Sunday, May 31, 2009

Practically Impossible

Thinking a lot lately about the parallels among and intersections between the arts and education.

As an artist who teaches, this is one of those things that comes up often in conversations with colleagues in both fields. Some of those conversations are pretty funny... like the one where a new high school art teacher was asking me if I thought she should remove her nude self-portraits from her website.

But some of those intersections can be quite gentle and inspiring as well: like the time a very great, but very troubled artist friend of mine living in a far off place made a short video for one of my students -- considering a career in the arts -- telling her quite honestly and powerfully about what it takes to make it in art school and in the art world on your own terms.

It is humbling to be one of the lucky few whose life and work bridges art and education. And so, as I'm just finishing up a new website where for the first time I am trying to bring into full view both aspects of my life, I of course thought to myself that one of the things that would make the site most meaningful to me would be a forum where artists and teachers could share ideas, observations, and stories both humorous and telling of the difficulties of each vocation -- and the links between them.

The new site is called Practically Impossible (it's still in beta form... not that it won't always look like it's in beta form given my challenges with graphic design) and it'll serve sort of as the nerve-center for all of my work in the arts, organization, and education.

TeachPaperless will continue being a daily blog -- you don't have to worry (or do have to worry) about that. But the Practically Impossible forum I see as both a meeting place and a place to post responses to life's most vexing questions as well as a place to take many of the great questions and conversations that pop up here via reader comments as well as in the Friday Chats and continue them in a forum accessible to everybody.


  1. What is an artist or teacher of the arts?
    As a band director for 15 years, I have taught instrumental music from 4th to 12th grade. When my 4th and 5th grade band played music composed by me because I was dissatisfied with the junk that was available for purchase, were they artists? Was I?
    I believe I am an artist who teaches. I respond to life's events (be they global or personal) with passion that is reflected in my medium of expression (music), and my own mood.
    The first lesson in instrumental music in 4th grade is how to open the case and assemble the instrument. This is not an art class. It's a mechanics class. The next lesson is how to make a sound- more of a physics lesson. Onward we go learning the mechanics of music, a few notes, later, some notation (only when there is a reason for it), and ultimately how to play in a group. The artist in these students is budding, but at this level, I wouldn't consider my self an art teacher.
    The high school level is a little different. There I do consider myself an art teacher, but I would have no students to teach if it weren't for the 4th and 5th grade band teachers bringing the mechanics of music to my future "artists".
    I'm sure it's the same in any other field. One can't write a poem if one can't draw all of the letters of the alphabet. Where is the line between mechanics of the arts and the expression of the arts? Great arts teachers should know how to balance these concepts, and make a shift from mechanic heavy lesson in the early years to lessons that included interpretation and composition of great works in later years.

  2. Really great musings. Mechanics, art, knowledge... it's far more complex than we usually tend to let on from the teaching perspective.

    Thanks for the comments.


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