Saturday, November 21, 2009

More cows than people.

I have been on many two lane roads these days. Not incredibly even, bubbling up and down and swiveling through mountains and fields. On these roads I am constantly mesmerized by the landscapes. Amazingly diverse layers of colors and textures. Fields, mountains, peaks, grasses, lakes, rivers...sometimes all in a single view. I read once that Montana has more cows than people, I think I believe that. Some days, I wonder if I were to break down, when would the next car come by? By car, I mean truck, I think trucks still outrank cars in this state. No blingy trucks either, serious working, useful automobiles. If my van WERE to break down, I would want to be saved by a truck. I bet that truck could build me a new van.
In these areas, the Art Mobile gets a few looks. I get a few looks too, as most people can come up with a very interesting character to play their art teacher. I should start the presentatin with a crazy dance to play into that idea, but I don't. It is amazing how we all try to size one another up, thinking that due to our previous experiences, we'll be able to tag a person based on what they look like. Well I may get the hippy/outdoorsy/outsider/blonde first impression. But, it's always amazing to me how the outsider induced cold shoulder turns incredibly warm when folks learn that I grew up in this great state, 5th generation. My dad, Butte, mom, Great Falls...those facts take me into the real Montana zone. In many towns, if not all, I have met someone who went to school with, dated, worked with some member of my family. It helps that my dad is one of 9 and my mom, one of 7. Most still live in Montana, so if that continues, we may start to outnumber the cows.
I'm always struck by Montanans. So real and lacking in most of the frills of commercialism. Yet, until I'm one of them, I hover in an outside circle. What I bring is not a necessity in many of these places. Yes, some people crave and are incredibly inspired by art. Yet, if a family has to eat, they have to be have more certainty that the art world initially provides. If cattle need to be moved, taking time to paint a pretty picture does seem frivolous in a way. But it's the bigger picture. It's understanding our history, our lives, our story. It's sharing that story and connecting with someone, something else. So I get a lot of comments that someone just doesn't "get" art. But I would make a cattle ranch go under in a matter of days. I don't "get" cattle. We each "get" something, hopefully love and are passionate about something. But isn't communication how we "get" one another? So, in essence, art is important if only as a way to get one another; to visually communicate.

There are moments in my day when I know what I do is worth it. Every teacher can feel bogged down with problems and issues. It's when a kid learns, has an "ah-ha" moment, when what I bring to these schools seems to touch a kid. Indian Education for all is an important facet of the education system. There is much to be learned about a culture that intertwines all disciplines. Because everything is connected. All too often, we attempt to appropriately label and separate EVERYTHING. Art is a part of science, history, math...everything. Native Americans seem to innately know and practice such things. That is reason enough to learn about the culture. I had a student this week who finally saw some of his world in the Art Mobile. If you think about it, the way we learn history is definitely from a specific perspective. He lit up when he saw the ledger art, because he connected to it. That's what makes it worth it. To have a kid see something at school that connects to their life and to the learning process. I like those moments.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday West of the Divide

Another great day on the road! I had three presentations today. One with a young group of uninhibited and inquisitive, yet the attention span isn't all that lengthy. Great kids though. It's neat to see the craving for knowledge that most young kids have. I wish that hunger continued...and in some, thankfully, it does. The humor of a 5yr old, usually not purposeful, but it is brilliant and fresh and I absolutly love it. Bring on the 5yr old comments!! The big groups were 1-5th grade and then 6-12th grade.
Teens, oh boy. I wish I could help the teens realize that learning is cool. Or maybe that they can be an individual...I don't miss those years of trying, somewhat desperately, to figure life out. That combined with the seemingly invisibility of that age group. With each grade level, comments definitely decrease for the Art Mobile. It's like with each year, we learn that there is pain associated with throwing it all out there. Are we learning to be inhibited? Yes, you could be horribly wrong- but trying, THAT is the most important thing. Being comfortable in situations where you are uncomfortable, also important. Yet I can feel the high school kids sizing me up to see if I'm a "cool" kid. Or sizing the art up to see if it is "cool" to like. All in all the teachers are all very excited to see and learn new things. It's great to see educators who crave and get amped up on knowledge; extremely inspiring. What I don't quite understand is the few teachers that nod off or obviously zone out during my presentation, okay, maybe only one or two...but still. As if the students don't learn what is appropriate based on seeing the actions of adults. That's frustrating, especially if they sit in the front row. :) But the day went well. I would say that the native art pieces and Steve Glueckert's drawing machine drew the most inquisitive and out of the ordinary looks. The strength of the exhibit makes it difficult to perceive any favorites. I think the variety and technique shown by the Montana artists makes my ramblings about their work somewhat easy and natural. I love thinking and talking about the why and how's of very interesting and never the same answer. Even when an artist uses the exact same materials, they can't help but to make it their own. Love it. On to a more northern site tomorrow. Until next time-

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I think my brain gets fried after talking all day long...I wonder if I can scientifically prove such a thing. All I know is that the process of setting up the exhibit and talking about the work is exhausting and great all in the same bundle. I hope what I say makes sense, but knowing that my brain seems to operate in run-on/ADD fashion, I can only hope for the best. Somewhere in the third hour of talking about the art, and amazing artwork as it is, I hit a blurry haze and wonder if I just repeated myself or if the information I just shared was at all coherent. I have been on tour a lot in the last month, so I think that sleeping away from home adds to the level of exhaustion. Or, I'm just crazy, hard to say. :)
That rambling is a warning that this journal/blog entry could possibly be somewhat incoherent. However, I want to update, so here it goes...

Ahhh, the good stuff, the art education/outreach is worth it. I have been all over mostly NW/W Montana. I am constantly seeing new things in the artwork that is in the exhibit, due to the inquisitive eyes of students and teachers. It is amazing how, as an artist, we create something that is a part of us; something hopefully unique. Something we hope connects each of us to someone else, or possibly the someone else to the environment, a dream, place...something. Whatever it is, it is about that connection. After all, without the viewer (connection) the work never becomes real or alive. I have to hope that even if that connection is small...say, a once a year visit from the Art Mobile, it will be remembered. The possibility that something else is out there. That rules can be broken or that each individual story is important...those are thing I hope these kids are left with. I don't trick myself into thinking that learning a few art terms and creating art for an hour will change their lives or the world. I definitely have students fall asleep and zone out during my visits. But maybe I'm there for the kid in front, soaking it all in and asking every question possible. Maybe that's who needs the Art Mobile.

I have been amazingly blessed in my life. I have the support, education, and drive to be able to create art and to travel with the Art Mobile. I will continue to grow and I will reach goals only to set new ones. I can only hope that each student gets fired up enough, about something, anything...that they will strive to reach their potential. If the students I reach aren't thrilled about art, maybe they'll grow in their appreciation and understanding of it. Possibly we can cross some boundaries and grow to empathize with one another with such thoughts and realizations ...

There are a lot of questions that being on the road and teaching all of these great students leaves me with. I have never seen Montana in the way that I see it from my van. Good people, hard-working people who are doing their best to simply live their lives. People living in an area because a certain industry brought them or their ancestors there. Now seeing schools close, lose enrollment and the number of vacant buildings in small town Montana...I have started to fear that these places may disappear. Jobs are necessary in these areas. I don't think there are a lot to go around. I don't know the answer, I just don't want to lose the core of our state. The people are always inspiring and determined. I trust they will find away to stay afloat. For now, I'll keep bringing them the art!

Monday, November 2, 2009

soabox rambling

Wow, a MONTH since my last post, slacker.
It's an interesting job. A lot of NPR (or bad country radio, it goes both ways) and coffee in the morning, while driving. Followed by meeting some new people and sharing the exhibit with them, followed yet again by some more driving. Books on tape, radio...aimless thought wanderings. I have always painted, spent time alone and been comfortable doing so. But this leaves me time to write songs, if I were so inclined or talented in that fashion. I am not, or I haven't developed myself in that way.
Some current questions...what happens if the next Turner, Picasso, Michelangelo..fill in your own fav artist from history, just so happens to not be exposed to art? No training in art...imagine the void. Can we not value art because we can't perceive the void?
Why do we need art? Maybe because each of us needs to have a reason to wake up. A way to feel alive. If it's skiing, science, math, carpentry, break dancing, or art- whatever it is, each of us has to find it.
Why is there a battle for the arts? Is that really something to debate? The necessity of feeling connected to humanity, the need to dance, sing, feel something beautiful wrap over you? Really, because even though I will admit that I wouldn't spend my spare time doing math, does math wrap around even the most ignorant mathematician? Does math cross cultural boundaries and communicate...shiest, maybe it does in a way. I'm not a math hater. I am simply saying that we can and must have it all. I want to give the next Turner a reason to believe they can and should paint. Or at the very least, I like seeing happy kids simply making art. They're happy. Why can't we fight for art just for that fact?

Soapbox, down.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I'm in LOVE with Montana...

...For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it's difficult to analyze love when you're in it...It seems to me that Montana is a big splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were put on my agenda. -John Steinbeck
I agree! Today, on a beautiful fall October day, crisp air, with snow sprinkled lightly on the Bridgers...I fell in love, again.
Pass Creek school is nestled in this picture. In the midst of ranches and down a dirt road (you know it's good when the directions to a school include, "just keep driving, you will think, "there is no way a school could be all the way up here," then, you will hit us) a quaint one-room school house full of 7 energetic students (one, a kindergartner only at school on Tuesday and Thursday). The one teacher, Mrs. Rider, juggles K-8 with absolute ease. She's obviously been doing this for awhile! A perfect one room school house less than an hour outside of Bozeman, crazy. Imagining Bozeman and it's brand new grade school, full classrooms and overall semi-chaotic atmosphere right next to this place is absolutly wild.
The kids are extremely good, solid, bright, and honest. Definitely the product of good ol' Montana and families that care and teach values. This felt like the type of place where no door goes locked. No neighbor left alone. The kind where people do the right thing just because it is just that, the right thing. I like it, a lot!
The art exhibit was a hit. The students asked great questions and contemplated many important topics. Realistic vs. Abstract art, Native Art, art with livestock markers...they started to really begin to see and pick things out in the artwork. Very good connections and perceptions, these kids are definitely self-motivated and set up for success. So, again, an amazing day, at yet another, amazing school! My only fear is that these small schools won't be around forever. There aren't a lot of children returning to the ranch after they attend college, and not a lot of young families means not a lot of young students. But for today, I'll soak in that place and it's awesomeness. Knowing that I'll see it again soon enough. I'll be back in a few months to teach them a printmaking lesson! Until then, I'll anxiuouly await another drive to this place, good strong coffee in hand and a landscape to die for.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Week one, done and done.

What an amazing first week! Jefferson Elementary School in Helena, MT is a model school. Unbelievable staff, a relentlessly supportive administration and the school is filled with an enthusiasm for learning and life that makes my job easy. They truly value the arts and embrace the unknown with vigor. I don't think all of the teachers would list "art" as their utmost passion. However, they embrace learning for themselves and their students to such a degree that they expand their passions to encompass all areas. They value the fact that all learning is an inter-connected process. One thing does not exist on it's own. Art is a shadow image of history, mathematics, science, language, culture...everything. It was beyond a pleasure to spend 4 days at Jefferson. I seem to get so attached to the students and teachers that by Friday, it's difficult to say goodbye.
I love art, obviously. I love sharing art, evidenced by my chosen occupation. Days full of curious faces all wanting to know what I've come to show them (teachers, students, everyone) makes my day worthwhile. I heard quite a few exclamations that, "this is my best day EVER." Throughout the halls, rumblings of the drawing machine, parfleche, the bison bowls (oh my!)...all of the work in the show, could be heard between K-5 students alike, not to mention among teachers in the teachers lounge. Anything to get people excited, confused, talking...I love it!

I joke that I am a bit of a circus. I show up at schools and go hard, expelling every bit of energy I can (at times with a serious coffee in hand) showing all of my new art "tricks." But these "tricks" are ideas and thoughts that we all, as humans, have to some degree. These tricks are experiments that are brought to light by the amazing people who take the time to create their artwork. There is nothing better than to begin to crack the box that a persons comfortable thought processes are contained in. Even if just for a moment, to say, yes, this artist decided that they would in fact use only recycled materials to make their art. Yes, this drawing is actually made from a kinetic sculpture, a drawing machine. That one style of art was the child of necessity to communicate through language barriers. Communication can cross cultural boundaries. We can understand one another through a piece of artwork. And the goal isn't really to find the answer. These students just need a spark. Maybe art will be their passion. Maybe art will be their escape. What they do with it, that's not up to me. But at the very least, maybe they saw something as possible that they never imaged before. Or maybe, they just had the best day EVER.

One last thought...this week I had students remember my painting style (and be able to pick out my piece) from last year. They remembered art language (media, landscape, abstract, realistic, etc.) and they floored me when the used it! I was also able to have a LOT of great visitors!! Sarah Jager and Emily Free Wilson came by to discuss their functional pottery with the students (so great!), many involved people in the art community came by, Beck McLaughlin from the Montana Art's Council, Teresa Veltkamp from OPI/Indian Education for all...THANK YOU to everyone who came by! As you can see, a very good week indeed. Until next time-

Friday, September 18, 2009

On the road again...

Here's to the 10th year on the road as the traveling Art Mobile of Montana (my second year as Teaching Artist)! I have never personally blogged, the Art Mobile of Montana (AMM) has never had a I'll jump in to this blog-world and see what happens as I go.
A soon as I finish up some of the last details of the show, I'll pack the van and head to my first stop. Next week, Jefferson Elementary school in Helena, MT. Follow my travels and the interesting events that always seem to come my way!
We have a great exhibit of 35 Montanans this year! All of the artists have loaned a piece of original artwork to the show, and they are in fact doing some amazing things. Check it out at
I will be writing from the, back to work!