrounded by temptation. Like any good demonstration it shows us the end product goal, shows us how to get there and then lets us go and create!
This summer I am teaching various art classes at the Clemson Arts Center. When I decided to take the job, I realized in a logical manner that it would be new (not Camp) and so would be a learning experience. I did not realize how much, until four bubbly four year olds ran into my class room the first day. Here is a summary of the week: screaming, running, messes, stick on gemstones, and ninja masks. My kids sometimes like coloring more than anything, other times would not even pick out a piece of paper. Pretending to be puppies, complete with playing fetch with pipe cleaners and hiding under tables was an average day in my class. Lets just call it performance art. That was just week one.
Honestly, this week (week 2!) has not been much different, except different names and I am much better prepared. I have a new found patience for rhinestones stuck in the cracks of my Chacos and spilt paint-water drills. I also learned a bit more about collaboration. It is just as important and beautiful at age four as it is in university studios. Yesterday, we invented our own food like Dr. Seuss using construction paper and markers. But honestly the assignment became limitless. One girl wanted pizza, so then everyone was drawing pizza, which turned into flower pizza, plus a boot, which transformed into spaghetti with a side of green milk, maybe a bit of pink and purple ice-cream for dessert. What about PINK and PURPLE Spaghetti!? another giggled. All of which evolved into spaghetti soup on my lone boys plate. Wow what a full meal... and day. Wait. That was only 18 mins.
These two weeks in the preschool class have been exhausting, exciting and eye opening. I love watching the exploration of each one of my cuties as they learn how to use scissors and begin realizing that they too have the imagination and capabilities to do great things! My next class will be with 10 plus stars and will likely present new and different challenges.
To teach is to learn twice! -Jim Gensheer, shout out to one of my fav teachers and his favorite saying.
It is week four here in the world of senior studio II. You may be wondering what I have been up to for the past four weeks? What have I been making? (if not, just humor me). Week four is the week before week 5 meaning I am making lots of messes and cramming in some firings before the big ol' 5 week reviews!
This semester I am going in a new direction, taking pieces of all my other directions and making a somewhat cohesive path. But before I get to the making, I have to do a bunch f tests. This is the part most people do not see or know about ceramics, it is completely behind the scenes and actually kind of systematic like an actual lab. I have tested three things: clay bodies, colored slips, and glazes.
Like any good nerd, I did my research on different types of porcelain clay bodies that are good for casting. There are thousands since artists have been making their own porcelain recipes since the BC Chinese dynasties. I picked four to mix up, cast and fire. In the firing I tested shrinkage, slump and transparency, all characteristics that will be important when actually making pieces.
After examining the tests and altering the recipes a touch more, I chose a Makins Porcelain with both Custer Feldspar and Nepheline Syenite. It was a balance between a pure white and little slump (the whiter clays , slump and sag more than the less pure ones).
For this series of work I am using colored slips for the stained glass like surface patterning. Slip can be colored by minerals or commercial mason stains, I am using mason stains because it is more consistent. I wanted to be very specific with my colors so I tested each possible mason stain at a gradient of percentages and then fired them. The porcelain test cookies were adorable and made for good instagram shots. Drumroll please, the chosen mason stains are: Bordeaux red at 13%, Vanadium yellow at 6%, Sky blue at 10% and taupe at 5%. Give a round of applause to exact measuring, a handful of dirt and a touch of time!
The last step to any ceramic piece is the glaze but to have enough information to pick the very best glaze, ceramic artists make glaze test tiles first. For this semesters project I wanted a glossy clear glaze that had a touch of gold where it pooled. I made a bunch of tests yesterday and pulled them out of the kiln today. I have picked a whiting base clear glaze with 1% iron (a yellow colorant).
Now that all the tests are complete, I am at a point where I can actually make work. Planning and prep is boring but so important to an artist, even though no one sees it when they walk through a gallery or drink coffee out of a well crafted mug.
This weekend I am representing the Clemson University Visual Arts Department at Artisphere, which as an arts festival in Greenville, SC. I have recently learned that it is one of the top arts festivals in the nation, so I can not believe I have never been to it or really even heard of it before. The event is full of performances, artists and educational opportunities for kids plus its super fun. The list of all the wonderfully talented artists can be found here. Today, I was reminded of how helpful and supportive the arts community is. I had the chance to talk to many ceramics artists about what they do, the materials they use and how they do what they do. I learned about some new clay bodies from Larry Allen and I talked to Pat McCaffrey about classes at Penland. I also talked to artists working in other mediums such as Amber Marshall who works with glass and Lisa Morris who uses old sewing patterns to create beautiful drawings. It is always refreshing and a burst of inspiration when I am able to see and learn about the work of so many innovative artists firsthand. I highly recommend for everyone to check Artisphere out even if you do not consider yourself an artist, it will still be interesting and educational. If you have kids, they will enjoy it too! This years event has one more day, tomorrow, but there is always next year so put it on your bucket list!
Above is a picture of Brent teaching a future artist about clay and the wheel. It was great opportunity to educate the community about my favorite thing, clay! We had a large audience, ranging from the littlest artists to the saintly seniors, and everyone had a variety of questions for us to answer and ponder upon. Though demo-ing for two days straight (about to be 3) is exhausting, it was definitely worth it!