Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Staying fresh and inspired

Where do you get your inspiration in order to create your works of art OR instruct your student artists? Do you get it only from blog hopping or google searching specifics about a project idea you want to try out? (As many of you have done to end up here on DreamPrayCreate.com per my blog stats at least.) If that's mostly what you are doing, I would challenge you to try something different in order to seek out and find inspiration. In the past month or so I have done just that - pushed myself out of my usual habits of blog hopping and google searching - and I have found that it has totally reinvigorated my teaching and reinspired me. Below is a little background as well as some examples of the types of things that I have found particularly inspirational and "game changing" (if you will).

Despite the fact that Jonah Lehrer's Imagine has come under great fire because he fabricated some of the Bob Dylan quotes in his writings that ultimately meant the book was pulled from everywhere and anywhere it was sold and Jonah subsequently resigned from his position at The New Yorker - I still say that Imagine wasn't/isn't totally worthless because of all of the aforementioned. The Bob Dylan section certainly adds to the book's failure but the rest of the book? It has some very intriguing information. I am talking specifically about the section where Jonah notes how a person is more likely to be inspired and creative if they travel and travel often.

Mr. Lehrer suggests traveling as a way of staying fresh and inspired because he insists that by taking yourself out of your everyday environment, you are forced to be more aware of things around you in order to help yourself fit in with your new surroundings. Doing something like this is necessary when you travel 1) so you don't stick out so obviously as the tourist you are, 2) so you are respecting the new place/people/traditions that you might find yourself within, and 3) so you can experience what is there for you to experience as authentically and organically as you possibly can.  (Do I sound a little like a social scientist or anthropologist? Probably. It's because a huge part of my academic studies have focused on both of those things and art education is my third career.)

Traveling is so important though because it offers you completely new ways to think of some stuff that you never would have thought of because you are so used to the same thing over and over again, everyday.  For example, did you know how many types of barbecue there are in the US alone? There are SO MANY types and your experience of the different types largely depends upon where you might be in the US. I mean, this is kind of an obvious example (I think) but it helps support my point so that's why I mention it. (BTW - I am a fan of the Carolina Vinegar-based barbecue more than any other kind. No offense to you and whatever is your favorite.)

All of this being said, a person should be well-traveled in order to open themselves up to the vastly different experiences offered by traveling. Trouble with this (for me) is that I have neither the funds nor the time to indulge in such a way. BUT, I have found a way around it. Here are some ways that I have been able to "travel" without going any place physically but gaining what I feel has totally served as wonderfully new and fresh inspiration in order for me to carry into my art classroom and share with my student artists.

1. Listen to podcasts
Ever tried out podcasts? I spent my entire childhood listening to books on tape and podcasts (to me) are the next best thing from that. (I use an app called Downcast to manage my subscriptions.) In the morning I will listen to devotionals (I like Family Life Today and Focus on the Family) while I am trying to jumpstart my day with my usual coffee and then I will usually pepper the rest of my day with Freakonomics. Here is a recent Freakonomics podcast that really made threw me out of my usual thinking and gave me pause to see performance arts from an entirely different perspective.

Freakonomics Radio Podcast: "Fear Thy Nature"

Now, while I don't always agree with everything I hear on Freakonomics (or any other podcast station I might listen to), that's not the point. The point is that by listening to things I otherwise might not like or agree with, I expand my ability to consider the opinions of others and exercise the power of disinterested pleasure. The better I am at disinterested pleasure, the less "judge-y" and self-centered I am and I think this alone makes me a better visual artist, visual communicator, and art educator.

2. Talk to people (I am talking ANYONE)(And I mean really talk, like, in person) who are NOT artists
Did you ever notice how artists and art teachers have a tendency to stick to their own kind or just be islands unto themselves sometimes? I am pretty sure this exists within the profession of teaching of just about any kind even despite the push by school administrations the country over to goad teachers into as much collaborative planning as possible. Whatever the case, social networking and virtual connections have made this even more true I think. (I realize this might seem contradictory especially considering the fact that this site is electronic media and you are experiencing it by way of the internet right now.) I have been thinking lately that despite the fact that the overarching goal of the internet was to connect the world, it hasn't exactly don't that as much as it might seem.

As a matter of fact, I feel like in the way it has connected people, it has disconnected them as well. People don't talk to one another anymore when they are standing in line waiting for their order at a restaurant because they are mostly occupied with whatever text or smart phone activity they might have available to them. People are disconnected! But you know what? Without realizing it, I have been railing against this notion and going out of my way to talk to people in person. I have even been doing this if it means that I only get to exchange a sentence or two with them and not have a whole conversation! Usually the abbreviated exchange occurs as a result of me complimenting someone of the color palette or "theme" of the outfit they are wearing. Recently (at the gas station) a conversation that could have been abbreviated was extended and I learned a lot about drag racing because I complimented a guy at the pump next to me on his very unique volkswagen bug drag racer. His car is the one below (I googled this) that is the black car...

Did you know that in order to achieve a really fast drag racer, the designers/creators of their vehicles will go to great lengths to make the lightest vehicle possible even to the point of removing the on-board lighting (like the head or tail light) systems? The chassis of the car will also likely be steel so that the car can endure/survive any accidents but the floor boards and as much of the rest of the rest of the car will be aluminum because of how light in weight it is? Did you know that they average volkswagen bug is almost twice the weight of a well-made (and winning) drag racing bug? Yeah! All of this is what I learned from a less than seven minute conversation with the designer/maker/ driver of the Billy-the-Kid drag racer in the video who just happened to be standing at the pump next to me last Friday and who happily indulged me with answers to my curious questions. His answers really made me think about the importance of an artists materials though especially in terms of real function and how that plays out with actual necessity.

3. Watch Viral Video
Do you do this? I LOVE doing this!!! It is pure entertainment and amusement and silliness. That's not all it is though. Sometimes it's seeing other people's really amazing (and sometimes completely genius) ideas in action. Seeing things that are outside of the box the way they so often are is always inspirational to me. Some of what inspires me is just the editing of the videos themselves. Video editing has come SO FAR and the way something is edited has a huge impact on how you watch/experience it. Sometimes the editing itself is more genius even than the content. My recent favorite that I have seen is something from a Youtube channel called Bad Lip Reading that one of my colleagues (who is an English and Composition teacher) shared on Facebook the other night. If you are a Twilight fan, try not to be offended by this because it kind of makes fun of Twilight. Also, if you don't "get" this, I understand because in order to get it, you have to kind of know the movies and general goings-on of pop culture to really get them.

Obviously the above is not related to art education. That's kind of the point though. It's about getting out of the hole or corner we too often end up in and not even thinking about what is going on in the rest of the world. It's also about being aware of trends and having some with-it-ness so that you are showing students that by stepping into their world, they will end up more encouraged to step into yours - meaning, you can get them to want to learn anything you present no matter how boring it might seem or how difficult it might present to be.

And that basically sums up where/how I find inspiration for what ends up going on in my class. All of the above are actively used in order to inform my teaching and even my curriculum decisions and I have found that by opening myself up beyond the scope of just looking at art education-related things, it has made me a more open minded artist as well as enabled me to offer my student artists an experience of art education that is far from stodgy and inspires them to always be fully engaged. 

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