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Click the links below to see my books on Amazon, and to go to my blog. Click the tabs to read some of my other writings.
The formative critique process is certainly the most important element of a studio class, because it is a constant interplay between teacher and student ( and sometimes between student and student) from when a project is assigned to when it is completed.
When a project is first assigned, brainstorming and practicing with the medium to be used are the initial steps leading to the creation of the final work. Both involve a back-and-forth between teacher and student, a ‘how about this idea?’ countered with a ‘that works, but have you thought about how you’re going to include this element?’ Or a ‘I’m not sure how to get this effect with the medium’ countered with a ‘let me show you … now you try.’ During this process I, as a teacher, am assessing and helping the student to shape a concept for the finished work, while also aiding the development of proficiency with the materials used, and suggesting various means of improving craftsmanship.
Once the student has an idea and is ready to begin on the final project, the time allowed to work on the project is filled with almost continuous critiques, suggestions, and requests for assistance. Each day, the students get out their work, and the supplies, and take up from where they left off. I am always either helping those who come to me with technical questions (‘how do I create the look of fur?’ ‘Oh, no, I got paint in the wrong place, how can I fix it?’ ‘Can you show me again how to draw this?’) or looking at the works-in-progress and offering suggestions when I see a problem that needs fixing. For one week, maybe two, my time is spent individually with the students for the most part, looking at their projects, and critiquing as they go. Critiques when a work is completed are an excellent way for artists to learn from their mistakes and their strengths, and to apply lessons to future works, but critiques in process are absolutely the most valuable means of creating excellent artwork. Every artist I know, professionally and personally, has a cadre of colleagues or others knowledgeable about art who step in and offer advice before works are officially declared ‘done.’
Art creation is all about formative evaluation … assessment, and re-assessment, and re-assessment again, until the vision in your head, the expectations connected to the assignment or project, and the final result all share a unity which declares that no more need be done. Only then can the much briefer, much less important summative evaluation occur.
In teaching Art History, I learned that the many time periods, cultures, and artistic styles we covered could be difficult for students to remember, so I developed some methods to help students review and learn what is primarily pictorial information.
One method of review was a worksheet I developed to categorize the important aspects of each style of artwork. Knowing particular artists, dates, and titles of work is essential in an in-depth study of Art History, and if I had taught art history as an AP class, I would have required such knowledge. However, for most high-school students, that level of depth of knowledge isn’t particularly helpful. What is far more helpful is an understanding of the connection between Art History and the other disciplines the students are studying, most notably World History.
So I created a worksheet which categorized our studies by artistic style, the general dates of that style, the primary geographical location of the style, representative samples of the artwork, what the society was like at the time, and characteristics of the artwork. This allowed the students to see in an encapsulated format how all of these elements interrelate. For instance, if one knows that the Baroque style of art occurred as a response by the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation, and that the Catholic Church wanted to bring people back to ‘the fold’ through an emotional appeal based on Christ’s sacrifices, one can understand the highly dramatic and theatrical works of the period which show Christ as a deeply caring, sympathetic, human, and suffering person. While of course we discussed Caravaggio, and Bernini, as primary artists of this style, and carefully examined their works, I far preferred that students remember the essence of the movement than any particular player of the time.
Another method of review which was fun and interactive was Review Pictionary. In the same vein as the above lesson, I printed out many representative samples of artwork of the styles we discussed, and we played Pictionary with the images. Students rotated through being the ‘artist’ or the ‘guesser’. Each student ‘artist’ was given a randomly selected image from the many artworks we had discussed in class, and attempted to draw it as well as possible on the board, while the other students guessed which work was being drawn. Titles weren’t important – “The lady on the swing who looks like Mary Poppins!” worked for Fragonard’s The Swing, but to score a point, the student then needed to say which time period the work was from, and how that time period was evident in the artwork. For instance, ‘the Swing’ is Rococo, and they knew this because it is light-hearted and frivolous, and depicts members of the aristocracy engaged in play.
One other idea I came up with for Art History review, which allowed the students to understand and relate the most vital elements of any given style, rather than getting lost in all of the various details, was to have them create stick figures representing the various works/styles we studied. The students had a lot of fun with this assignment, and it was wonderful to see how much they would remember from creating small stick figure representations of the most vital elements of artworks, at times even adding their own voice to the small cartoons, in order to personalize the works and to help the original work feel more accessible to them.
I hope that by the time my students left my Art History classroom at the end of each semester, they had gained an understanding of how art is intrinsically related to its concurrent society, its values, mores, politics, and social structure. Even more, I hope that they left my class recognizing that art is everywhere around them every day, and that today’s art will tell tomorrow's generations something about the world in which we live.
So, on occasion I accompany my husband on business trips to Long Island, and near the hotel we stay in is a somewhat dilapidated little house which has a sign declaring it to be a Sikh temple. I’ve driven past it taking my husband to work many times on these trips, and yet, over the course of several years, I’ve barely give the small tired building a second glance.
I’ve always been curious about religions. Not having one myself, but loving the sense of community, devotion, and comfort that religion, at its best, provides, I try to see the world through the lens of various faiths. Even in high school this was the case, as I’d accompany my friend to Baha’i firesides and relish the casual, warm, and intelligent conversations to be had in the various living rooms where they’d meet.
I’ve discussed the Book of Mormon with the Mormon missionaries (and my first husband became a Mormon; it’s a faith I deeply respect, though I disagree with many of their basic tenets, especially with regard to homosexuality). I’ve been to Catholic mass, to Buddhist meditation, and to a variety of Christian denomination services.
Many of the best people I have known have been deeply religious, those able to take from their faith all the goodness that is offered, and focus on the message of love inherent in every religion. That is the grail I seek when I explore religion, though I fear I haven’t found it yet.
So this most recent trip to Long Island, for some reason, I truly noticed the Sikh temple, and wondered if its members would welcome a visit from a stranger. I looked up this particular temple online, and Sikhism in general, and everything that I found declared this to be a most hospitable and warm group of people. The temple listed daily events, with Bhog at 7 am, and Langar at noon.
Research told me that Bhog is a reading of the scripture, and Langar is a communal meal (for which the Sikhs are famous, I learned, for welcoming anyone and everyone, and not ever charging).
I didn’t want to intervene in a reading of scripture, and I didn’t feel comfortable showing up just for a free meal (though I am certain, especially now that I’ve gone, that it would have been absolutely fine to do so), so I decided to go to the temple at 11, which I thought might be a period of free-time between the two.
So I arrived, and in my car I looked at my purse, and my large SLR camera (which I literally take everywhere). I was aching to take pictures of my experience, because I see the world through my camera, and try to use it to show the beauty that surrounds me every day. But I also worried, that a camera in a temple would be unwelcome and intrusive, so I left all in my car and entered the temple carrying nothing.
Immediately I was in a small, somewhat shabby lobby. The first thing I saw was a sign saying that shoes were not permitted in the temple, and a (corresponding) area for shoes to be placed, and two bins of head coverings, one for men and one for women. So I removed my boots, and found a gorgeous long orange and maroon head scarf to place over my hair, but I wasn’t quite sure how to put it on. As I fumbled with it, my eyes met a bearded man behind a reception desk, talking on a portable phone, and I smiled and shrugged and he smiled in return. Still on the phone, he walked over and adjusted my scarf, and we shared a moment of silent laughter at my earnest but inept attempt to cover my head.
I heard singing and talking around a corner, so I headed in that direction (and the kind man at the desk, still on the phone, smiled and nodded as I gestured to mean “so, can I go in there too?”). I’d read enough to know that women sit on one side in the temple, men on the other, and everyone sits on the floor. (Unfortunately, I hadn’t read enough to know that you should never point your feet at their sacred text, in the front of the room, and after an hour of sitting cross-legged, I shifted my position and did just that; to them, and any Sikhs reading this, I apologize deeply.)
[Note: being seated in the temple by gender aside, Sikhs don’t have any class distinctions, all are equal: regardless of caste (originally and primarily an Indian religion), ethnicity (I dislike the term ‘race’ ... we all are the same ‘race’, which is ‘human’), or gender (my understanding is that men and women alike can serve in the various positions of Sikhism).]
So I entered the temple, in which there were maybe 10 women on the right, and two men on the left, and all were sitting on the floor and reading aloud from a small book; two women at the front of the temple seemed to be leading the proceedings. I sat quietly and cross-legged in an empty space on the floor by the women, and listened to the melodic voices chanting (and occasionally singing) in beautiful harmony. People would come and go on occasion, and when new worshippers entered, they would bow to a small area in the front of the temple before taking their seat. (Another faux pas of mine, is that I didn’t know to do this).
As I sat in the temple for almost an hour and a half, more people came in, until the women’s side was almost completely full, with perhaps 40 women sitting and chanting. Their clothes, I must take a moment to point out, were stunning; so many colorful outfits, beautifully crafted, with gorgeous head scarves over flowing black or silver hair, it was a gorgeous sight. I so wish I could have photographed that beauty.
Not used to sitting still for so long, I began to get fidgety. Not wanting to be disrespectful with excessive movement, I got up and went back out to the entry area, preparing to leave. The kind man at the reception area was nowhere to be seen, the foyer was empty. As I started to put my boots back on, I noticed stairs leading downward, and I heard voices, so I decided to see if someone in that part of the temple might be free to talk. I ventured down the stairs, and was greeted by a kind man who asked if I was a first-time visitor. I said yes, and he said “we have a meal, it’s all vegetarian, please, come eat, it’s free! Please, come eat!”
I said thank you, and he accompanied me to a large table full of delicious-looking Indian dishes (I love Indian food.) Several times he mentioned that the food was all vegetarian (perhaps used to dealing with people who want meat? I told him in return that that was wonderful, as I’m a vegetarian, and he seemed somewhat - relieved - by that?). I felt awkward taking a meal when the service was still continuing upstairs ... I actually told the man I’d been at the service for an hour and a half, I think so he wouldn’t think I came just for a free meal (though of course that was only in my head; he would never have cared, I am positive). He said they’d be another half hour, but please, I should eat.
I took a plate, and tried a small amount of each dish, though with so many people about to come eat, I didn’t want to take very much. There were 4 or 5 older men sitting in the room eating already, and I asked the man if it would be ok if I talked with them (not being sure if genders ate separately). He said they didn’t speak English, so I prepared somewhat awkwardly to eat alone. But then a kind woman entered and took some food, and I asked her if she spoke English and she said yes, and we sat together and talked.
She was from India, and has been in the US for 40 years. We talked about how most Sikhs are actually from India, and when I asked if many Americans convert to Sikhism, she was puzzled, and said we are meant to be what we are born, so why would people convert? We talked about the welcome Sikhs receive in the US, especially after 9/11, and she said people are definitely not as friendly, overall, as they used to be, and that made her sad. Sitting and eating my small plate of absolutely delicious Indian food, talking with this lovely woman (whose name I don’t even know) is one of my favorite meal memories ever, I have to say. For a brief 20 minutes we had this beautiful intimate connection, and I am so appreciative that she was there at that time. She wasn’t even a member of that temple, but rather a different one in the Bronx. She was just in the area visiting a friend, and stopped in to have lunch before heading back home.
So after she left, I felt a bit uncertain of what to do next, so I decided it was time to leave. I went back up the stairs, and put on my boots, and took off my borrowed head scarf. At that point, I noticed several older gentlemen sitting on a bench in the foyer area, and I smiled and nodded at them. The one closest to me said hello, and asked if I’d gotten food. I said yes, thank you, it was delicious. He said, “Please come back, anytime. Come for a meal. You are always welcome.” I smiled and thanked him, and headed out to my car. My visit was slightly awkward, and not quite what I had expected, but I am so incredibly glad I went, and I will definitely return.