Saturday, August 13, 2011

My World (and) the Artworld. Opportunities for reflection.

A Henry Moore Bronze outside the Art Gallery of NSW: I love it when I see an artwork I have been teaching the kids at school!

At the university I attended,  there is a first year assignment that requires the university student to interview a practicing Visual Arts teacher for one hour, the goal being to gain an understanding of the complexities of teaching the Visual Arts.
Whenever a first year student approaches me requesting an interview, I always say yes. I have also made it clear to the university that I am always very happy to participate in this task. I complete the interview, mostly at the end of a working day when I am at my worst - tired, not really 'into it', and very zombie like. I fear the students may think I am drunk or a little ditzy, as I fight to speak of my practice in a state of sheer exhaustion from teaching all day. However, I know these students appreciate my participation, and I know that as new teachers, they hang on to every word I say...
It was not that long ago that I too was a terrifed first year who struggled to find a teacher to interview and who, during the interview, was terrified the recording device would fail and I would end up with no interview at all (there were stories of this happening!). It was quite traumatic to say the least, and whilst many of these students appear more confident than I was, I know there is a level of nervousness that can only be quelled with a cup of tea and a good educational chat.
During my last interview, the interviewer asked a very fine question indeed: "How do you stay up to date with what is happening in the artworld". Oh dear. I was tired, I couldn't think. How do I? As an art teacher, I know it is important to know my subject, and this includes staying up to date with what is happening in museums and galleries and the contemporary artworld. As a relatively new teacher, I realised I had been spending so much time putting all my energy into improving my teaching practice and classroom management skills, as well as building my PLN (professional learning network), that I had neglected this part of my practice. I realised I now needed to extend my efforts in another area.
So, I took to this task like I did in developing my teaching practice and my PLN. What did/do I do to extend my knowledge of the artworld?
  • I extended, and continue to extend, my Twitter contacts to include as many art galleries, publications, artspaces, festivals, etc. as possible.
  • I participate in arts conversations on Twitter and other forums, and I mention exhibitions or festivals I have seen to my followers.
  • I belong to my professional association, and am an active member in this association.
  • I continue to read the arts segments in major and local newspapers
  • I put aside time to watch Visual Arts programs on tele
  • I take time to watch clips on TED, or on gallery websites
  • I pick up free publications which provide information on Visual Arts activities happening in Sydney
  • I try to read as much as I can when I can
  • I try to get a friend to accompany me to an exhibition so that I know I will go! Sometimes I will just find the time to take off by myself to soak up the art.
  • I try to fit in gallery trips during my school holidays
But after a busy week teaching, I've got to admit...sometimes the sheer exhaustion means I just do NOTHING. And that's ok - there will always another event, article, TV show. I don't have to be an art superstar - I just need to put in the energy to get out there sometimes, and to really get to know my subject. Getting to know my subject means I improve my confidence in teaching, and it has helped my to answer some of those curly questions students can at times throw at me:

"Miss, I saw a painting that is just a white square...I don't get it".

I will keep hoping students from the university will  continue to visit me at school and ask me about my teaching practice. During a one hour interview, I gain an opportunity for reflection that I don't get anywhere else. In a profession where being said to be 'time poor' is an understatement, I will always have the time for these students because they help me as much as I help them. Bring on the questions! I hope I have difficulty answering them...

Some sweet links for you:

VADEA: Visual Arts and Design Educators Association (NSW)
The Sydney Fringe Festival (September)
Oxford Arts Factory
RealTime Arts - a cool free mag
Art Nation ABC - Awesome segments for the art classroom.
ABC i-view

More links to come...must run. The world awaits!

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