Good problems to have
For years, and I mean years, I have believed that my tendency to bounce around from subject matter to subject matter, material to material was a deficiency in my artistry. I mean most artists that I would see on social media or that were "successful" would have a clear and distinct style. You could identify their artwork at a glance and they had a style (quote, unquote).
So I decided that I would do a look back at my artwork over the last 10 years. Why ten years? Well, that's as far back as my social media documentation of my artwork goes! One of the things that I noticed about my work 10 years ago is that it had, usually a practical use. Whether I was making purses, cup cosies or a mat for my dog in the kitchen, everything that I have photographed from those early years was an object that had a use. I think I was a little burnt out arting and teaching. Teaching is an entirely different way of being and even though I am an art teacher I felt like I had to learn the "how to teach" part and the arting went to the side a bit.
However, it wasn't until recently that I recognized that being a teacher had a profound effect on how I made art. Lots of studies examine how being an artist affects you as a teacher (Here, and here, or here) but it wasn't until I was writing my thesis that I had the realization that being a teacher had a very profound effect on my artistic development.
For a long time what I made, from pottery to printmaking, drawing and painting all had to do with what I was teaching at school. I needed to practice what I wanted the students to do and if I worked through the project first then I would be able to anticipate where the students were going to have problems in their own making. Each of the images below was created in direct response to something that I was going to do in class with my students. However, there was something going on here that I didn't notice until recently.
Like I said, so many of those studies that I referred to earlier discuss the positive effects of being an artist will have on one's teaching practice. However, very few, if any (honestly I couldn't find anything and I looked) discuss how being a teacher will have a positive effect on being an artist. Many studies will reinforce the idea that being a teacher is a fallback position and that an artist chooses to teach either can't make it in their chosen profession, as in "Those who can't, teach" or that they are only doing it (teaching) to support what they really want to do, which is make art.
But look again at the work that I was doing at the time. Is it fantastic and gallery-worthy? Blah, no. But look again at the RANGE of materials that I was experimenting with. Pottery, monoprints, pen and ink drawings, collagraph, mixed media drawing. I could and can, as a teacher explore any material that I want to. I wasn't only using one material because I could only afford that supply. The world of art materials was open to me and if I wanted to try something I could-no problems. A class came up that I wanted to try, I could access professional development and go to a class (the two bird images were from such a class).
It was a profound change in thinking about being a teacher and an artist. Yes, I can bring my artistic behaviours into the classroom and I do but, it's not a one-way road and the behaviours that I had to develop as a teacher will also find their way into the studio. So I began to recognize that some of the things that developed in the studio, after I started teaching, that bothered me (another post, another day) were because the practices that I had developed to be an effective teacher were subconsciously finding their way into the studio.
This drawing represents a significant change in my thinking about making art. It also is related to living in a small town and being a teacher.
When I applied for and got my job in 1999, no one wanted to work at the high school in my city. There were issues but, as a new teacher, I didn't attribute the problems that I was having to be a systemic issue in the school's program but, rather I thought they were beginning teacher issues. However, it surprised me throughout the years when people said I had their dream job. I had one elementary school teacher tell me she was going to run me over with her car so she could have my job...pretty sure she was joking but the sentiment was there.
As the years progressed and I kept plugging away at my job a few issues popped up within the local artist community. I'd had a student teacher that was a part of the local arts community and while I can't comment on their perspective of our interactions I can say that their placement ended badly. From that one individual, I found my own ability to teach and be an artist was questioned constantly. I would have random people walk up to me and tell me that I was a terrible artist and person and I could not escape the accusations that this individual was spreading throughout the city. Yearly, it seemed that someone new was going to replace me in my job and that I did not deserve my job. I believed that it continued to stem from the disgruntled student teacher. Don't get me wrong. I don't believe that I was perfect and didn't do anything wrong but by this point, it had been at least 7 years and I was still having to think about it and defend myself.
I ignored most of it. It was tiresome and based, in my opinion on jealousy but when the new director of the local art gallery went from being polite to telling people that he was in negotiations to replace me as the high school art teacher "because they needed someone actually qualified to teach art". My response was to both ignore him because he obviously had no clue how schools and permanent teaching positions work, and create a series of highly realistic charcoal drawings that I showed in the local art walk in the summer of 2014.
I decided to do realistic drawings because it was not something that I had shown before and honestly, hadn't really had an interest in doing. However, I was going to demonstrate that I had the skills to walk the talk and realistic drawing were going to do that. There are still times that I enjoy doing realistic drawings it usually depends on how much space I have for working in. Each of the drawings below is only about 9x12 and used chalk pastels that were easy to put away.
So while having to deal with strangers making judgements on the content of my character I decided that I would ignore them and make work that I was proud of and that fueled me as an artist. I can't worry about what other people think of me and as the saying goes, its really none of my business. I can say that the entire situation did spur me in a new direction in my art-making so despite the situation still being annoying I still think that it helped me develop a direction for the artwork that I am currently making.
So that's enough for today. I really can go on and on! Have a great day!