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?

 (bryan farley)

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?

 (bryan farley)

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.”

 (bryan farley)

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?”

 (bryan farley)

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?


2 Responses to “The Tapestry of Art Education”

  1. […] I photographed last year’s conference, I wondered if educators would love connecting with each other as well as the content. This year I will remember how students inspired me to wonder about a different […]

  2. […] To read about 2014, see the post Tapestry of Art Education. […]