As I revealed this summer during my Arts Immersion To Do list series, of all the art forms visual art is the one with which I am least comfortable. While I have used visual art in my Arts Integration lessons, it is not an art form I have ever taught for the art form alone – until now. This year, I am charged with teaching every art form to all grade levels over the course of the school year at a local elementary school. I started with a dance unit to be in my comfort zone and have moved on to visual art, much to the great joy of many of my students. By and large, students love all the art forms but they seem to especially love visual art. And because I have to prepare these lessons, I have been reminded why.
The other day I was sitting in my classroom trying out an idea I had for my first graders. I had divided the paper into 4 rectangles and created a pattern of lines in each rectangle to have the students explore the element of line. To make the activity and the art work more interesting I added a layer of watercolor using the crayon resist technique. Now there is nothing earth-shattering about this lesson but I have to say, as I sat there dipping my brush in the water, twirling it in the watercolor, and applying the paint in broad strokes to my paper I could feel myself relax.
Slowly I started to really engage with the process, thinking carefully about which color paint would best enhance the crayon colored lines. Watching the watercolors turn this exercise in making patterns with lines into something actually visually stimulating was truly joyful. And that’s why kids love it. Right before their eyes that paper gets turned into a visual delight. They can sit back and say, “I made this!”
Not only am I finding myself enjoying experimenting with the lessons I plan to teach but it has led me to really want to improve my own visual art skills. I am lucky enough to have a mentor in my own department who is willing to sit with me and teach me drawing techniques – an area of which I know VERY little! She says that it gives her an excuse to sit down and draw, not something she normally does but wants to because it helps her keep her own skills sharp and it’s something she really loves to do. I am more than happy to be her excuse!
That’s what can happen to us as adults. We don’t carve out the time to do things simply because we enjoy them or they might be good for us – mentally, physically, or even professionally. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a gentle push, or a full-fledged shove. Here is my two-fold humble recommendation.
1. Face Your Art Resistance: Plan a lesson that involves the art form with which you are least comfortable or an aspect of an art form with which you are least comfortable. Areas of discomfort usually bring the greatest areas of growth.
2. Find You Can’t Resist: Allow yourself time to really immerse yourself in this aspect of art and be reminded why you probably loved it as a kid – before you learned to be uncomfortable. It’s a gift you can give yourself that may benefit you mentally, physically, and professionally.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.