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The Tapestry of Art Education

Last week I attended the third annual Art is Education summer institute in Oakland, California. The Integrated Learning Summer Institute: Inventing Our Future was held at the Chabot Space and Science Museum from August 12-14, 2014. The Alameda County Office of Education’s Alliance for Arts Leadership organized the event.

For links to the galleries and notes, visit my More Than Kids blog where I have started keeping Notes on A Blog.

 (bryan farley)

Chip McNeal opened the first day with a quote from astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson that underscored the theme of the three days.

“(W)e are all connected to each other… It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

By seeing the world this way, Neil DeGrasse Tyson feels “quite large.” Perhaps art educators would benefit by viewing our work similarly. Are we limiting ourselves when we say that education starts (or ends) with art? Are we thinking too small?

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Our conversation resembles a tapestry. Participants weave material and memories into a mosaic. The more we connect, the richer our tapestry. We can isolate a material, and we often do, and label these materials Science or Math or History or Language Arts… we can even translate these materials into French and call it a “foreign language.” Have we changed the nature of the universe or merely created a standardized test?

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How can birds of a feather ponder together … and still fly higher? How can we take the song of every bird and create a new morning each day? How do birds know where to go and I need to use GoogleMaps?

Birds have such small brains. I mean, they have bird brains, and yet birds know how to be birds. We have BIG human brains and we do not know how to use them yet. I think Common Core will finally solve our human brain problem, but someone will need to create a standardized test to verify our humanity.

 (bryan farley)Being around so many engaging, talented, intelligent, caring (I am just an art person, so I don’t know any more words) was refreshing. I did not need to justify that art matters. Researchers proved what we already knew — People like music. We work better when we like something. The more we work, the better we do. The more that we engage our brain, the more we retain. Chip summarized, “Move to Learn; Learn to Move.”

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Shadows can be scary. Sometimes we must look at our shadow and play with them. Sometimes shadows are a metaphor; sometimes we are the metaphor and we are afraid of ourselves.

Art cannot solve everything. Art is not a thing. Art is what we do.

 (bryan farley)

In classrooms educators are often isolated. At the institute we shared space. We connected while making meaning. We created a tapestry of color and community. Artists need community and for art educators the lack of community can be daunting when we are left alone for months. Art must be done in isolation, but art is meant to be shared and tested. Ideas can be tested, but not by a standardized test. Besides, artists realize that at best, standardized tests will only create standardized students.

 (bryan farley)

If we are any good at doing art, we create problems. Art is messy. Fortunately, artists solve problems. During the first morning, Shatki Butler referenced Charles and Rae Eames. The Eames solved problems. Perhaps our students need more art educators who are willing to do what is necessary to solve problems.  Our students need educators who are willing to learn and tell their amazing stories. We need educators who are willing to work and play at their art, even if that art is called Science or Math or History or Language Arts of French.

Youth Speaks Artist Tassiana Willis (bryan farley)

Youth Speaks Artist Tassiana Willis sang and spoke. She went into the woods and into our hearts. She reminded us that students might not obey but they always listen. Her audience of educators listened too. I was inspired; I know the audience was inspired too. We were moved to tears. Were we moved to action? Will more educators be vulnerable in front of their students next year. Will teachers be moved to “show the world all the love in (our) heart?”

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Jeffrey Duncan-Adrade spoke the third day about, “What a Coach Can Teach a Teacher.” The high school where Duncan-Andrade teaches is near my home in Oakland. (John Hughes did not make movies about our neighborhood; I think he forgot about us.) When I was a kid, I was a UCLA basketball fan, so I became a John Wooden fan, because of UCLA basketball. For some reason, I am still surprised that more teachers and coaches do not work together.

For some reason, coaches and teachers do not work together more often. (This sounds like the same sentences as the previous paragraph but it’s not.) On the second day of the workshop, I even quoted something from one of my old John Wooden books. John Wooden was thorough. He taught his players the proper way to tie their shoes. Is that art? science? math? history? language?

 (bryan farley)

One of my favorite moments of the three day institute was connecting to Chip McNeal. While passing near the Chabot cafe, I thought I heard Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” which reminded me of a Neil DeGrasse Tyson interview about “the feeling of music.” I saw Chip working on his laptop and asked if I could send him any photographs for the third day’s introductions. (I also tweeted a photograph of him with birds and a quote from Gil Scott-Heron).

Neil Degrasse Tyson was talking about a musician when he said, “If you are not connecting, then go home, because we are all wasting each others time.”  The link to the entire interview can be found on the other page.

 (bryan farley)

The challenge to connecting is creating a lasting circuit. I need to do better as well. In Todd Elkins’ opening comments, he mentioned that artists must write. While I write, I do not read other artist’s work enough. I do not engage enough. I also missed the one workshop I had planned the most to photograph. Somehow I forgot about Derek Fenner’s “Leaving Your Trace” session Wednesday when he took his group into the woods.

How can we support each other and support our students? How can we create space for each other to make art even when it gets a little messy? How do we solve problems?

 

Twitch and Shout – Advocacy Shaken and Stirred

Some of you may know that I have epilepsy. Some of you may know that next month I will have had epilepsy for thirty years. Others may know that I have been an advocate and spokesperson for several years. I speak, write, photograph and wear t-shirts. I was a Featured Blogger on the old Epilepsy Foundation site. Sometimes I am interviewed by news organizations. Sometimes celebrities talk to me. Other times, I am completely ignored and disrespected. It is possible that I forgot to shower and/or brush my teeth, which I must have forgotten to do so often the last year that I have decided to step back as a spokesperson.
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To help with my decision, I read some of my old posts. Five years ago I wrote about my first seizure. Below is an excerpt.

 

There were many reasons that I chose to hide having epilepsy. This is difficult to explain without sounding like a whiner. As a society, we often ignore people with disabilities or we look at them (us?) differently. We even tell our children that it isn’t nice to stare so that when children grow up and become disabled, they already know their role: become invisible. Don’t let people see you.

I hope our world is changing or that I will learn I am wrong. This summer I become more comfortable with myself by visiting Camp Coelho, a summer camp in Yosemite for kids with epilepsy. While I aspire to be a role model, the next generation is better positioned to show us how to relate to each other. Young people are more accepting.

On the other hand, I have a different role. I know how to advocate. And I know how to use imagery to make the invisible visible. I also have twenty five years understanding the difference between the two.

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Five years ago, I probably understood the challenges better than I do now. I also understood myself. I am an advocate and I define advocate similarly to the way many lawyers define compromise. I win when all sides leave unhappy. I tend to nudge all sides to move a little towards understanding each other better, and while that helps our epilepsy community, I realize that I tend to annoy people.

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Last week while I was attending an art educators convention, I was explaining my present state of mind to Carolyn Carr one of the organizers. I told her that I was surprised by some of my recent successes … and even more surprised by recent failures. She laughed in a way that said she understood.

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Epilepsy is like dancing with an invisible partner who will shock you and knock you unconscious. After your dance partner shocks you a few times, your friends ask you about your aura before you were zapped. “What did it taste or smell like immediately before the seizure?” Uhh, you did see me get picked up by an invisible being and thrown across the room, right? You want to know what it tasted like?

So if we seem a little paranoid, please give a break. We told you about strobe lights. No problem. You created EDM. Maybe EDM is fine. I haven’t been. I am a little paranoid that I will have to answer questions about my aura.

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I find shelter in the paranoia. I dress in barbed wire and make friends with my fear. Paranoia is a metaphor. Paranoia also explains our history and paranoia describes our reality. Paranoia is a lens to view our history. People with epilepsy have been persecuted. We were killed by Nazis too. We have been slaughtered throughout history. There are millions of people with epilepsy and yet there are only a few known historical figures. How is that so? Is it really paranoia or a realization of our history? We know that pharmaceutical companies have placed profits above our health. We know how public school officials and educators have talked about people with invisible disabilities (and those with visible disabilities.) We know what happens now, yet We Keep Calm and Twitch On.

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Today while listening to the 80′s station, I heard the Spandau Ballet song True. I listened closely to True and watched the shadowy silhouette video when I returned home. It’s not a bad song. I had not listened to the lyrics in decades and I do not know if I had ever researched the origin of the band’s name. Supposedly, the name is a Nazi reference, or at least a barbed wire “twitchy” reference. This is the sound of my soul… I bought a ticket to the world, but now I’ve come back again. Why do I find it hard to right the next line?”

So, how can we remain true and write the next line? I do not have an answer for you. You may choose to remain invisible, and if you do so, I would understand. I have chosen to see and be seen. It’s too late for me to return to my old life.

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This blog post is much messier than I would like. I am finishing on the 19th, posting it to the 18th, even though I wanted it done on August 17th. I also wanted to write much more about c’s, see’s and sea’s as well as Ten’s and X’s. It did not happen. I have a few ideas on my Notes on a Blog page. and since I am going to stop writing for the foundation, I might have time to put together a book or something else.

 

(My dad committed suicide ten years ago Saturday.) On August 17, 1969 the band Ten Years After played Woodstock. They are best known for their song “I’d Love To Change The World.” The chorus continues, “but I don’t know what to do.”

Well, I know what to do. I am going to do something that has been described as insane or crazy. I am going to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. I am going to hold myself up to the mirror, reflect, repeat and solve for X where X = the unknown.

Join me if you wish, and remember to take risks and take care.

The Evolution Will Not Be Instagrammed

So, today is the 10 year anniversary of the day my father committed suicide. I was going to write a very dramatic blog post about how tragedy has visited my life too often and my life was unfair, but a funny thing happened on the way to this ten year anniversary. I started to see my life differently.

 (bryan farley)

If life is unfair, I have the advantage, at least for today.

 (bryan farley)

Since I met Brad Paisley two weeks ago, Robin Williams committed suicide. Williams was 63, the same age that my father was when he committed suicide. On August 14, 2014, Paul McCartney played the last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  Tonight I danced with a kind woman from the Havin’ Fun Bunch. I returned from photographing roller derby just in time to hear the song, “When I’m 64.” The Havin’ Fun Bunch had a Disney themed party this year. Every year their mission is to have fun. I just started it.

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You can read more about the direction I was going to take by reading my Notes on a Blog post. I needed to go through all of those steps before I could decide to be grateful and have fun.

I visited my farmers’ market friends from Fresno County. I visited a high school friend (a FriendInCheeses indeed!) who also happened to be in San Francisco’s Mission District today. Later I drove to Sacramento and photographed a really cute baby. I would have taken more baby pictures, but roller derby teams from Santa Cruz and Sacred (Sacramento)  interfered with the Roller Derby photo shoot .

 (bryan farley)

I met some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen today. They all look so similar, and yet very different.

 (bryan farley)

A year ago today I started working at a high school. I loved teaching photography, yearbook and journalism.  I do not know why I am no longer there, but I trust that something will work out. One year ago, I titled my post, “On Track – Nine Years Later.”  Paisley mentioned Mark Twain during our discussion. I do not know much about Twain, but I remember the quote, “even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” I guess I needed to move.

 (bryan farley)

I only have a few more minutes left on August 16, 2014. I am probably going to leave my amazing DoubleTree by Hilton suite (thanks Mario!) and go out for a little bit. I will upload photos later and edit this post. I will also add more to my new “Notes on a Blog.” I am truly thankful to all the people who have helped me the last 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and 40 years and 46 years. Again, it seems unfair how much I have been able to do, because of the changes I have been forced to make.

 (bryan farley)

As I was talking with two different high school friends, I was reminded how I signed my old high school yearbooks. (Danny, I think I took the salutation from Brian with an “i”). When I was in high school, I wrote, “Take Care and Risks.” It sounded cool, but now that I have experienced a little more tragedy, I would change my salutation to

Take Risks and Take Care….

Take care of yourself, take care of each other, take care to appreciate the little things.