Friday, March 16, 2018

the one about memory

One of my favorite albums is "Green" by what is likely my all time favorite band, REM.  I played my really old CD in so many different cars, dragging it to college twice and otherwise treating it rough, giving it a few serious scars.  The scars didn't become a problem until I copied all my music to iTunes several years ago.  "Green" copied but only one song would play.  My favorite song on the album wasn't there.  I've been without it for years.  ("You Are The Everything" look it up.)

I found a few copies at used record stores and checked them.  All scratched.  A few weeks ago I found one that wasn't scratched and snatched it up.  Back home I discovered it wouldn't copy to iTunes.  Ugh.  I so wanted to have the physical copy of the album instead of a soul-less digital download but I'm at my wits end.  

I saw REM in concert in August of 1999.  I'll admit to being a bit of a concert snob.  I want to see live music in small venues.  I don't want to pay a mortgage payment to see an hour of music and when I do see the music I want to actually be able to see it.  With my eyes, not on a big screen beside the stage.  By the time I got into REM in high school, they were already a stadium band.  The concert in 1999 was a big deal though.  Bill Berry, one of the founding members of the band had recently quit the band to spend time on his farm in Georgia.  The band opted to get guest drummers to fill in and continue on.  This concert though, was going to be a hometown show.  Atlanta was just a short drive from Athens where the band first met and from Berry's farm.  Everyone assumed he would be there.  Everyone hoped he would play a couple of songs with them.  

I was thinking about this concert last week.  August of 1999 was a long time ago.  I had just started grad school and was basically going to have to stay up all night to make the concert and still be at work and school the next day.  I remember being very tired.  I also remember Bill Berry being at the concert.  There was a crazy bunch of hoodlums as the opening act.  They all wore costumes and rubber masks.  When REM started playing they kept mentioning Berry and dedicating songs to him.  They kept looking backstage which made everyone think he was there and was on the verge of coming out to play.  In my memory, he came out to a standing ovation, waved shyly and then sat in on the drums for a couple of songs.  

But what actually happened was he came out to a standing ovation, waved shyly and then ducked backstage, never to be seen again.  And I'm sure about this.  Luckily for me and my memory, there are people dedicated enough to journal these things and post them on the interwebs.

I understand that what I remember is what I want to remember.  It's what I wanted to be true.  I saw it in my mind well enough for it to register as a memory.  I can see him taking his place behind the drum kit right now.  It's just that it never happened.  

I've been thinking about this all week.  I've got a lot of stories in my head.  My dad told great stories to us when we were growing up.  I had a pretty fun childhood and some crazy friends so I've got a few stories of my own.  What's going to happen to them?  

Sometimes we'll be doing something with the kids and a story will pop into my head.  If it's appropriate, I'll tell the story to the kids.  They'll laugh and giggle and ask me to tell it again and again.  Every once in a while I get this weird feeling as we're sharing a story.  I feel it like it's my dad sharing the story with me.  I remember what that felt like as a kid and how it bound us together.  On this side of parenthood I now see it as a way of living on through your children.  When I'm no longer telling stories, my kids will be driving their kids somewhere and they'll remember the story about some midnight teenage shenanigans their dad may or may not have been involved in and they'll share that story with their family.  

And Bill Berry not playing the drums that night has me thinking that it might be a good idea to record these stories somewhere for safe keeping.  I mean, the details are important.  There's a big difference between the founding member playing a song and not playing a song.  If I had kidnapped a life sized concrete dog sculpture and painted it garnet, I wouldn't want time and hazy memory to turn that color to blue.  It would lose the whole Clemson/Carolina angle of the story, you know?  That was a hypothetical situation.  I would never steal or vandalize Kenny McDowell's Dalmatian lawn ornament.  That would be wrong.  But if I did, I'd want someone to tell it right.

I'm going to have to find a way to document some stories.  Maybe I'll tell more to Blue and Violet.  Maybe I'll post some here.  Maybe the sketchbook will have to catch the ones that are not age appropriate or suitable for public consumption.

But Bill Berry was there.  He didn't play but he was there.  The concert was really good, the seats were good and Michael Stipe looked just like me.  He still does.  You can Google it.

A postscript for any students reading:  In August of 1999 I was working full time and attending graduate school.  The concert was on a weeknight.  I drove 4 hours to Atlanta, saw the show, drove 4 hours back, slept an hour or so and was at work at 6am the next morning.  After work I drove 1.5 hours to school and never missed a minute of class.  That's how you concert.  Take note.

A postscript for anyone old enough to appreciate it:  There was an amateur band handing out demo cassette tapes at the exits of the concert.  That band was Train.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

museum shenanigans

Last Friday was College Art Day at the SC State Museum in Columbia.  Art Departments from colleges and universities all over the state set up tables at this event and provide information to several bus loads of high school art students from the midlands area.  The cool thing about this recruiting opportunity is that it is student led.  The museum asks that students from each department be present to talk to prospective students.  I'm the faculty volunteer and this usually means I carry the box into the building.  

 Once the box is carried inside, the students take over and set up the table to their own specifications.  This year we had Katherine (The Gazelle), Sabrina (Captain Side Eye) and Jamea (J-J-J-Jamea) as our student representatives.  

 When I first started doing these recruiting events for Lander years ago, no one had ever heard of us.  If anyone had heard of the university, they had no idea we had an art department.  This was high school students, parents and even some high school teachers.  But thanks to some creative swag and some good publicity over the years, now we get swarmed when the students arrive.

 Students and teachers alike come to see what kind of stuff we're giving away this year.  And once the swag brings them over, our student reps engage them with personality and win them over.  Some of these high school students come every year and we know them by name.  They've known for years they were going to apply to Lander.  It's great.  You may also notice in the photos the empty tables in the background.  Universities who don't bring students, don't have good swag and lack in the personality department....they don't exactly bring the kids to the yard.  

 I'm just there to have fun.  And stack cups to the ceiling.  Being fun is the key.

Don't get me wrong, this is a lot of work.  I get out easy and I still have to register everyone, organize lunch orders, convince students to go and put in a long Friday of being social.  The student reps miss a day of classes and have to make up work.  This is also the Friday before spring break for us so they have to put off leaving a day early for break and drive to Columbia before heading home.  They get up way earlier than usual for this and they have to put up with me all day!  To reward this extra work, we try to make it as fun as possible.

 After the high school students head back to their buses and we pack up our table, we get to enjoy the museum for free.  There's always a good art exhibit to coincide with College Art Day.  This year it was the 50th Anniversary Exhibit of the State Art Collection.  There was a Jim Arendt.

 And a Tom Stanley.

 And a lot of other cool stuff.  Oh, and Armir, fresh back in the country from active duty in the Air Force, joined us to hang out most of the day.

 This very small sculpture won us over.  We spent a lot of time trying to figure it out.

 The regular museum exhibits are also pretty fun.  Especially when you're a bunch of goofballs.

 Our curiosity led us to the top floor where we could see a lady working on the big telescope.  She motioned for us to come inside and she showed us the surface of the sun on a computer monitor.  The telescope showed some cool activity on the surface.  You could see gas eruptions coming off of the surface.  It was very cool.

 We also got to see the Leo Twiggs exhibit "Requiem For Mother Emanuel".

 A couple of years ago 9 people were killed inside Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston.  The person responsible doesn't deserve any recognition but I mention this person only because this series of batik paintings follows the progression of emotions from immediate horror to complete forgiveness.  This person worked out of hatred but may have accidentally done more for racial peace in our state than any activist.  

 This piece by a different artist was just outside the exhibit.  It may have been as moving as the other 9 paintings.  My students moved through this one quickly and didn't want to discuss it.  I had some ideas about the exhibit before I saw it in person and I have some ideas now.  We could discuss over coffee sometime.

 Once we were all museum-ed out, we headed out for an early dinner in town.  I let the students pick the restaurant, but we made a quick stop at Publix to get a red velvet cake personalized for Sabrina.  She's having a birthday over spring break and she failed to come by the sculpture studio for the traditional, non-edible sculpture cake.

 So we surprised her with a personalized cake after dinner, complete with a poor rendition of "Happy Birthday".  

After dinner and cake, Armir told us we had to try "Insomnia Cookies".  None of us had heard of it so he navigated us across town and we got a dozen cookies, mostly to take home to my kids because we were all stuffed.  The cookies ended up being free which was really cool of them.  Apparently you can order them online so go to and support these nice people.  

After that it was time to drive through Columbia's notorious rush hour traffic to officially begin our spring break.  

Monday, March 5, 2018

plaster disaster

Disaster is not the correct word, it just rhymed.  It's more like a "plaster evil master plan" or as my freshmen students call it, "project 2".  With the horrors of "project 1" building their character and with me asking ridiculous questions and engaging them in odd conversations, each of my ART 106 (3D Design) classes is developing it's own personality.  While students come into this second semester class generally knowing who their peers are, in this new class they may really only know a couple of people.  And they have no idea what to think about me.  They've heard things about me and my classes.  They've been warned about my projects.  They've received an entire semester's worth of weekly emails inviting them to slog with us.  

Studio art students need to learn to work in community and learn to take full advantage of the studio environment.  They need to learn to work together and help each other out.  That's where the plaster project comes in.  It's my favorite - mostly because of plaster pouring day and how that changes the entire group.  I wont bore you with the details but I will share the juicy photos...

 I forgot to get a "before" photo of the MWF class.  But this is what happened about 2 minutes into plaster pouring day.  The plaster leaked out of the mold faster than I could pour it in.

 The gushing plaster brought every available hand in to put pressure on the leaks.  The idea is that slowing the leak will give the plaster time to start to set up.  It's a good theory.

 I almost remembered the "before" photo for the morning TR class.  This is half of them.  The other half were frantically duct taping their forms in the other room, racing against a ticking clock and a shouting McAbee.  Notice how clean they are?

 30 seconds later....

 30 seconds later.  The puddle of plaster just kept growing.  That's why the plastic is there.  With everyone trying to apply pressure and keep the plaster on the plastic, it quickly becomes a messy game of Twister.

 I am not a fan of pink duct tape.  It annoys me in general.  But with rainbows and unicorns on it...I gave in and loved it.

 Look at the expression on Grace's face.  At this point, she had totally given up hope and started laughing pretty much non-stop.  She has a really good snort when she laughs.

 And check out Katherine's expression.  This is exactly how I feel about plaster pouring day.  I know there are students who hate it because it's messy and because their project explodes, but everyone has a good time.  It's pretty much the best class ever.

 An aerial view of the madness.

 Check out Rashad's shoe protectors.  Plastic bags tied over the Jordans.  Classic!  Also, yes, there's a naked mannequin on the sculpture studio.  It's a project.

 And this is the "after" photo.  I was a little late taking it and lost a few people to the next class but they all looked similar.  Those are the faces of survivors.  Joy, sadness, regret mixed with a healthy dose of relief.  These are changed people.

 This is as close as I got to a "before" photo of the TR afternoon class.  First pour, first leak.  That's Emily in the background.  Students from previous years always enjoy coming back on plaster day to watch the show.  At one point we had more people watching from the sidelines than we had in the actual class.

 I enjoy observing people as you may know.  I love to watch the faces of the students during the pouring.  While 6 of these students are jumping in to help the one student whose mold we are pouring, they are laughing nervously.  You can almost watch the exact moment when they process this information and realize that their own mold is going to leak like a screen door.  That's a very entertaining moment for me.  

 You also get to see how far a student is willing to go to save their project.  Cali had way too many seams and she knew hers was a time bomb.  She sacrificed herself and wrapped her entire body around her mold to hold it together.  It may have been a little awkward but it worked.

 But the teamwork is the best.  They all jump in and help each other.  They suffer together and grow closer.  They also beg the peanut gallery for help and mean people like Ricardo laugh hysterically at them and say no.

 Hannah thought hers was built to last.  There were only a couple of minor leaks on the first pour.  But then gravity raised it's ugly head.  That's what happens when you believe in gravity.  

 This is the exact moment Kelsey gave up on life.  Nah, hers filled up eventually just like all the others.  

Then the clean up began.  3 classes poured, 31 students or so.  We went through a lot of plaster and made a huge mess.  When the relief and exhaustion set in, Yessica started free styling some clean up raps.  It was hilarious and painful.  Let's just say she likes to rhyme words with the exact same word.  Here's a line from her new album dropping soon, "My name is Cali and I like to mop, I made a mess and I cleaned it up with a mop."  Poetry.

After spring break they'll turn these plaster forms into well-thought-out, very effective compositions.  They'll know how to wipe their feet effectively before exiting the studio.  They'll have a pretty good idea their professor is evil.  And they'll have a shared experience that will help them in untold ways for the next 3 years.  

Monday, February 26, 2018

awkwardly trying to take a photo of myself

My Instagram account exists in an awkward place.  Somewhere between artist, runner, hiker, professor, dad, husband, dog-lover, semi-professional eater and beach bum.  I see people on Instagram every day who have entire accounts dedicated to any one of these endeavors.  Some of my hiking friends only post hiking photos.  Some friends only post about food.  My running people may be the worst offenders in this regard, only posting running related photos every single day.  I'm not complaining.  In fact, I get why people do this.  Many of my running friends have separate accounts for their personal life where they only allow friends and family to follow.  A privacy thing.  They're active in the running community and have tons of running friends who scroll through only looking to find running pics and information.  Same with the foodies, the hikers and the mom/dad bloggers.

Sometimes I wonder what the heck people think when they find my Instagram account.  If you've seen it, you know it's a mess over there.  I don't have time to switch back and forth between accounts and I'm probably not smart enough to keep the two separate anyway.  Lord knows I couldn't keep a different account for all of my different interests.  I'd need one just for the dead animals and skeletons I find.  One just for waffles.  One for ice cream.  One for making fun of my students.  One for each of our 2.5 dogs.  One for my beard.  One for my running shoes.  Oh and one for fashion...white t-shirts and jeans.

So I have the one account where you'll find pics of whatever I'm into at the moment.  But of all the things there, you just won't find that many selfies.  I guess there are some, but you won't scroll through my account and see just my face.  This is part of the awkwardness.   I have a lot of running connections on IG and many of those accounts consist of selfies or photos of the runner (perhaps taken by a spouse?) with the running information (distance, pace, time, etc).  These are fit people, so I guess that's part of it.  They've worked to sculpt their bodies and maybe they're proud.  Or maybe they know they're interacting with an audience that is global and it helps to put a face with the persona.  It does help.  I've made some really good friends on IG that I've discovered through running.  

But I'm also an artist and artists, at least the ones my age, don't post many selfies.  I think there was a class in grad school that prepared us to openly mock the frequent use of selfies.  Of course, self portraits are ok.  As long as it's art.  That was sarcasm.  But there is something about our type that wants to make fun of the constant selfie-er.

Then there are students.  One of my favorite things about IG is that it allows me to keep in touch with students after they graduate.  I've connected with students from 15 years ago this way and I get to see them have amazing careers and children and it's fun to see their success.  I also have students on IG who just met me this semester.  This is another way to get to know them.  Students, past and present, are the best at selfies.  This is a fact I'm learning just now.  

A week ago Mia visited us at school.  She's a super person and she was my student worker for a while.  We were tight.  Before she left I grabbed my phone and snapped a quick selfie of us.  Mia smiled and looked like she was in a photoshoot.  I smiled and looked like I recently crawled out from under an overpass.  

I'll also attempt the selfie with the family when we are hiking or goofing around outside.  Each photo looks like the perfect little family with G and the kids looking like they're in a magazine and I look like the swatty toothed madman photobombing.  

Whatever skills everyone else has when it comes to the selfie, I don't have them.  I look wrinkly, hunched over, and more than a little insane.  I know there are actual skills involved in the good selfie.  There's a way you can tilt your head and position your body that is most flattering.  Maybe you have a good side and you know what side that is, so you make sure your face is angled appropriately.  I think G even told me that you're supposed to push your chin out toward the camera for something.  But when I see a camera pointed at me, I spend all my time just figuring out where I'm supposed to be looking and maybe trying not to blink.  That's all I've got.  Who has time for all that other stuff?  

Last Saturday I participated in a virtual run with an Instagram friend who also has a blog (  To participate, you were asked to run at a particular time and email a photo of you on your run and your run info when you were finished.  Running was easy compared to taking that photo.  I have no idea how other runners do it but all I could figure out was to prop my phone up and set the timer.  That wasn't that tough but once I tapped the button I had no idea what to do.  Full body or face?  What do I do with my hands?  What's the least ridiculous pose I could have?  How straight can I make my back without looking oddly uncomfortable?  Eventually I realized how ridiculous it all was and just took a couple of different choices and made G pick the least goofy one.  She thought they were all goofy, by the way.  This was the one she picked...

Pretty sure she picked it because I was so small it was hard to see me.  She loves me.

If you take a good selfie, my hat is off to you.  You possess skills I do not possess.  Post away my friends.  Maybe you'll teach me something.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

a love story

Do y'all have a Waffle House restaurant where you are?  Google says they're in 25 states in the US.  I know they started in Georgia, so I'm not sure if it's mostly a southern US thing or if it's an east coast thing or what.  If you have a Waffle House near you or if you've ever had the joy of eating in one, this will be a funny story.  If not, I guess you just need to know that Waffle House is a roadside diner/greasy spoon.  While the word "waffle" is in the name, I lived half my life before I witnessed anyone actually ordering a waffle in the restaurant.  When they did, I laughed out loud.  They specialize in breakfast plates, heavy on the grease and they used to brag that they sold more steaks than any other restaurant (think thin, flat and tough).  They're usually plopped beside almost every other interstate offramp and it's the kind of place you can expect to be called "honey", "sugar", "sweetie" or some other syrupy knickname while you're inside.  It's a dinner and a show kind of place, but the show is free.  One time years ago, our waitress told us the story of how she stabbed her ex husband while she served us and called us "sweetie".  

If you're unclear, we love it.  The food may not be healthy, but we love it.  And you know how we love to people watch.  In fact, the Waffle House is an important part of our family Christmas tradition.  They're open 24/7, 365.  

A couple of years back I remember walking out of our local Waffle House and seeing a pink piece of paper advertising a special Valentine's Day special and inviting customers to make plans to bring their date to the Waffle House.  I pointed it out and laughed with G about it.  Back in high school, the ironic kids would take their dates to the Waffle House to be funny and cool.  I assumed no one, ever, in the history of mankind would have taken their date to the Waffle House on purpose, for real.  

G and I don't really do anything big for Valentine's Day.  We've been married 20-something years and we're pretty much over it.  After about 10 years we stopped buying into the nonsense and started spending money like semi-responsible people.  This meant no more overpriced roses.  Grocery store roses or tulips were more economical and tulips could be planted.  G would rather have a pack of Hershey bars than any of the finest chocolates from Belgium anyway.  And once kids came along, we pretty much had constant 3rd and 4th wheels on our Valentine's dates.  

So last Wednesday on the 14th, G was tired and not in the mood to cook.  We considered our limited local options for food and quickly settled on Waffle House, figuring the other places could be more crowded for dinner on a big date night.  We rolled up one interstate exit and when we rounded the corner past the trees we saw the small parking lot full of cars.  That's when we remembered the little pink paper from a couple of years ago.   As we turned in and looked for a parking space, G and the kids were already running through a list of alternative restaurants.  But it was too late, I was interested.

The blinds were pulled down making it appear dark inside.  There were hearts and decorations all over the windows.  The place was packed and the people inside were dressed up.  No one dresses up for Waffle House.  The manager was inside with a black suit and his kid was working as the doorman also wearing a suit.  This was awesome.  I had to go inside.  I pulled the seatbelt off and looked at G.  She said, we're not waiting forever just to eat at Waffle House.  I argued we wouldn't have to wait long because there was only one family waiting in front of us.  She said, "We don't have reservations."  I laughed so hard.  The very idea of getting reservations to eat at Waffle House is still hilarious.  I was still laughing as the little kid opened the door and asked if I'd be dining with them this evening.  All I could think to say was "Look at you!".

I walked in and the manager approached me with a smile.  "Happy Valentine's Day, Sir!  Do you have a reservation?"

I didn't laugh in his face.  But I did laugh.  But y'all, all the lights were covered with pink paper for romantic lighting.  There were pink and white tablecloths on all the tables.  There was a red and white Christmas tree in the corner with red hearts hanging all over it.  There was a photobooth set up for couples.  I was going to eat there so I could take it all in.  

We waited about 15 minutes to sit down.  Without a doubt this is the longest I've ever waited to eat at a Waffle House.  Heck, I've had entire dining experiences there that didn't last that long.  But we waited and watched people.  People seemed to be eating salads, which we didn't know Waffle House served.  Some were getting desserts.  When couples would finish eating, the manager would walk them over to the backdrop and take their photo with one of those hipster instamatic cameras.  There was a youth group from a church.  There were several white haired couples.  There was a young couple who seemed just as surprised as us.  But everyone was smiling, laughing and happy.  

We were seated at the lower counter in four consecutive stools.  There was a white plastic tablecloth with lace hearts glued on it.  There was a candle romantically flickering for about 10 seconds before Blue blew it out.  They handed us special menus with salads, steaks and desserts.  Of course we opted for the traditional greasy breakfast but it was every bit as enjoyable as anything else.  With counter seats it's easier to watch the show as you overlook the open kitchen.  One of the waitresses and one of the cooks had a secret thing going on.  There were a couple of low key touches and brushes as they passed.  Not sure if this was a secret from the manager, so don't tell on them.  It seemed appropriate for the day.

The cool thing was, everyone was so happy.  It was like we were all in on the joke and no one was really the butt of the joke.  Waffle House knew it was quirky and weird and they went all in on it.  The patrons knew it was goofy and they dressed up and held hands and played it up.  Everyone was winning.  It was so great.  This was marketing genius.  This restaurant that truly suffered on one particular night of the year developed a goofball idea to bring in customers and it worked.  I was so proud of them!

When we got up to pay, we got the whole family in front of the backdrop for the instant photo.

The manager thanked us for coming and handed us our photo and we laughed all the way home.

Also, I bought G a pack of Hershey bars, so we're good.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

my brain is mushy

I've got critique brain.

If you don't teach studio art classes at the college level, that may not mean much to you.  What I mean is, in the last 24 hours I've critically analyzed and thoroughly discussed 30 projects in a critique setting.  

Critiques are fearsome events.  Students dread them for weeks.  This is the time when an art student turns in a project they've worked on for many weeks.  They've invested blood, sweat and tears to create what they hope is their newest masterpiece.  Then we gather as a class and look at each project one at a time.  The student artist will explain what they've done and how they've used the elements and principles of design to create an effective composition.  This is the manipulation of space that causes the viewer to want to look at the work of art.  The behind the scenes magic that designers use to influence your actions on large and small scales.  Once the design is presented, the group then provides feedback and analysis, breaking down each and every part of the design.  They make judgments based on visual evidence and suggest ways to make the designs more effective.  If there's a conceptual problem involved, the success or failure to communicate the concept is also discussed at length.  When all of the formal and conceptual qualities have been sufficiently analyzed and discussed, we move on to the next student's work.  

This can be a treacherous process for students.  After spending so much time creating your design, it can be difficult to separate yourself from the work of art.  Any negative comment about the work can sting on a personal level.  There can be frustration, anger and many, many tears.  Sometimes a student will be overcome with emotion and quietly leave the room in order to shed their tears in the privacy of the hallway or the bathroom.  Less often, the tears fall on the studio floor.  On the really interesting days, students can become offended and lash out at each other's artwork in personal ways.  While this act can be funny to me, I do try to stomp out those flames when they appear as this is not a helpful or professional characteristic of critique. 

The student is not completely off the hook after presenting their design and emotionally surviving the feedback.  Students are also expected to provide analysis and feedback to their peers.  Some offer more observations and feedback than others and their critique grades will reflect this participation.  

However frightful and energy depleting this may be for the students, I will argue that the teachers must give even more energy to the process. 

Let's take a second.  All my students just slammed their laptops down, tossed their phones across the room and whispered an obscenity as they left.

If you're still here, consider the plight of the studio art teacher in this process.  There's the obvious participation in the critique, of course.  We stand there in front of the work and break it down into the most basic components just like the students do.  We follow along, trying to understand each perspective offered and each suggestion, fact checking as we go in case someone is off base.  If so, we offer correction and keep things moving.  Then, when the students are finished talking about an individual work of art, the teacher speaks up to offer the more definitive feedback.  We take all the evidence into consideration and more or less offer a judgment for or against the work of art.  Then, taking it further, we may offer observation and feedback on the student's work ethic, attitude or potential...all things we've carefully observed and even more carefully worded right there on the spot.  At the end of the critique of the first student's artwork, the teacher's brain is warmed up and working just like everyone else's in the room.  

Then we do it again and again until the entire class has been properly critiqued.  That's what the students see.  When class is over I get the feeling they assume we retire to a teachers' lounge ensconced in velvet and drink champagne from our "best teacher ever" coffee mugs.

But they missed a few things.  What they didn't see was how carefully the teacher was also observing students and listening to comments during the critique.  See, those have to be graded, so the teacher has to be paying close attention and perhaps even making notes about each student.  And then instead of retiring to the posh teachers' lounge, we instead walk fast to our offices and answer 40 emailed questions, prepare for the 3 faculty meetings we have that week and when we get home after dark, we kiss our kids goodnight, eat a pop-tart over our computer while we enter grades and grade comments for each student's artwork.  Then we enter grades and grade comments for each student's participation in critique.  In a class of 12 students (the capacity for a space hogging 3D studio) that can take a few hours if you rush.  I currently have 3 classes of the same subject, so after doing this on a Monday, I get to do it again with even more students on a Tuesday.  This semester, my student total for this particular course is 31.  So for every one critique a student must suffer through, the teacher must do that 30 more times.  Then those next two classes must be graded as before and you know those students are going to expect that their grades be ready for them to question the next time class meets, right?  So you go home and yell at the dogs for barking and close the door to your studio so you cant hear the kids playing video games and you get it done.

Of course I can hear the scoffing of the lecture oriented professors from here.  "31 students?  Oh please, I have more than 31 students in each of my 4 or 5 classes!"  That's true but also misleading.  Because you spend 2 or 2.5 hours with those students each week.  I spend 6 hours face to face with my students in the studio each week.  And don't get me started about your little Scantron tests that are graded by a computer for you.  Or maybe you are really classy and you require essay questions on your tests.  That's cute.  You read those and check for accuracy and understanding.  We mentally and emotionally wrestle with each student in critique in order to figure out how to inspire and motivate each one on an individual level.  Really though, I only mock you out of respect.  I know you work hard in your teaching and grading as well.  I just have to take crap from people who still think all we do is sit around and draw little pictures, so I'm a little sensitive.  

My point is only that at the end of a critique/grading cycle I've solved more difficult problems than any one person should have to solve in a year.  I've had to think fast on my feet and come up with some really impressive ideas - ideas I've given over to a student and I'll never get to use for myself!  My brain feels like a wet sock that squishes water inside a shoe with every step you take.  

In spite of this small complaint and my slightly mushy brain, teaching is still the best job ever.  In some weird way, I get energized by the whole process.  I love critiques and how they can be the most effective ways to teach certain things to students.  I love watching students change their behavior in a critique and learn to really dig in and see all the mechanics at work in a design.  I love having them in a critique years later and hearing them still use some of the same language I helped to teach them.  I love it when they email me after 12 years and tell me they still hear my voice repeating critique lines.  I love being a small part of what they become.

But again, my brain is tired.  I'm not even sure those were complete sentences up there.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

can you meet for pizza?

Ali came through town last week.  Do y'all know Ali?  I met Ali about 8 years ago when she was introduced to me while she was applying to our MAT program.  She had a kid on her hip and she was quick to say it was not her kid.  The next year she became my student and served as my studio worker (Queen of Sculpture) for a good while.  She's good people.  We got to know each other pretty well during that time and then I shipped her off to grad school for a while.  Then she got married.  But every now and then she drives past Gwood and she'll text me to see if I'm free for pizza.  So last week I cleared an hour to catch up at Millhouse.  These kinds of chats can be so scattered as we have to catch up on everything that has happened since the last time the planets aligned.  In this case it was 7 or 8 months.  There are mutual friends to catch up on, people to make fun of, funny stories and general life updates.  

I have a couple of different topics for the blog open on my computer just gathering dust, waiting on the right mood to either finish them or share them.  But they're not ready yet.  And since things are still happening all around us, I thought about stealing the rambling life update approach from my conversation with Ali and using it here with y'all.  So maybe grab a coffee or a slice of pizza.

 I'm a parent.  Those are my kids hiding inside cabinets at either Lowe's or Home Depot.  I scratch my head in wonder every single day at this parenting thing.  Sometimes you feel like you're the king of all dads and your kids are saints.  Twelve seconds later you can feel like you're a miserable parenting failure.  Blue and Violet are happy kids and they're nice to people.  I'm going to consider that a win so far.

 When I get home each day from school I do a yoga based exercise called PiYo.  It's a combination of pilates and yoga.  I've tried several things for strength and cardio and this one seems to work best for me.  It feels right.  But it's hard and after the long days when I've been on my feet all day and I'm feeling my age, it's a struggle to exercise when I get home.  Then, I turn around and look behind me and find these lazy mutts asleep.  

 Both of these photos were taken at the end of a PiYo session.  I was tired and sweaty.  They were cozy and well rested.  Punks. 

 Ok, so a couple of weeks ago this delivery guy pulls up directly outside my windows at school.  That's him in the red shirt behind the stop sign.  It was either his first day on the job or it was his worst day ever.  He jack-knifed the truck trying to back it up and was delivering it in the wrong place.  The truck shook as he pinned the tires against the curb.  He got out of the truck already exasperated and it was still morning.  He thew up the back door to find the entire contents of the truck in a giant dog pile.  Boxes everywhere.  It was a mess.  Oh and this is a food delivery service.  Inside the boxes are fragile and perishable items being delivered to our restaurants on campus.  When he saw the mess he braced against the truck and hung his head.  Then he started muttering and cursing.  

At this point, I was hooked.  I pulled up a chair, told the students still in the room to gather and we prepared to watch the show.  He climbed into the truck and started to try to restack the boxes in some kind of order.  He set up his ramp for unloading and after throwing several things around pretty recklessly, he gathered himself enough to start packing the order on his cart.  But instead of using his hand trucks to roll the boxes down the very steel ramp a few at a time...safely...he opted to use a large cart which he then proceeded overload with very poorly stacked boxes of fragile, perishable food products.  Even while he was loading it, the boxes were on the verge of falling off the cart.

Our excitement was palpable.  When he started down the ramp with stacks of rocking boxes that were towering over his head, we started giggling.  To our amazement he made it to the bottom of the ramp without disaster.  But then...the moment the cart wheels hit the bottom all the weight shifted and the towers of boxes started falling in all directions.  The look on his face was unforgettable.  He grabbed at the boxes but it was far too late.  They crashed to the ground in heaps.  A couple of boxes ripped open.  Many more were crushed.  The best box erupted, spilling it's contents - large, gallon plastic containers of mayonnaise onto the sidewalk.  Some of those containers also gave up the ghost and exploded gobs of mayo onto the sidewalk and grass.  We were absolutely rolling with laughter.  

He cursed and threw his arms around in a fury.  Then he got himself together enough to restack the boxes on the cart.  He attempted to clean up some of the mess but his stacks of boxes fell another couple of times before he made it to the building doors.  There were several other small mishaps on his second and third trips inside, but the only one worth mentioning was when he split the butt of his pants.  Dude was having a very bad day.  He's been back a couple of times since and I'm happy to report he's gotten a little better and a little smarter each time.  He still blocks the entire road when he parks but he's dropping less food.  And Friday he even learned to use the brake on the cart after the fully loaded cart took off rolling down the sidewalk without him when he went to get something out of the cab of the truck.  

I am thankful for his contributions to our Fridays in class.  

 I'm working on finishing up the painting on a steel bowtie for a life sized rhinoceros.  While I was working on cutting out pieces of steel for that project, I happened across an idea and I think I'm going to have to steal away some time to sculpt soon.  After spending the vast majority of my studio time last year working on drawings, I'm suddenly excited about working on sculptures again. 

 Our students in the art department are exceptional in every way.  Each week it seems new people come out to slog with us.  Not only do we get to breathe fresh air and do something good for our bodies and our minds, but we also get to know each other during our slog chats.  I don't know of any other art department that has the kind of environment that we have.  It is a very intentional thing and we work hard to create it.  Best of all, it works.  It forms an atmosphere where the students can get the most out of their education.  I really like my students.  (That's Bolt, Jocelyn, Katherine, Cali and Yessica posing with my head)

Not only is Timmy lazy, he also sleeps like a human.  Most nights when I go to bed I'll find G under the covers with her head on her pillow.  Timmy will be asleep beside her, also under the covers with his head on my pillow.  Spoiled mutt.

 Thursday we had our annual celebration of our students' creative work, the Annual Juried Student Exhibit.  We make this event a big deal for our students by having tons of place awards, merit awards and purchase awards.  Jax thought I was taking that photo of her.  I don't want to get anyone in trouble so I wont say why I took it but I think it's funny.  

 Laura Brown took these photos and you can tell because they're actually great photos.  That's Jamea with her drawing.  Jamea is a quality human.  She will graduate in May and I will miss her.  She says she has never been mad at me and I'm sure any of my students would tell you that's a miracle.  

Adam won Best In Show.  That's Jimmy, jonny, Singletary, Adam, me and Esnipes.  Adam's family was present for the reception so his mom, grandma and aunt got to see him win this and another award.  There were tears.  It was great.  I'm happy for him and very proud.  But this photo....this photo is all about Esnipes the superhero.  Take a good look at the photo.  If you look carefully beside my left hand you'll see a tiny foot dangling from behind Esnipes.  What you can't see is the rest of the toddler body attached to that foot.  There's a whole tiny human hanging on to Esnipes' back while this photo is being taken.  Esnipes posed, smiled and completely hid the kid on her back for the official photo because she moms so hard.  It's a small visual reminder of the juggling acts our art faculty members all practice each day.  Parents, animal trainers, teachers, committee members, spouses, artists, public relations experts, agents and managers - we have to be all those things during any given day.  Esnipes makes it look easy.  It's not.

When Ali and I had that pizza lunch, I have to say that we managed to talk fast and eat our two pizzas without being totally disgusting.  She and I share a fondness for the movie "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" where one of the characters states that while he has the "gift of gab" he prefers a conversational hiatus while eating.  I think he said he finds talking while eating "vulgar and rude".  Maybe it was "course and rude", I forget.  I'm happy to report that we kept most of our food in our mouths.  If I had any in my beard she didn't tell me.  Hopefully we didn't gross anyone out.  Maybe next time we'll just get coffee.