Friday, December 28, 2007

The Avett Brothers....LIVE

if you have the means...i highly recommend it
photo by Crackerfarm

Thursday, December 20, 2007

and i'm spent

last sculpture of 2007


Best of American Artists 2007
Sculpture vol. 1
Kennedy Publishing

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

George Singleton may be an evil literary genius. And even if he's not he's still a witty writer.
The thing is, he has a way of telling the truth by lying. Writers get to call lying "fiction" and while his short stories and novels are found in the fiction area of your local bookstore you'll have no trouble finding people, places, and ideas you know to be true brought to life inside them. Singleton has a way of telling the God's honest truth about these southern misfits in a way that never quite makes fun of them but rather endears them to the reader.
If you havent read his it now. Find out more and read a couple of short stories at
Anyone who wears this cap to a photo shoot deserves your purchase. Makes me wish I had gone to Furman too....just so I could wear the cap.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yo Whatta Whatta?

TV is the devil. I'm not a big fan. Back in undergraduate school, I swore off TV for 2 1/2 years and was a much better (and more creative) person as a result. Though it has seeped back in to my everyday life in small doses I still believe TV to be evil at it's core. It rots your brain. It robs you of creative thoughts.
I was once told that when you have a child everything changes.
I will confess that I let my child watch TV sometimes. Not for him - for me. Call me evil, call me a hypocrite, but there are days you need 10 or 15 minutes of relative calm and silence in order to maintain your sanity. Don't misunderstand, my child is not much of a TV fan either. There are only a couple of shows that will hold his attention for more than 30 seconds. Most days he would much rather listen to loud music and dance around the house.
One of the shows that seems to captivate him is called "Yo Gabba Gabba". No, I don't know what that means. What I do know is the first time I saw a commercial for the show I shook my head and wondered what had become of our society. The commercial seemed ridiculous and crazy. There was a DJ and a robot and critters living inside an old school boom box. And there was this adorable little kid who stopped in his tracks to watch the commercial from beginning to end. He looked at me and pointed to the TV and said "Daa Eee Ah?" which of course is translated as "Father, will you please set the dish to record all new shows matching the search entry "Yo Gabba Gabba"? I reluctantly agreed.
Now that we've watched all the episodes together I can tell you that this show is weird. I can also tell you that this show is really great. This show is what you would get if you put an Atari 2600 game console, a couple of Monty Python movies, a few dance and electronica CDs, and an artist's brain in a blender and hit the "liquefy" button. It's fun and it probably will not make your child dumb.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

and now...

"Poor Thing"
11" x 14"
ink on bristol paper
As promised, here is drawing number 52. 52 drawings in 52 weeks...crazy goal achieved. You can view all 52 (plus a few from 2006) on the "drawings" page on my website
Trouble is, now I have to come up with a goal or two for 2008. This scares me.
And if you have a bare spot on a wall, I have a stack of drawings you may be interested in.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

one of those days

If you've ever experienced the supreme joy that is sitting in a slightly uncomfortable chair while listening to an artist ramble on about their work - this will sound familiar to you. And not only because you're probably situated in a slightly uncomfortable chair reading about an artist rambling on about his work...but also because you likely heard the artist refer to their creative process.
This can be a very confusing idea to a person who is not normally engaged in such a process, and if we're all just honest for a moment, it can be equally confusing to the artist who is - even on a good day - struggling to understand what that process is all about. The creative process itself and the reasons the artist seems so drawn to it are intangible and generally these ideas like to hang out just out of reach of the artist's vocabulary. We are visual communicators, after all. Not verbal. You need only to keep reading or have a single conversation with me to see evidence of this truth.
Even on days when I am aware that I am experiencing the creative process...on days when everything just seems to click and I feel like I'm in the zone...I only catch glimpses of it's enigmatic self as it darts behind a piece of steel or slips under the cap of a sharpie marker. It is the southern specter that everyone in the house is aware of, but no one can actually see. And like that specter, the more you try to focus on her the faster she slips away completely into the mist.
My best days in the metal shop (with steel sculpture the term "studio" just doesn't seem to fit and has never been one of my words of choice) are the days that I am totally unaware of the process and only realize at the end of the day that it was happening when I was not paying attention. Thinking back over the events of the day I find myself remembering only what can be described as a gray, fuzzy type of memory. Details may surface over the course of the following week, but the design choices and aesthetic decisions that were made during that day were almost instant and instinctive....maybe even "intuitive" as mentioned in an earlier post.
Last Saturday was one of those days in the shop. I went in early and stayed at it all day leaving a good half hour after I was supposed to leave. As I was cleaning up at the end of the day I realized that I had forgotten to stop to eat or even drink anything. And please...I don't mean that in an "I'm so creative or artsy that my art comes before food" way...I simply mean that wherever my mind was, I was so focused that I didn't think about anything I didn't have to think about.
That night I found scratches and bruises I could not recall and discovered most of my muscles were sore. I was completely exhausted and yet completely happy.
Rilke offered advice to a creative sort in "Letters to a Young Poet" that amounted to: before you go out and attempt to be an artist, first ask yourself if you must be an artist. That is, ask yourself if you can possibly live and not create art....and only if you can not imagine life without being an artist should you set out to actually be one. (I am ultra-paraphrasing here)
I think many readers would ask what Rilke is talking about. We might even marvel at the silly notion that a person couldn't live without making art. I suspect that Rilke is hinting at something about the creative process. There is something about that process so enjoyable and so fulfilling that the artist longs for it and can even be driven by it.
It is one of those days that we all live for.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

renourished and refreshed

Euripides said, "Being so close to the sea will wash away all human ills."
Which begs the question, who the heck is Euripides?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Levine Children's Hospital Sculptures

Images of the sculptures installed at the new Levine Children's Hospital at Carolina's Medical Center, Charlotte, NC.
"Pedro" installed outdoors on the terrace near the main hospital entrance. Approx. 6 feet tall.
"Clipper" on the 7th floor Maternity waiting room.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I'll be the first to admit that in the past I have been skeptical of abstract artists. As a student I remember listening to artists give slide lectures about their abstract or non-representational artwork and not believing a single word they spoke. I doubted their motives for creating art. I doubted their abilities and skills. The more they talked, they more I became convinced that this person was just making stuff up. I imagined that they would stand in front of a canvas, throw something on it, then make up a wild story about how the blob of paint related to starving kids in third world countries.
Part of this skepticism came from my own ignorance and lack of experience. But part of it came from the artist's inability to articulate exactly what was happening in their creative process.
Eventually I realized that I too was doomed to become one of those abstract artists. Once I accepted this fact, I wanted to make sure that I became a better ambassador for abstract art to my viewers. I just didn't want to be that inarticulate, scatterbrained artist. As a result I have payed careful attention to my own creative process over the years. I realize that I'm only in the beginning stages of understanding even small portions of that process and that there are some areas I may never fully comprehend, but I am actively pursing that understanding.
One topic has called attention to itself repeatedly over the last few months and as luck would have it, this topic may be one of the most difficult to understand. Just so you know, I do not bring it up here because I feel that I am prepared to be articulate about it, but rather as a means of recording my thoughts and research about it so far in the hopes that one day I can be a little more knowledgeable and a little more convincing.
The topic is intuition and the role it plays in the creative process.
I've mentioned my goofy decision to make 2007 the year of the drawing. As I've worked this year to make one new drawing each week I've noted the differences in the process of creating each new drawing. Some weeks I labor over the ideas, imagery, and composition and make logical decisions that impact the finished product. These drawings end up a sum of some of the most basic uses of the elements and principles of design added to images developed from personal narratives that have been manipulated to incorporate multiple layers of interpretation. These two things are then combined with the medium and what I've learned about the physical process of applying the ink to the paper. There are weeks that this process takes a little more than 7 days.
But there are also times like last week when I sit down to draw and have no idea what I want to do. I turned on my lights and sat down...not because I wanted to...but because I had to appease myself. I figured that if I went and sat there with no ideas for 10 minutes or so then it would be excusable to go watch TV with the family instead. That way, I could say that I tried. That is what I expected to happen, it's just not what happened. So I turned on the lights and sat down and stared at the little white piece of bristol paper. I had no ideas and no images. I picked up the pencil (because that's just what you do) and without consciously thinking about what I wanted to draw or what I wanted to communicate, I put the pencil to the paper and began drawing. At first it was just a line, then a curved line, then a shape. Soon it became an image with a story and a setting and a meaning. A few hours later it was a finished drawing and I had to stop and ask myself what just happened. Without any preconceived ideas some part of me intuitively knew what to draw and how to draw it. Thinking back, I could see that many of my drawings this year have come about in a similar manner. At times I have just "known" that this color goes there or that this particular image is the right one to use.
This realization presents a problem for me though. I'm a teacher. Every week I explain to my students that they cant just go through my class doing whatever they want just because they want to. Now it's true that this is a class that focuses on the effective use of the elements and principles of design, but still. I tell them that there are reasons for everything. I tell them to assess the design and size up the situation. Once they begin to analyze the design, locate the needs of the design, and identify the strengths and weaknesses, only then can they begin to use the elements and principles to solve those problems and make their design more effective. The patterns they choose relate to the types of shapes and or forms they have. Color is chosen to unify a chaotic design or to emphasize areas of a design they want the viewer to focus more attention on. They are taught to do everything for a reason and to be able to articulate that reason on demand.
While their teacher sits in front of his finished drawing that he cant explain. So what gives?

Cognitive psychologist Gary Klein has researched just this sort of thing. Just not in art. Instead, Klein spent his time studying firemen, EMTs, and other emergency responders. It is here that decisions matter. In seconds theses men and women are making decisions that essentially will either cause people to live or die. In issue 38 of Fast Company Magazine ( Bill Breen discusses Klein's research in this area. Breen describes a situation where an emergency responder ignores the emergency-medical procedure and moves a victim before checking for other injuries. This split second decision is made to save time as the victim is quickly losing blood and is in danger of bleeding to death. The time saved by this rejection of procedure allows the crew to get the victim to the ER in exactly 10 minutes and ultimately saves his life. When asked to explain his decision making process, the rescue worker indicated that he did not make a logical decision, he only drew from his experience. He seemed to arrive at his life saving move as the result of intuition. He just sort of knew what to do.
Another example of Klein's research is described by Breen as firemen responded to a fire alarm. The team of firemen arrive and enter the building. They begin to battle the fire but the fire seems to ignore them. Soon "the commander is gripped by an uneasy feeling. His intuition tells him they should get out of the house." He gets his crew out and no sooner than they exit the building, the floor they were standing on gives way to a raging basement fire. Another moment inside the house and they would not have escaped.
As Klein questioned the commander about his intuitive decision he made some discoveries. As the firefighters hosed what they thought to be a small kitchen fire, the fire did not respond in the expected manner. It did not decrease as they doused it with the hose. It was also much hotter inside the house than it would have normally been for a small kitchen fire. The scenario did not match up with any of the commander's previous fire experiences, so he sensed danger and got everyone out. According to Klein, firefighters develop a library of fire experiences over time. Particular fires fit into different categories in the mind. In the heat of the moment their brains search those mental files rapidly to find the fire that matches the one they are facing. When the correct file is found, they instantly know how to deal with that fire based on previous experience.
With this in mind, Klein suggests that what we call intuition is actually more of a split second decision making process based on our previous experiences. The human mind is able to work at such a fast pace that there is no need for the firemen to sit down with a legal pad and list the pros and cons of each situation before making a logical choice . Breen writes that the commander in the story above did not have extra sensory perception, but instead he had sensory perception.
This article suggests that humans are able to perceive a situation unconsciously and almost simultaneously simulate different solutions from previous experiences. This happens so fast that we do not recognize it as a decision making process. We may not realize that we are in fact, making logical and reasonable decisions. The thought process is over before we realize it began and we are left sitting in front of a finished drawing wondering if we've really been practicing what we've been preaching.
So what may have really happened that night at the drawing table? Klein may indicate that I sat there with my blank page and subconsciously processed several different approaches to beginning a new drawing. My mind instinctively pulled out the file of unused images and began to select an interesting image. Another file was opened that allowed me assess, analyze and synthesize it's design qualities. When I realized what the design needed another file was opened and I was able to select images and ideas that met those needs in terms of design and concept until the drawing was complete.
If this is true, then I can reconcile my actions with my teaching. The firefighters and EMTs had to go through the training and had to learn the correct procedures in order to begin gaining a knowledge base. After many years of on the job experience and learning about real world applications of those procedures that knowledge base is expanded until eventually they no longer have to rely on the books or the training manuals. The teaching and training had to come first and it is just as important as everyone told them it would be. They may not realize why they are making the split second decisions and may not take the time to understand exactly what goes into that process and they may mistakenly think that they are just making gut decisions or doing what they felt was right, but actually they are following Klein's model.
This takes the magic out of the word intuition, but I admit, it does make sense. And it also may follow Paul Klee's explanation of the circular life of the artist.

Monday, November 12, 2007

pursue beauty

Sometimes all you need to do is open your eyes and see what is right in front of you.
...and then stop and photograph it.
We need beauty.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Es el dia de los muertos

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Southern Belle

"Belle" keeps an eye on Mike McCue's historic home in Tryon, NC.
Contemporary American art in an old English garden.
Photo by Elaine H. Pearsons

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hello, my name is Simon

During my winter break last year, I scrambled to finish up as many ink drawings as possible for a show at the Pelter Gallery in Greenville. I remembered how much I enjoyed drawing and on a whim, I set a ridiculous goal for myself. I began January 2007 with the goal of completing one new drawing each week for the whole year. Initially I gave myself some wriggle room by saying I'd complete a minimum of 50 new drawings, taking two weeks off for what I would call vacation, but eventually I saw this excuse for the weakness it was and stepped the goal back up to 52.
The first week of January gave me Drawing #1 titled "Driving Home". It was done in ink on bristol paper and measures 11" x 14".

I'll admit there have been many times this year that this goal has seemed idiotic and poorly thought out. At times the ideas have flowed freely and multiplied faster than I could get them on paper. Other times I've walked into my designated drawing room and picked up a pen praying for inspiration.
And now, as October is falling off the calendar I see that this has been a valuable exercise. I have been forced to work quickly without overthinking my sketches. Working at this pace has required me to deal with fresh imagery and it has allowed me to be more - for lack of a better word - honest in my visual communication.
As I've recorded my interaction with images, ideas, and emotions for the last 10 months I cant always remember what I drew 3 months ago or even 3 weeks ago, and I generally have no idea what I will do next....and that keeps me on my toes. It keeps me alert. It keeps me waiting to observe that next thing.
I dont remember exactly what week gave me Drawing #26, but this is what it looks like...titled "Regardless" also ink on bristol paper and 11"x14".

A couple of nights ago I finished Drawing #44 and I have no doubts about meeting my goal by December 31. Yes, it is a ridiculous goal and yes, it has kept me hunched over a drawing table in available time that is already an endangered species in my world.
But this feels like it is the right thing to do.

Watch for Drawing #52 to pop up in the next couple of months. And since you already know I have a lot of drawings hanging should aslo know they make great Christmas gifts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


This is Elmer (in blue) with Herman (in yellow) in the background. Elmer is apparently being attacked by a couple of young adults during his visit to The McColl Center in Charlotte, NC while Herman looks the other way. It looks as if the plan here was to "vogue" the sculptures into submission.
Coincidental note: The male and female art villans pictured here unknowingly enrolled in my class a couple of months after the attack.
Photo credit goes to google and some art vogue accomplice

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Here are two of my most faithful friends packing up for a trip. That piece of paper with days and numbers will tell you the seasons have changed, but if you still have hummingbirds sitting on your front may want to keep the short sleeves handy.
These little guys will slip out in a few weeks without saying goodbye. They'll tank up one last time on red kool aid before silently following the warm air south along I-95. They'll ignore the Cuban embargo and island hop to Costa Rica where they'll spend the holidays.
The last one to leave will diligently pierce every leaf and every blade of grass. The green will slowly drain from my window and Fall will finally be allowed in.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Please Do Not Climb

No score and seven years ago I installed a sculptural installation called "Sweet Dreams" on the campus of Winthrop University. The installation consists of 5 steel chairs ranging in height from 8 feet tall to 24 feet tall and was permanently installed in a highly visible location.
While there are four markers around the sculpture clearly declaring that climbing is forbidden, it has become somewhat of a rite of passage for students to physically interact with the chairs during their time at Winthrop. And as you might expect in our digital world, no physical interaction would be complete without photographic documentation. And then posting that photographic documentation on the internet.
So now, with the power of the almighty keyword image search...I give you a few of my favorites:

Mr. Gnome is modest and humble about his astonishing accomplishment. This next guy doesnt look like he's going to make it, but then gets really cocky.

It seems important to note the behavior, posture, and actions of the viewers in the photos. Not the sort of behavior you'd expect in a gallery or museum of art.
There is something honest about this type of response to public art.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"That's great it starts with an earthquake,
birds, snakes, and airplanes." -REM

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Truckload of Art

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur.

Countless email and phone messages.
Several plan changes and reschedules.
A week of building crates and packing.
A white-knuckle interstate drive hauling precious objects of art.

At the end of the 3 year process of creating and placing sculptures on a public site there is a satisfaction. I was immediately glad that the whole ordeal was over and that the work was delivered and installed without incident. But now as my mind has time to think it over, I am even more satisfied that as the hospital opens for business people will be able to interact with the artwork on a daily basis.
That really is the point of all this.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Next Year

Going to the World Series is overrated anyways, right?

My cubs lost 3 of 3 to the D-Backs and my baseball season is over.
Saturday's game was the only game of the series I was able to watch and though it was difficult to endure, there was something quite satisfying about experiencing the final game of the year. All winter long I wait for that first televised home game of spring. The ivy is still brown, the air still cold, but I watch that game and hope and pray for October baseball.

It was an enjoyable season, but just wait 'til next year.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hints of ideas and seeds of inspiration often come from unexpected places. It could be a quick glance at another driver on the interstate, an ominous looking water tower in a mill village, or a chihuahua running in circles that sets the mind in motion. Perhaps there is no more expected or obvious source of inspiration than music and therefore I hesitate to even mention it here.
..."This just in, apparently music inspires people!". So while we all exhale a collective "Duh", I'll continue to explain something you already know.
I listen to music constantly. Driving, drawing, sculpting, and sometimes even while watching TV. Much of the time, though, I'm not really listening. Very often I find myself at the end of an album or a song and realize that my mind has been somewhere else. Maybe it was a word or phrase but something in the music sent my mind on a detour that lead to another detour and another until I finally come back to realize I've missed my favorite part. It is often much later while I'm creating a drawing or a sculpture that I begin to put the clues back together and realize that the ideas and thoughts I'm working to communicate visually have roots that can be traced a meandering the lines of a song.
There is a vulnerable honesty in the music of Clem Snide and Eef Barzelay. Often cutting to the quick, it is an uncomfortable truth that enters the ear and kickstarts the brain. It provides more questions than answers. I have enjoyed "the Snide" for years and have even leaned heavily on a line from one of their songs for an exhibition title, but with the band's apparent demise this year, I focus my attention on Mr. Barzelay. Eef headed up the band with his writing, guitar, and vocals. Along the way he's released a solo album or two and now seems poised to release his first post-Clem Snide release in late 2007 or early 2008.

If you're tired of listening to your bad music, may I suggest you pick up some Clem Snide? Perhaps I could interest you in Eef's last solo release "Bitter Honey". And if you happen to own a record company maybe you could do your good deed for the year and spend some money to help put out and promote some of the more intelligent music being created right now.
And maybe, just maybe you could indirectly help inspire people who listen to good music.

Monday, October 1, 2007

For whatever reason, I was doomed to walk this Earth as a Chicago Cubs fan. I blame cable TV and "superstations" for bringing Chicago baseball to my neck of the woods in the early 1980's.
As a long time fan I should know better.
And yet, here I am watching baseball in October with cautious optimism.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Contemplative Space

Interior View-Rothko Chapel
"We cannot represent Jesus or His apostles any more...we are cluttered
with images and only abstract art can bring us to the threshold of the Divine."
-Dominique de Menil at the Rothko Chapel Inauguration

Monday, September 17, 2007

"A Ship of Fools"
David Hooker

"Announciation To Go"

David Hooker

Ceramic Sculptor David Hooker is from Upstate SC and currently teaches at Wheaton College in Illinois. In an environment of sarcasm and hostile irony, an honest voice with a sense of humor can really connect with people. Find David's work anywhere you can and buy it fast.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Geneva Payne DuBose, 1910-1997. Known by her family as "Aunt Gene", she would sometimes forget the fruit was wax. Her smile was understated yet perpetual. Her greatest desire in life was to have children but after losing twins she was unable to become pregnant again. In her later years she would move about the house always with a baby doll in her grasp. "My baby", she would explain. Always with a smile.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

self portrait as a lego man

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Required Reading

A former student (and amazing ceramicist) recently conversed with me about her school experience. As my student she was returning for her 2nd undergraduate degree. Looking back, she stated flatly that her classes in art were much more difficult than her classes in Biology. Almost surprised by her own revelation, she said, "Art is so much harder than people think."

And with that thought, here's an article taken from the Boston Globe....Which I borrowed from The Great David Hooker from Wheaton:

Why do we teach the arts in schools?
-by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland (article copied from the Boston Globe, Sept. 2 2007
In an educational system strapped for money and increasingly ruled by standardized tests, arts courses can seem almost a needless extravagance, and the arts are being cut back at schools across the country.
One justification for keeping the arts has now become almost a mantra for parents, arts teachers, and even politicians: arts make you smarter. The notion that arts classes improve children's scores on the SAT, the MCAS, and other tests is practically gospel among arts-advocacy groups. A Gallup poll last year found that 80 percent of Americans believed that learning a musical instrument would improve math and science skills.
But that claim turns out to be unfounded. It's true that students involved in the arts do better in school and on their SATs than those who are not involved. However, correlation isn't causation, and an analysis we did several years ago showed no evidence that arts training actually causes scores to rise.
There is, however, a very good reason to teach arts in schools, and it's not the one that arts supporters tend to fall back on. In a recent study of several art classes in Boston-area schools, we found that arts programs teach a specific set of thinking skills rarely addressed elsewhere in the curriculum - and that far from being irrelevant in a test-driven education system, arts education is becoming even more important as standardized tests like the MCAS exert a narrowing influence over what schools teach.
The implications are broad, not just for schools but for society. As schools cut time for the arts, they may be losing their ability to produce not just the artistic creators of the future, but innovative leaders who improve the world they inherit. And by continuing to focus on the arts' dubious links to improved test scores, arts advocates are losing their most powerful weapon: a real grasp of what arts bring to education.
It is well established that intelligence and thinking ability are far more complex than what we choose to measure on standardized tests. The high-stakes exams we use in our schools, almost exclusively focused on verbal and quantitative skills, reward children who have a knack for language and math and who can absorb and regurgitate information. They reveal little about a student's intellectual depth or desire to learn, and are poor predictors of eventual success and satisfaction in life.
As schools increasingly shape their classes to produce high test scores, many life skills not measured by tests just don't get taught. It seems plausible to imagine that art classes might help fill the gap by encouraging different kinds of thinking, but there has been remarkably little careful study of what skills and modes of thinking the arts actually teach.
To determine what happens inside arts classes, we spent an academic year studying five visual-arts classrooms in two local Boston-area schools, videotaping and photographing classes, analyzing what we saw, and interviewing teachers and their students.
What we found in our analysis should worry parents and teachers facing cutbacks in school arts programs. While students in art classes learn techniques specific to art, such as how to draw, how to mix paint, or how to center a pot, they're also taught a remarkable array of mental habits not emphasized elsewhere in school.
Such skills include visual-spatial abilities, reflection, self-criticism, and the willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes. All are important to numerous careers, but are widely ignored by today's standardized tests.
In our study, funded by the J. Paul Getty Trust, we worked with classes at the Boston Arts Academy, a public school in the Fenway, and the private Walnut Hill School for the arts in Natick. Students at each school concentrate on visual arts, music, drama, or dance, and spend at least three hours a day working on their art. Their teachers are practicing artists. We restricted ourselves to a small sample of high-quality programs to evaluate what the visual arts could achieve given adequate time and resources.
Although the approach is necessarily subjective, we tried to set the study up to be as evidence-based as possible. We videotaped classes and watched student-teacher interactions repeatedly, identifying specific habits and skills, and coding the segments to count the times each was taught. We compared our provisional analysis with those the teachers gave when we showed them clips of their classes. We also interviewed students and analyzed samples of their work.
In our analysis, we identified eight ``studio habits of mind" that arts classes taught, including the development of artistic craft. Each of these stood out from testable skills taught elsewhere in school.
One of these habits was persistence: Students worked on projects over sustained periods of time and were expected to find meaningful problems and persevere through frustration. Another was expression: Students were urged to move beyond technical skill to create works rich in emotion, atmosphere, and their own personal voice or vision. A third was making clear connections between schoolwork and the world outside the classroom: Students were taught to see their projects as part of the larger art world, past and present. In one drawing class at Walnut Hill, the teacher showed students how Edward Hopper captured the drama of light; at the Boston Arts Academy, students studied invitations to contemporary art exhibitions before designing their own. In this way students could see the parallels between their art and professional work.
Each of these habits clearly has a role in life and learning, but we were particularly struck by the potentially broad value of four other kinds of thinking being taught in the art classes we documented: observing, envisioning, innovating through exploration, and reflective self-evaluation. Though far more difficult to quantify on a test than reading comprehension or math computation, each has a high value as a learning tool, both in school and elsewhere in life.
The first thing we noticed was that visual arts students are trained to look, a task far more complex than one might think. Seeing is framed by expectation, and expectation often gets in the way of perceiving the world accurately. To take a simple example: When asked to draw a human face, most people will set the eyes near the top of the head. But this isn't how a face is really proportioned, as students learn: our eyes divide the head nearly at the center line. If asked to draw a whole person, people tend to draw the hands much smaller than the face - again an inaccurate perception. The power of our expectations explains why beginners draw eyes too high and hands too small. Observational drawing requires breaking away from stereotypes and seeing accurately and directly.
We saw students pushed to notice what they might not have seen before. For instance, in Mickey Telemaque's first design class of the term at the Boston Arts Academy, ninth-graders practice looking with one eye through a cardboard frame called a viewfinder. ``Forget that you're looking at somebody's arm or a table," Telemaque tells his students. ``Just think about the shapes, the colors, the lines, and the textures." Over and over we listened to teachers telling their students to look more closely at the model and see it in terms of its essential geometry.
Seeing clearly by looking past one's preconceptions is central to a variety of professions, from medicine to law. Naturalists must be able to tell one species from another; climatologists need to see atmospheric patterns in data as well as in clouds. Writers need keen observational skills too, as do doctors.
Another pattern of thought we saw being cultivated in art classes is envisioning - forming mental images internally and using them to guide actions and solve problems. ``How much white space will you be leaving in your self-portrait?" asked Kathleen Marsh at the Boston Arts Academy. ``How many other kinds of orange can you imagine?" asked Beth Balliro, also at the Boston Arts Academy, as she nudged her student to move beyond one shade. We noticed art teachers giving students a great deal of practice in this area: What would that look like if you got rid of this form, changed that line, or altered the background? All were questions we heard repeatedly, prompting students to imagine what was not there.
Like observing, envisioning is a skill with payoffs far beyond the art world. Einstein said that he thought in images. The historian has to imagine events and motivations from the past, the novelist an entire setting. Chemists need to envision molecular structures and rotate them. The inventor - the envisioner par excellence - must dream up ideas to be turned into real solutions. Envisioning is important in everyday life as well, whether for remembering faces as they change over time, or for finding our way around a new city, or for assembling children's toys. Visualization is recognized as important in other school subjects: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Science Education Standards both see it as essential to problem-solving, but art classes are where this skill is most directly and intensively taught.
We also found innovation to be a central skill in art classes. Art classes place a high value on breaking the mold. Teachers encourage students to innovate through exploration - to experiment, take risks, and just muck around and see what can be learned. In ceramics, for example, capitalizing on error is a major consideration, says Balliro at the Boston Arts Academy. To a student struggling to stick clay together, she says, ``There are specific ways to do it, but I want you guys to play around in this first project. Just go with that and see what happens and maybe you'll learn a new technique." Teachers in our study told students not to worry about mistakes, but instead to let mistakes lead to unexpected discoveries.
Finally, many people don't think of art class as a place where reflection is central, but instead as a place where students take a break from thinking. But art-making is nonverbal thinking, and verbal thinking (often public and spoken) is a focal activity of arts classes. We repeatedly saw art teachers push their students to engage in reflective self-evaluation. They were asked to step back, analyze, judge, and sometimes reconceive their projects entirely.
During class critiques, and one-to-one as students worked, teachers asked students to reflect: Is that working? Is this what I intended to do? Can I make this better? What's next? At Walnut Hill School, Jason Green questioned individual students almost relentlessly as they began a new clay sculpture: ``What about this form? Do you want to make the whole thing? Which part of it?" In group critiques, students also learned to evaluate the work of their peers. Making such judgments ``in the absence of rule" is a highly sophisticated mental endeavor, says Elliot Eisner, a noted art-education specialist at Stanford University.
Though we both have a long history in arts education, we were startled to find such systematic emphasis on thinking and perception in the art classes we studied. In contrast to the reputation of the arts as mainly about expressive craft, we found that teachers talked about decisions, choices, and understanding far more than they talked about feelings.
By unveiling a powerful thinking culture in the art room, our study suggests ways that we can move beyond the debate over the value of arts, and start using the arts to restore balance and depth to an education system increasingly skewed toward readily testable skills and information.
While arts teachers rightly resist making their classes like ``academic" classes, teachers of academic subjects might well benefit from making their classes more like arts classes. Math students, for instance, could post their in-process solutions regularly and discuss them together. If students worked on long-term projects using primary sources in history class, they would learn to work like real historians and their teachers could offer personalized and ``just in time" guidance.
Despite the pressures to prepare students for high-stakes tests, some teachers and schools continue to use methods similar to those in the art studio. Ron Berger, a fifth-grade classroom teacher in a public school in Shutesbury, Mass., provides an inspiring example. He adopted an arts-like approach to all subjects, including math, language arts, science, and social studies. His students engage in long-term investigations rather than one-shot assignments or memorization. Their work is continually assessed publicly in critiques so students develop the ability to reflect and improve. Projects are ``real work," not ``school work" - work that is original and makes a contribution to knowledge.
For example, students investigated the purity of drinking water in their town wells, working in collaboration with a local college and learning how to analyze the water in a college lab. No one in the town knew whether the well waters were safe, and the students discovered and reported that they were. Deborah Meier, a leading American school reformer and founding principal of the Mission Hill School in Boston, praises Berger's teaching. She worries that ``Top-down mandates may actually hinder this kind of culture of high standards."
We don't need the arts in our schools to raise mathematical and verbal skills - we already target these in math and language arts. We need the arts because in addition to introducing students to aesthetic appreciation, they teach other modes of thinking we value.
For students living in a rapidly changing world, the arts teach vital modes of seeing, imagining, inventing, and thinking. If our primary demand of students is that they recall established facts, the children we educate today will find themselves ill-equipped to deal with problems like global warming, terrorism, and pandemics.
Those who have learned the lessons of the arts, however - how to see new patterns, how to learn from mistakes, and how to envision solutions - are the ones likely to come up with the novel answers needed most for the future.
Ellen Winner is a professor of psychology at Boston College. Lois Hetland is an associate professor of art education at the Massachusetts College of Art. Both are also researchers at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-authors, with Shirley Veenema and Kimberly Sheridan, of ``Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education," published this month by Teachers College Press.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

saw the total lunar eclipse. the moon was still there, you just couldnt see it.

"...burn like roman candles against the night"

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dear Savannah,
Maybe the best part of traveling is the enjoyment of coming home. Not home to a town or building, but something else. Something other.
You seemed to understand. Willingly you offered up photos, souvenirs, and memories....
but you gave them over to be taken away, knowing that we would take them back to some other place. Home.

Back to the shower with the correct water pressure. Back to the clean sheets your wife just put on the bed. Back to the dog hair on your white shirt.

Chin up. We'll always have Abercorn.

summer listening

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What is home?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

for whatever we lose like a you or a me

it's always ourselves we find in the sea

e.e. cummings

Friday, August 10, 2007

Tower of Siloam falls killing 18.
What did the tower look like? Were the 18 people inside the tower or did it literally fall on them?
Why do we build things up instead of down?
St. Pats
C. Park

Thursday, August 9, 2007