Tuesday, December 31, 2013

all things christmas

Christmas is my favorite time of year.  Perhaps partially because I'm still a child or maybe because people seem more eager to show good will, but either way it just feels like a happy few weeks.

 We do not allow Christmas to begin officially until after Thanksgiving.  Others in my family who will go unnamed here sneak and listen to the Christmas radio station starting just after Halloween, but officially, we do not collectively begin celebrating until Beach Friday.  This year it was the first Saturday in December before the real festivities began with the local Christmas parade.

 That is the parade face of a 4 year old.  With the parade face of a 30-something year old behind her.

 Gallery Seventeen in Greenville asked if I'd be interested in designing their Christmas window display.  I'd never done this before and really didn't have time, but who could pass up the chance to do a Christmas window display?  I made the ice mountains, clouds and hipster snow monster.  Kayli, one of the gallery owners, did the awesome 2D background with the misfit toys.  

 And then, on the 14th it started....the gifts.  Ginger sent two really cool gifts to Blue and Violet.

 Then came the art department Christmas party at Millhouse.  That's jon super excited about his very own pottery wheel!  He was anxious to get home and make some real art!

 Esnipes' secret Santa sent her future child a sweet sculpture onesie.

 It's always a gift to me to have some extra time to complete all the projects I've started or haven't had time to start during the fall.  These card holders have been taunting me since the semester started and I finally assembled them with some legs into an end table.

 Violet demanded a special "daddy date" where she got to sleep in and then go hiking.

 After hiking we met G and Blue at the outdoor ice rink in Spartanburg.  This kid who has serious trouble with roller skates scooted around on ice like Tonya Harding.  He was an ace.  

 Violet needed the help of the walker thing.  She would fling her little legs back and forth very quickly like a cartoon character before falling down.  Soon she slide the walker away and announced that she didn't need it anymore.  This was a mistake but we managed to make a few laps holding her hands before she was ready to leave.

 Then there was the McAbee Christmas Bash.  There was food and games and these great cupcakes with cream filling inside.

 ...and Santa in Nikes with gifts for all the kidlets from Laura Jean.

 ...and there were McAbees everywhere.  That's mom and brother Daniel.

 Next up was G's side of the family.  More gifts, more toys, more sweets.

 And then Christmas Eve dinner with G's Granny Green.  That's Blue, G's mom, G, Granny Green and Violet.

 Christmas morning was all excitement and joy and excess at our house.

 Followed by more excitement, joy and excess at mom's house for brunch and gifts.

My favorite bookend to the parties and gifts and excited kids and miles on the interstate is Christmas night when everything is calm once again.  It's nice to sit with way too much candy and let George Bailey remind you what's really important.

Friday, December 27, 2013

practical education or why you should be a sculptor

Last winter a 13 year old boy gave a TED Talk at the University of Nevada about education.  In it, he suggests that the current American educational system is about teaching students how to get a job.  He then poses the question:  What if we made education about how to be healthy and happy?  He argues that graduates (and their future employers) would be better served if traditional schools focused on the following subjects:

*diet and nutrition
*time in nature
*contribution and service
*relaxation and stress management
*religious and spiritual involvement

This little guy, Logan LaPlante is not a product of the public school system and quite frankly, you can tell by how intelligent and creative he is.  In his talk he references a much earlier Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, one that I’ve had bookmarked for years now.  That reference gave him instant credibility with me.  You owe it to your brain and to your kids or future kids to watch both of these short talks.  Logan LaPlante:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY  Ken Robinson:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

So why are you finding this information here?  I’m not out to reform public education.  I’m not advocating homeschooling or “hackschooling”.  In some small way I’d love for people to recognize that all students would benefit from learning the 7 points that LaPlante suggests are important in education.  I’d love for parents to understand that it’s not the schools’ job to prepare their kids for life.  If you want your kids to have knowledge, see to it that they are taught knowledge, but if you also want them to be well adjusted, good citizens and fine humans, see to it that these 7 extra subjects are taught as well.

But the real reason I’ve taken the time to post this here is because of the tight connection between the visual and performing arts and these 7 subject areas.  As I read through this list for the first time, I immediately felt a connection between the 7 subjects and the things I teach my visual art students. 

I know, I can hear your skepticism from over here, but I’m actually serious.  Sure, the subject I teach at various levels right now is called “sculpture”.  In that I focus on teaching students various techniques in creating three dimensional compositions.  I teach processes and skills.  I teach approaches and ideologies related to visual art.  At least, that’s what I do on the surface.  And when students take my classes, I’m certain that’s what they understand.  Their parents also visit on open house tours and seem to have the same basic understanding of what art classes will teach.  The most popular question on these tours is:  Will my child be able to get a job with this degree? 

I understand the need for the question and I see where the parent is coming from completely.  The obvious answer is an honest “yes”.  A person with a college degree can get a job.  That job may not be in his or her area of study and it may not be even remotely related to the degree.  But yes, a college graduate can get a job.  Art graduates can even get jobs in a very wide range of creative areas that most parents and students have not considered as being art related.  But the better answer to this question is “Yes, your son or daughter will likely get a job after graduation but more importantly, your son or daughter will be better adjusted, better at decision making, in better physical shape, and have a better outlook on life than they do now.”

Again with the skepticism?  I know, I get it, but let me finish.

No one is more skeptical than the average American teenager.  My 18 and 19 year old freshmen and sophomores often wonder out loud why they are being forced to take this ridiculous 3D Design class when all they want to do is take photos or design on a computer.  After I get over the shock that they are not interested in plaster or steel or setting things on fire with a torch or smashing them with a hammer, I try to provide them some insight.

On the surface they are learning exactly what the catalog course description indicates. There is, however, a super secretive undercurrent of tacit education going on as well.  I tell them that as they learn to critique visual art (to break down a whole into it’s smaller parts and to assess and analyze each part before addressing how the sum of the parts create a whole that is visually communicating larger concepts) they are learning how to apply that skill to any situation.  Artwork can be critiqued but so can people, relationships and opportunities.  Students who learn to break things down into parts and assess each part before considering what it all may mean are in a position to make well informed, intelligent decisions.  I also tell them it will help them win arguments but that data is still being processed for accuracy.  Relationships?  Check.

The scheduling and design of the projects forces students who may be unmotivated, lazy or skilled at procrastination to get to work and to work hard for hours on end.  They learn the definition of “work ethic” and they learn how to have a good one.  Not only does this make them great future employees, but it also makes them work their muscles, especially with sculptural materials.  My students sweat, they get tired and they get blisters and sore muscles.  They learn to eat protein by necessity.  Exercise, diet and nutrition?  Check and check.

Our department focuses on teaching students about using art to benefit their community.  Classes in all of our media areas give students opportunities to volunteer their time, talents and even produce artwork to help others.  Our public sculpture projects over the last three years have allowed students to help service and non-profit organizations in our area.  They learn the importance of sharing their talents, but also the importance of supporting such groups in their own communities.  These public sculptures are designed for and installed outdoors.  And have I mentioned our awesome outdoor workspace in the sculpture studio?  Contribution and service and time in nature?  Check and check.

Engaging in the creative process is in itself relaxing.  Regardless of the specific process and even in spite of the pressure of a graded assignment, there is a relaxing aspect to creating.  The aforementioned scheduling of projects and a professor who spends much of his time shouting “Work! Work! Work!”, however, will create a few stressful moments during a semester.  The pressure of deadlines, the fear of mistakes, and the very nature of a few of our materials will force students to learn to deal with those stressful situations.  Mastering stress management is crucial for the art student.  Relaxation and stress management?  An easy check.

That last one is tricky and it’s probably the one most likely to start an argument.  At first glance you’d think that religious and spiritual involvement is not likely to be brought on by a college studio art class and certainly not in sculpture where there’s so much temptation to shout four letter words.  Oddly enough though, my approach to teaching most sculpture processes centers on faith.  Not religious faith, but faith in the instruction.  My entire curriculum is rooted in a few core concepts that are revisited at deeper levels as a student progresses.  When students ask “why?” early on, my response is “trust me”.  This is not an attempt to avoid the question, but rather my understanding that at this early stage they cannot understand how the concept relates to a much larger topic later on.  When students ignore my invitation to trust, they are often introduced to things like gravity or physics and sculptures tip over or break.  If at first they did not trust, often they learn to come around.  The idea of trusting in something that doesn’t seem to make rational sense is a spiritual exercise. 

Beyond that, I would also argue that my students are taught the importance of keen observation and interpretation.  Students learn to really see what is going on around them and to record these events in a sketchbook.  Later they are given opportunity to turn those observations into images and elements of design.  Essentially they learn that things mean something, however you want to interpret that personally.  Meaning is most often seen in personal symbolism but to the keenly observant who is also looking for meaning…that has to come really close to some sort of spiritual or religious involvement.  I’m not saying its Christian or any traditional mode of spirituality, but there’s the general idea that something bigger is going on.  And with your permission I’ll go ahead and call that a check.

The conclusion here is simple.  If you want to be happy and healthy and you want to be able to find gainful employment as well, you need to be a sculptor.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

if i only had a heart

Last Saturday was commencement for our December graduates.  If I had a heart, I would have been sad to see them go.

 At Lander, we have a capstone course for all seniors to take during their final semester.  This course prepares them to be ready to apply for jobs and enter the workforce but it also requires that they put on a senior exhibit.  This exhibit showcases some of their best work completed over the last 4 years.  As the course ends and the exhibit goes up, it also allows the students and the faculty to feel closure.  That's the capstone group up there on the night of their senior exhibit reception.  They were all feeling really good about their closure.  And that's how it should be, really.  Seniors should be thrilled about graduation.

For those who have emotions, there are often some mixed feelings about leaving.  We are a small school and a relatively small department.  We pride ourselves on being involved with the students and providing individual instruction.  And something that most people don't realize is that studio classes are twice as long as lecture classes.  This means we spend twice as much contact time with our students as other professors...and that's just in the regular class times.  We also require our students to work on projects outside of class time (a minimum of four hours per week per course).  All that means we end up spending a lot of time working with and getting to know our students.  So when these students have personalities and are outgoing, it's easy to see how you could miss them when they are gone.  

That's Ashley up there.  She came to Lander the same semester I did and she was my very first advisee.  I think I had her in four classes during these last 3 1/2 years.  She's the best student plaster mixer I've ever seen and she was the one who challenged me to play racquetball this semester.  Near the end of the semester it was obvious that while she wanted to be done with school, she was not so thrilled about leaving Sean and Katie and that she might even miss some of her most annoying professors.  I tried really hard to make her cry at graduation, but she held true to her heart of stone and never shed a tear.

Anne and Kelsey were also my advisees for the last 3 1/2 years.  They were both quiet, but they were good students and they were always smiling.  Those smiles will be missed.

Lucky for me I'm the tin man.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

great moments in sculpture #8629

One of the great things about steel is that it is a perfect material for outdoor public sculpture.  And one of the great things about outdoor public sculpture is that it can teach students the benefits of civic engagement.  By working with community businesses and groups, students in my sculpture classes can get involved in sharing their talents and abilities with the community by providing artwork in places that need some aesthetic help.  They get to know each potential client and after doing a little research on the location and possible audience, they may even learn some empathy and compassion.  Without doubt, contributing in a positive manner to their community helps them to be better humans.

This semester we had several public art projects going at the same time.  A wonderful lady at the Beckman Mental Health Clinic contacted me and asked if we'd be interested in designing something for one of their entrances.  My advanced sculpture class put together digital public art proposals and submitted them to the administration for approval.  The folks at Beckman liked the ideas so much they decided to choose two sculptures, one for each entrance and they even uprooted some nice landscaping to make room.  Sean and Candice were the lucky ones to have their designs chosen.  I was told that the decisions came down to the designs that looked the best and that had very positive meanings communicated in the artist statements.  

So with the approvals, they got started doing the difficult work of creating large scale outdoor sculptures out of steel.

 That's Sean bending 3/8" steel rods with his bare hands.  Actually, that's Sean with his body trapped between some 3/8" steel rods while trying to bend them with his bare hands.  After I paused to capture the moment, I did help free him from this tight spot.  

 Meanwhile, Ashley was asked to create a proposal for a comic shop in Spartanburg called The Tangled Web.  The store is owned by my brother and he casually asked one day when we were going to make something for him.  I put Ashley on the job and she submitted a proposal for a 3D sign made out of steel.  That's her up there welding the sign together.

 Candice spent weeks leaning over two sheets of steel, first with a plasma torch and then with a grinder.  She cut out ornate butterfly wings, then welded them both to a central body before using her painting skills to finish it up.  And if you're wondering, we had a long discussion in the proposal stage about whether or not it was ok for her to make a butterfly.  While I'm personally not a fan, I explained the proposal was not for me and I was not the audience she needed to consider.  The idea of transformation happened to work quite well for a mental health clinic.

 After about a month and a half of cutting, bending, grinding and painting, we loaded the trailer last Tuesday and began installation.  Sean is a champion hole digger.  He barely broke a sweat digging the 36" hole for the steel anchor.  

 After spending all afternoon installing the two outdoor pieces, we drove to Sparkle City to install Ashley's wall hung sculpture.  Mounting it over the comic shelves was not easy but after a little touch up paint it was finished.  No paint on the carpet, and no paint on the comics.

 I'm not sure why Ashley is holding the hole diggers in this photo.  I'm pretty sure she was playing.  The hole was already finished at this point and the anchor was being bolted on.  Candice and Devin are holding the sculpture in place.

 Here's the whole group after Sean's was finished.  That's Katie (who was not in the class, but she's a really good friend to Sean and Ashley and she knows that sculptors know how to have fun), Devin, Sean, KJ, Ashley, Shawny and Candice left to right.

 When this photo was taken, Tuesday night around 8 pm, Ashley was officially finished with her last sculpture class and was all set to graduate 4 days later.  I think that's her face of relief/happiness/fear of the real world.

 This is Candice being proud of her butterfly.  Candice had never worked with steel before.  In a month and a half she learned to weld, bend steel, use a plasma torch, engineer a permanent sculpture and how to use loud music through headphones to protect her ears from the grinder noise.

And Sean's finished sculpture titled "Reach".  It's interesting to think that every visitor to the clinic will have to walk by this sculpture to get to the entrance.  It's certainly going to get more views than a sculpture in a gallery.

These students did a great job this semester and we've already got a big project ready to start with the spring class in January.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

a dog on the loose and student exhibits

Lander art students have had two exhibits in the last two weeks and they've shown some great work.  But before we get to that...

 I've spent a ton of money in Lowe's the last week or so and while I was waiting for paint mixing one morning, I noticed a chihuahua, off leash, cruising around the store in a hot pink puffy jacket with a white fur collar.  I tend to notice things like that.  After her third lap around the area I realized she was trailing behind the elderly gentleman with the black baseball cap.  He ambled around like he was lost and muttered to people as he passed.  The dog would follow loosely behind and would venture over to other aisles to sniff shoes before trotting to catch up.  I looked around to see if anyone else thought this odd.  No one seemed to notice the free roaming dog in a trendy coat.  No one.  Maybe the dog was trained to alert to blood sugar issues or maybe the dog was better at helping customers than some employees, but I'm pretty sure dogs that wear trendy jackets are not allowed in Lowe's, especially off leash. Now back to our story.

 A fun group of our art students traveled to Italy last summer.  As a part of their study, they were required to create art in response to their trip and put together an exhibit.  The County Bank Gallery at the Arts Center of Greenwood had an opening and the exhibit was held there.  The work was as creative and diverse as the group of students.  That's Mia up there sporting her sculpture shirt.  Mia is the Queen of Sculpture, meaning she's the sculpture studio assistant.  She created three dimensional graffiti letters and mixed in 3D and 2D pieces within the letters.

 That's Oscar, no doubt influenced by the religious works he saw in Rome.  Kayla appears as a vision in the mirror.

 The two large hanging pieces are Caitlin's.

 Emily's wood sculpture was based on a parasol she purchased on the trip.  Photo-bombing provided by Colleen and Haley.

 Cessquatch used her 2D and 3D skills to create this visual memory from an Italian street.

 Different parts of the scene are painted on each window.

 And Ashanta did her own modeling in her photographs.

 After that reception and before the next one, everyone was scrambling to put the finishing touches on their sculptures.  It warms my heart to see the studio this full and to hear it so noisy.

 Last Thursday was the reception for the Annual Juried Student Exhibit.  This year we moved this show to the end of the fall semester to free up more time in the spring semester for the Senior Exhibit.  Our friend Paul Matheny from the SC State Museum was our juror and he selected some great work.  

 All of the media areas were well represented and once again we had a ton of awards to present to our students.

 Tom Pitts always does our awards presentation and this one was special as he's decided to retire after this year.  His sense of humor will be irreplaceable.

 And when he holds court, the students listen intently.

 Our Friends of the Gallery made generous donations and chose a stack of awards to give out.  Tom worked his way through the pile with ease and he never once stepped back and fell off the riser.  That's Abby getting her purchase award for her drawing.

 And that's Tyler getting his Best in Show Award for the cool wood sculpture in the photos above.  He was stunned to win but everyone was pleased with the selection.

 That's Shawny taking a photo that I was photo-bombing.  Poor Ashanta and Cessquatch just wanted a photo and I ruined it.  All three of these ladies will be graduating in May.  They're going to miss me.

All the award winners...let's see if I can get this right...Starting with Tyler on the left, Daisha, Danielle, Erin, Colleen, Brandy, Sean, Ashanta, Mia, Katertot, Ashley, that guy who's name I can't remember because I haven't had him in a class yet, Ashley, Caitlin, Abby, Laura, James, & KJ.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

thanksgiving and beach friday

I forget what happened for most of November this year, but the last few days of it were really nice.  

Brother Daniel couldn't run the Gobble Your Giblets 5K this year but he's the kind of brother who gets up early on Thanksgiving anyway just so he can come cheer his brother on and take a photo of him crossing the finish line.  He's a pretty good guy.  That's me in the super-cool white Lander University Sculpture shirt.  I ran hard, almost exploded on the killer hill and made good time, but still got beat by a lot of people.  It was fun.

 After the race, a drove to mom's to shower before the ginormous feast she prepared.  When I got out of my truck the first thing I saw was a large red tailed hawk circling low over the house.  Coincidence?  

Mom cooked again this year for more than 50 people.  And these are McAbee people mostly, with huge appetites.  I scoped out the desserts and piled my turkey and ham lightly so I would have room left for the sweet sampler platter.  We ate, we visited a bit and then we hit the road.

 Half of our Thanksgiving tradition is to feast at mom's with the entire McAbee family.  The other half is to hit the coast and enjoy the beach for the rest of the weekend.  We love the beach any time of year, but I always seem to enjoy it more when it's cold.  The light is great, the wind is brisk and everything is beautiful.  We made good time this year and caught the sunset just after check in.  I couldn't get that photo to load through iCloud....man, that iCloud is temperamental.  We had our usual Thanksgiving restaurant meal and the kids were so excited about being at the beach, they made sure we were up in time to catch the sunrise.

 G is shrinking, the kids are growing and just look at that light.  That blue....certainly worthy of naming your firstborn son, am I right?

 Violet in her happy place.  

 And Blue in his happy place.  It was still early on Beach Friday and it was cold.  Very cold.  But that didn't stop him from getting his pants soaked with sand and water from the knees down.

 Violet wanted to jump in the waves as we do in the summer.  She couldn't understand why we wouldn't be able to in late November.  The great parents we are, we thought we'd be clever and make this a teachable moment.  I led the kids in our swimsuits to the door and we bolted out across the sand to jump in the waves together.  We hit the cold water and of course, the kids didn't think it was nearly as cold as I did.  I made it out to knee deep water before my legs went numb.  We ran back inside to the warm pool area.  The kids had blue lips and their teeth were chattering and they were begging to go back to the ocean again.  So much for that plan.  The image above is when we went back out later and someone talked me into carrying them out into the water again.  I'm a sucker.

 Blue shares my appreciation for silly photos.  I talked him into wrestling with the alligator.

 And this year we tried to top our photo from last year.  Last time we posed him in front of the tree to make it appear he was blowing it over.  This year I jumped up into the tree and G timed it to look like I was being blown with the tree.  Not as good as last year, but still goofy.

 We are quick learners, though.  Last year we suffered through a Christmas program that was far too long for our collective attention spans.  This year we timed it just right so that when we finished our ice cream, we walked out just in time to see Santa arrive to light the Christmas tree at the Market Common.  We hit the book store while the people with patience waited in line to see Santa and when we came out again we walked right up and had our turn.  

Blue jumped right up and started sharing his list of "wants".  Violet wanted nothing to do with the bearded guy.  Eventually I slipped over and held her close to Santa and he leaned over and jolly talked her into almost smiling.  She said nothing, but she didn't scream, so I'm calling it a victory.  

Blue never stopped with his list the entire time.  He was listing things from the time he climbed up until we made him get down.  He seemed to be running out of ideas at the end because as he jumped down I heard him ask Santa for "one of those back massager things".  I asked what he meant and he said that sometimes his back itches where he can't scratch it and he needs something to reach it for him.  I suppose it's the simple things.

And now that Thanksgiving is done, these two are ready for Christmas.