To be a successful educator you need to be able to multi-task and switch between roles and tasks quickly and efficiently always being mindful of your objective and the needs of the dynamic individuals under your charge. You are constantly barraged by a wide variety of stimuli all competing for your concentration: the bells, chimes, and vibrations of devices; the fast-moving constantly changing images on screens all around; the students, parents, administrators, and committees requesting your time and attention. And your students are functioning in this same stimulus-rich, highly-distracting environment.
Does any of this make you nostalgic for times gone by when you might have to sit for an hour or more and simply churn butter? Picturing that I can actually feel my body relaxing. I got that same feeling a few nights ago as I sat and prepared for teaching an art class on single-point perspective.
As I have shared on a number of occasions, visual art-making is not my forte but I am loving having the opportunity to teach art for art-making sake. I feel pretty certain that I am learning just as much if not more than my students. While preparing for a lesson on using the horizon line and a single vanishing point to create perspective in artwork I sat for a few hours and drew. I cannot remember the last time in my life I sat for an extended period of time and just drew.
Time flew by as I became completely engrossed in my task. It had my full concentration; it was so lovely to be focused on just one thing for a change. I reveled in the concentration of lining my ruler up with the vertices of each shape and the vanishing point to create those lines that made my 2-dimensional shapes appear to have form and depth. I enjoyed the process of imagining what those forms could represent and finding ways to add detail to create themed renderings of buildings lining a street, of gifts under a Christmas tree, of children’s building blocks littering a colorful rug.
When I bought the lesson to my students I found that my normally boisterous fifth graders become quiet and focused once they understood how to create this illusion of perspective with a ruler and a magic dot in the center of the paper. I was astounded at the creativity in evidence as each child found her or his own application of this technique changing the same cubes and rectangular prisms into a resort in Hawaii and a battlefield, a race car track and planters for tall beautiful plants and vines, colonies in outer-space and shopping malls.
Being able to shut out the world and focus is a very important skill and one that needs plenty of practice in our highly distracting environments. Having the opportunity and permission to sit and focus on one thing that requires patience and attention to detail as well as imagination is priceless.
As an educator, I am so grateful that I “had” to sit and draw for hours to adequately prepare myself to teach this technique and I am grateful to be in a school that affords its students the opportunity to do the same. Whether it is visual art-making, music, dance or theater art-making requires a unique kind of concentration that involves imagination and emotion and provides an immediate form of feedback to its creator. Here’s hoping you and your students have many opportunities to revel in the gift of using concentration and imagination in art-making.
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.