TAHOE/TRUCKEE - One of my favorite experiences as an artist-in-residence is the walk across the various school yards, through the halls and into the class rooms. What is so special about that? When the semester starts in September I walk as an unknown individual, unnoticed by all the business of the school day and when I finally enter the class room, I hear the little voices whispering: "She is the art teacher."
That is how it begins, and by the time the first of the three art sessions is completed, I have seen up to 90 fifth-graders and 90 third-graders (as is the case at Truckee Elementary). In addition I have participated in an afternoon program and met students of every age in the school. By this time of year as I step out of my car and as I enter the school yard, voices from everywhere shout: "Ms. Anke, Ms. Anke are you coming to us?" or simply "Hi, Ms. Anke."
It makes me think about the importance for us to be known. We love (and at times don't love) this about our community. Wherever we go, we will be recognized by someone.
Arts For the Schools' Artist-in-Residence program offers unique learning opportunities for students and artists alike. In general, a professional artist does not seek the kind of recognition that entails elementary students shouting out the person's name. When we think of the fame of an artist, we think of the sales, or the caliber of galleries or private collectors who appreciate the artist's work and purchases it for high prices. Instead, the artist-in-residence lives not for the development of our own artwork, but that of the students.
If asked what the motivation is to take on the job like that, I would have to say the desire to help others doesn't stem from the accolades I received or the good I feel, when helping children explore their creative abilities, but rather from a recognition of the depth of fear to fail in the discipline of art. If you ever have set out to paint a painting that was to mean something to you, that others would appreciate for their esthetically high level, that allowed you to develop an awareness of appreciation of the subject matter of the painting, you will have to agree that it does not take a perfectionist to be intimidated by the task.
To the degree I receive encouragement and gain confidence through an experience when I do my own art, I pour out encouragement to my students, not to shower them with a "you can do it" mantra, but with a sincere recognition of the difficulty of the task. I have come to tell my students that in order to create art, one has to be courageous or brave. Why is that? Because you have to overcome the fear of failure.
Well, you might say, that sounds like an adult who had too many sad and disappointing experiences. But what about innocent and playful children? They just jump in. Don't they? Yes, to an extend they do, but they are very aware of the potential to fail. "What if I mess up?" is the first question in any art class we have to address. "How do I erase or correct myself?"
As the ages go higher (for example I also work with students at Sierra Continuation High School) and the children turn into youth, the awareness of the risk to fail becomes bigger and bigger. But if there is one opportunity I want to give my students, it is a safe space for learning and practicing. Any athletic discipline requires training. So does drawing and painting.
We call the AIR program art education because it is and includes many aspects outside of creativity. When I start the session, we produce a vocabulary sheet. On this we write words that introduce the medium. For example, we learned that 1. For watercolor paintings we need plenty of water, 2. Watercolors can be glazed, 3. Watercolors run, fuse or bleed. 4. We can make a wet or a dry brush-stroke and 5. Analogous color create a three-dimensional effect. Analogous colors are neighboring colors.
Then we have three classes to go to complete two masterpieces. And masterpieces they are in the end. Some students wish they had more time or could have added this or that, but for the most part they are proud to show their work.
I am very pleased to share with you what Mrs. Blesse's 5th grade students have been up to. In addition to creating their masterpieces, the artwork is tied into other curricula they are learning. All of this is made possible by Arts For the Schools AIR program which I am so glad to be part of. At this time every year we ask the public to help support the AIR program as well as our performing arts program.
While Measure A thankfully supports the AIR program it does not cover any administrative fees associated with running the program - so your support can really help! Visit us online at www.artsfortheschools.org to be part of supporting both of these amazing learning experiences!
- Anke Hass is a current Arts For the Schools Artist in Residence.