Creativity and Hard Work.

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?

Hence:

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.

Advertisements

About Kristyn Michele Bat

Teacher, tattooer, artist.

10 comments

  1. Well written/said…. this is so true. I was never given a color book (even though I loved them for the characters). Most of the time, I sketched the images and created my own rendition.
    I have a passion just like you for the arts, and making sure these kids have every chance to express themselves without restrictions or preconceptions of what it “suppose” to be.
    These guys are just trying to help the arts community, and one can truly appreciate the efforts, but we just need to make sure we understand the long term effect of the actions. I would donate boxes of crayons and blank parchment paper by the butt loads instead of coloring books….
    Keep it up, chica! You’re passion inspires me…. šŸ™‚ xo

    • That’s a really good point… Of course we all applaud any effort to build up the creative community, but there’s a thin line between community thinking and corporate thinking, and coloring books err on the wrong side of that line to me. I know that there must be businesses who have back stock of old unusable paper, even paper that’s been printed on one side, that could be donated to classrooms. I know I always appreciate a good load of old dot matrix printer paper!

  2. Ahem…I seem to recall you receiving a few “anti-coloring books” when you were a child, along with reams & reams of construction, paper, crayons, markers, glue, paint, etc. etc. There’s proof of the above all over my old kitchen table..and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • I bought an anti-coloring book for myself as reference when I started teaching. I use it ALL the time for warm-up ideas. I remember how jealous I used to be about how good at coloring you were when we did color in books.

  3. P.S. Have I told you lately how insanely proud I am of you? ā¤

  4. This is a really well written and thought out rant – kudos to you. From someone who works in community involvement and service I will say that it frustrates me when people and programs decide FOR someone what they need and design their relief efforts/projects/donations around that. THE most effective way to do service is to first ASK the person you are trying to help what their needs are.

    This is becoming all too common. Huge programs like Toms are trying so hard and could do so much good if they just asked someone in the community what they need help with.

    • That’s such a good point. For instance, I really really need help in my classroom. An extra pair of hands that know what to do with art techniques would be a godsend. I’m tearing up just thinking about what a difference that would make in my classroom.

      • If a teacher contacted me with a request and knew how to register a volunteer at their school I could probably find someone to help them out. Recently a local blind lawyer contacted me requesting a student to help with jury selection and that girl now has a summer internship with him. Something to consider – maybe someone at a local college or high school could find you an intern.

      • All it takes is someone filling out the county volunteer application. You’re right, I probably should reach out to some schools!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: