Monday, October 09, 2006

Interview with an Art Teacher- Part 1

Living in Pittsburgh, and trying to continue doing artwork can be a tricky proposition. On one hand, you have the advantage of a very low cost of living. Conceivably you can work part time in the service industry, or do another kind of piecework, and be able to meet some basic costs... while continuing to do the work that sustains you. That can work for awhile, but as you get older and start to make more commitments, you may be drawn to a lifestyle that requires more in the way of financial reources. So what do you do when you need health insurance and a retirement account? For many, the idea of teaching art becomes an attractive proposition. Today I decided to talk to a friend who has successfully explored that option, and present that conversation in interview form. For reasons that may or may not become evident, we have decided to protect his identity. He will be assuming the initials "cv" for this purpose.


MD: You gotta bear wiith me here, c, this is as new to me as it is to you. Why don't we start out with the artwork you do... what medium do you work in, and how was your involvement in the arts developed?

CV: I'll begin with how I got started painting, which was with my mom at a young age. She did the whole art school thing in the late 60's and failed at making any attempt in the money department post graduation, so became a stay at home mom until I was about 10 when she began selling real estate. She inspired in me to work in watercolor which is one of my prefered method of color applications. I told you about my mom because when I began drawing skulls and was into the whole skateboard culture of my early teens she decided to "squash every artistic bone in my body" (she told me this in a heart to heart shortly after I graduated from college). Well as with most efforts to dissuade a persons thinking in using negative influences it failed miserably for her and I was a sort of terror to her during my adolescence, getting tattooed at 16 and still drawing lots of dark angry stuff.
Sorry for the tirade there, I suppose its a bit of a sore spot still.... anyhow I like working with portraits of people not necessarily idealized as the "a-typical artists model" , homeless people, homo-erotic, beer can cowboys, modern religious mystics, etc..

MD: So you went ahead anyway and got a formal arts education?

CV:Actually, I got a degree in Environmental studies/Eco-psychology due to meeting influental people on a student exchange in N. California, namely Judi Bari who was one of the main anti-old growth logging organizers of the 21st century. But thats a whole other bag. After I was working mostly with troubled teens in alternative to jail programs and group homes for about 5 years after college I decided to go back to school for art education. I origally went to I.U.P for art education, but fucking hated Indiana, hence student exchange in N. cali and change of directions. I did a post bachelorate program at Carlow College here in Pittsburgh to get certified in Art Ed.

MD: That's a fairly radical transition- from eco-politics to arts education. Did you reach some defining moment when you realized you'd try to be an arts teacher? What specifically inspired that decision?

CV: Dana, my friend and partner in a wilderness trip for at risk teens and I did a project where we took Eric Drooker images that had to do with environmental and social degredation and presented them to the kids and had them talk about what they meant and how they made them feel. It was actually pretty amazing the responses and life experiences these mostly city kids had with these images and also with scenes from their own lives. I guess I always sort of had idealistic visions of my perfect job and it had to do with art and teaching and kids. Am I now living this as an arts educator in public schools.... ? Absolutely not. Beauracracy is slippery little worm that likes to weasel its way into nice ripe fruit.

MD: Is that a simile or a metaphor? I like it. So let's get into the nitty gritty then. It's obviously not what you thought it would be. Can you narrow whatever your dissatisfaction is into a few points?

CV: Metaphor. Due to the basic assumption that school is meant to be broken down into conveinent little compartments (subjects) and organized systmatically (40 minute periods) it is a challenge to say the least to incorporate a deeper meaningful experience while shuffling the student body as a whole down the conveyor belt of assimilation. Basically, its really hard to gain any sort of balance while seeing 600+ children a week. I teach elementary art so alot of my time is eaten up preparing examples and assisting students who are having trouble, re-introducing the lessons, and re-teaching steps involved in the making of whatever project it is we're working on. Now I teach in two schools, one has 5 minutes of prep time between specials (art/gym/music) the other has 0, thats right zero. Once one class is over, the next class is waiting lined up in the hall and shuffles in without a chance for me to breath. This creates a very hectic situation and I'm currently trying to "slow things down" , but the nature of the child is that they are sponges and work very fast/ pick up new ideas and so I also am trying not to stifle this beginners knowledge enthusiasm. On top of this the leadership of some administrators is lacking thereof. Meaning that they don't like their job or their life or both and basically are not such a supportive rung in the heirarchical ladder of leadership. Also, public education is becoming more and more of a hoop to jump through with teachers needing to be more educated (which I support as long as theres tuition reimbursement from the schools) and national standarized testing which soon art too will have to participate in if they have their way (which I do not support).

This is the end of part 1 of the interview. Part 2 is located here.

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