New Work, New Life

office move in2_12
  • I fell in love with AmeriCorps when I served in SeniorCorps 2014-2015 and learned I COULD earn a living doing what I love.
  • I had high hopes that my second AmeriCorps position as a VISTA Leader in Program Development at Berea College (2016-2017) would turn into a position like this.
  • By the fall of 2017 I had almost given up hope that it would happen.
  • I am back in higher education, working with college students and building a new program (which I did several times as a traditional teacher of art), but I do not have to assign grades or stick to syllabi or try to measure unmeasurables.
  • I have a very nice, very RED office with windows.
  • I now have a rental house in Berea, where I will live among like minded people.

This accomplishment is bittersweet, of course, because of how I came back to Kentucky, and why. But I will have my cats Basil and Pandora with me soon, along with furniture and other beloved items I acquired or brought to a farmhouse in Indiana, trying to make that house a home. O still inspires me multiple times on a daily basis as well, and I have photographs of and artworks by him here to remind me of the importance of living life like today will be your last, and maintaining the courage of my love and passionate convictions.

o at 22

A new kind of student. And teacher!

The last time I taught a formal, academic painting class was in the fall of 2008.  I looked forward to Painting 1 with great anticipation and excitement, remembering the thrill of taking it for the first time at a community college in 1983.  I firmly believed my very small liberal arts college students would embrace the color theory, still life and landscape projects, work hard and enjoy everything about oil painting, as I once did.

But from day one, I endured exasperated looks and whispered complaints about boring subject matter and tedious color mixing (why mix a brown when I can buy a tube of it???). I witnessed many students painstakingly rendering considerably out of proportion boxes and bottles, and felt their resentment as I pointed out errors and showed them how to make corrections — that they then refused to make.  I will never forget walking through a studio filled with easels proudly displaying unfinished, rushed through or otherwise poor paintings during finals week. Or how I blamed myself, the teacher, for my inability to reach these students.  I was also filled with fear, knowing I couldn’t possibly give these students the Cs and Ds they deserved because they would complain to my supervisors, and put my tenure track teaching job, my future at risk.

Five and a half years later, I watch a man who lives in a homeless shelter take weeks to lovingly complete a landscape.  He exhaustively pages through donated books to find inspiration and references, yet creates a tree that could only come from his obviously incredible imagination.  Then, after a snow storm and in a single art making session, he transforms this painting to correspond with the recent descent of winter.  His dedication, creativity and courage take my breath away.

The same thing happens when I present what in academic terms would be categorized as a typography assignment to a table full of homeless individuals.  After giving them incredibly few instructions, I watch a young woman “design” a word describing herself into a creative crossword puzzle and see a young man transform a personal attribute into an innovative, graffiti-like work of art. I cannot help but compare this experience with one I had in 2009, watching graphic design majors sit in sullen silence in response to a similar project, waiting for me to give them inappropriate amounts of “advice” about how to proceed so they could painlessly “succeed”.

The disadvantaged individuals I now work with are without a doubt the best “students” I have ever had.  And many of them have never had the benefit of a college education.  Instead of leaving my “classes” feeling defeated, frustrated, and afraid, my heart sings with joy because every single session is a revelation about myself and these so-called unfortunate people.

And another thing. Every day, someone thanks me. In the almost twenty years I taught art at the college level, I cannot remember any college student ever thanking me at the end of a project or class period.