Recently, I started saying whatever the hell I feel like on Facebook. I mean, why not? Who am I trying to kid, for who am I trying to look like something I’m not (a nice person)? It’s not that I want to start drama, I don’t. Most of the time, when people say stupid shit, I just ignore it, because I really do have better things to do. But what happens if everyone has this level of – call it what you want – restraint, maturity, or priority? All of the sudden I’m thinking of that Mike Judge movie, Idiocracy. So yeah, moral of that movie, I need to breed. (I’m working on it.) But also, when false information is being disseminated, or something I am passionate is under attack, or there’s something I just really have to get off my chest, it’s my job (nay, my responsibility!) to tell it like it is. I also read a few really good blogs this week that inspired me to be a little more blunt, so… well, just you watch out, okay?
OK. Here’s a little bit of backstory. My first year teaching, I took over for someone who disappeared over the summer to an island in the Caribbean on early, previously unannounced retirement. In addition to a set of watercolors from the 1970s, sign painting supplies, and a shit ton of construction paper that took me all year to organize, I found two things in abundance: blueprints for the aforementioned art teacher’s dream home and… hundreds upon hundreds of coloring pages. Upon further discussion with my co-workers I learned that coloring pages were de rigeur most days in the art room. This was at a visual and performing arts magnet. Unsurprisingly, the kids were unruly and misbehaved. Why is this unsurprising to me? Because coloring pages are NOT engaging. I can’t think of a single state visual art standard that is satisfied by coloring pages. But that teacher was probably pretty sure that he was “bringing art to children” as well.
Believe me, teaching art to kids the right way is no easy task. I come home most days covered in some kind of mess, mentally and physically exhausted, and oftentimes unsure of why the hell I chose to get into this profession to begin with. Last week, after FCAT testing, my students were totally burnt out. I asked them to get with their group brainstorm some ideas for National Nutrition Month posters. They whined and complained, claimed they didn’t know what brainstorming was (overheard: “Is that that thing they want us to do on FCAT?”), and basically put up a huge fight. Their little brains are being turned into scrambled eggs way before they make it to my classroom, by the hours upon hours a day they spend in front of a screen that puts any answer, any reality at their fingertips. It’s my job to challenge that as much as possible. Would it have been easier for me to slap down a coloring sheet? Would they have liked me a lot better that day? Would they have left my classroom “liking” art a lot more? Sure. But then there are those times when I see a student make a breakthrough – it could be something as simple as getting the proportions on a face correct, finally figuring out the last tricky step to folding a paper crane, or the amazement on their face when they pull their first sheet of handmade paper – that remind me that I’m fighting the good fight, and the hard work I put in, the stress, and the struggle are all signs of progress. In the end, I was proud to submit 15 original, funny, well-designed posters for National Nutrition Month.
ART is not supposed to be EASY.
It’s not about making the obvious point or taking the easy way. (No pizza slice sun in the corner of the page, zig-zag grass, or McDonalds arches shaped birds!) It’s not about who sees or reads your work and how cool they think you are. It’s not about the label you get to put on yourself or that you put onto others. Art isn’t a brand, it’s not something that can just be “filled in.” It’s hard work – translating the abstract, thinking, solving the problem of expressing an individual experience – to make it look both aesthetically appealing and genuine, and kids are the first ones to call it out when something isn’t quite right. And you better believe they have no problem acting crazy the minute they’re bored with the crayons and staying inside the lines – who wouldn’t?
“My mother refused to give me coloring books, but gave me blank paper and things to draw with. I was never limited by pre-conception, my imagination was never ruined – I was free.” — David Lynch
Addendum: During the time it took me to type this barrage of art teacher crazy, there was some more back-and-forth in the Great Facebook Coloring Book Debate of ’12 and I think we may have come to peaceful terms, so, well, sorry, Dwayne. I just really, really hate how my middle school students are coming to me with scrambled brains, and I think that coloring books are the last thing kids need right now.