IS-ness

Through the kind invitation of a dear friend, I ended up at the Calgary Catholic Retired Teachers Spring Luncheon at the Calgary Elk’s Club the day following my birthday. Thank you to Ruth, Pat and Emelia for the gracious planning.  I felt so blessed by the renewed connections and the warm embrace of the educators in my circle.  It was an absolutely magical afternoon.

Sitting on my right, was Joan.  In 1979, weeks after the birth of my first child, I took a bus from Lethbridge to Calgary, to interview with this person.  Little did I know, at that time, what a powerful inspiration Joan would become, in my teaching, but also in my way of seeing life and the world…visually…but, in so many other ways.

Last Tuesday…she gave me something more to think about….IS-NESS…the experience of being completely present in this moment.  It’s common to talk about the optimal state of ‘being’, living for this moment only.  There are many ‘gurus’ among us. “There is no past.  There can be no future.  There is only ‘now’.” These run the risk of becoming mere platitudes.  I think we all know what’s really going on…and it’s what the world is telling us is important, not what we know to be important. (sorry to be speaking for all of us here…maybe I’m wrong)

During my life, I’ve driven forward more than anything.  In youth, I thought that I needed more.  I set huge goals for myself. The wheels were in spin and forward I drove!  (when I type the word, DROVE,  an image comes up for me…a huge wind pressing at my face and the full weight of my body pushing against it). I dedicated myself to the work of that…the industry of that.  I taught full days, but didn’t wind down, painting well into the night and rising early in the morning.  I tasted what the FUTURE might be, but never really grasped it.

At some point, I opened the door, and rolled out of the speeding vehicle that was the life I had created and landed safely beside the freeway traveled by all of those around me. For the first time, I noticed what ‘other people’ were doing while I was painting, teaching and raising three children. I looked at my life through the rear view mirror and came to a lurching halt. I saw, for the first time, what it meant to stop….not to slow down, but to stop.

I am not writing this post, in judgement of my choices in youth.  If one looks at the accomplishments of ‘the greats’, one knows that their achievements came to be through commitment, dedication and mostly, sacrifice.  It is no wonder that I spent most of my life seeking success, recognition, accomplishment, production, money. These are the false promises of the human construct.

I am listening to Chris Cornell’s album, Higher Truth, as I type.  I just listened with a new ear to the song, Dead Wishes. While it is not for me to question why, at the age of 52, he took his life, it is for me to explore what it is in this human heart…every heart…that aches, struggles and seeks to be MORE.

One blessing of my life was to sit down with my children and gather for Sunday dinner; another, to seek to communicate and connect. I was rich for the opportunity to see, write, learn and experience art, music and performance…for the opportunity to be still with nature, make observations through all of my senses.  Joy came with walking my dogs, Max-man and Laurie-dog before him.  It came with sitting in the church when it was quiet.  Gratitude came with writing a poem. Magic was to hold my mother’s hand when she slept, warm under her blankets, her Buddy-dog curled into the circle of her back.  Freedom was and continues to be to turn on my favourite music and to paint in my studio, in the same way that the other might dance, with no one watching…for me alone.  IS-NESS….articulated by a dear friend.

(of course, I came home and looked through my documentation of years gone by…the photographs, mere snapshots of times shared…so much wisdom and joy contained in the flashes of light)

I was hired on with Calgary Catholic School District #1 in 1979.  My experiences for the following nine years at Holy Cross Elementary/Junior High were life changing.  This is where I learned the value of the person, above program.  To nurture a love for reading, learning, creating and self ultimately leads to enthusiasm for content, practice and consistent attendance.  I was blessed when opportunities in my career, led to both St. John Fine Art’s School and the Fine Art’s Center (in two different locations).  There, I met some of the most amazing people…educators who fearlessly impacted the district with the truth of the matter…and that is that experiences of art, music, drama and dance teach the brain in new ways, enhance all learning and create well-rounded human beings, prepared for a world that requires problem solving and new ways of seeing!  I went on to take everything I had learned to that point and participated in the opening of Cardinal Newman, a school in the deep south.  There, I continued to work as an advocate for the fine arts and to dream that they would be honoured within the curriculum.

In the following photographs, I’ve captured just a very small sampling of those educators, my mentors and friends. As Alberta is deliberating about and writing new curricula, I’m pleased to recall that I participated in the implementation of the art and drama curricula all those years ago.  It was wonderful to meet up again, with friends, and to share some stories…to speak of life and art and books and Is-ness.  Thank you.

Today’s Birds: May 13, 2017

I should be out gardening.  I am typically well ahead of the neighbours, but with owwies in the elbow this year, I’m lagging.  That doesn’t stop me from feeling fired up, however, as I listen to the sound of the neighbouring trimmers, lawnmowers and the stchhhh stchhhh of their sprinklers.

It’s pretty nice getting outside for long hikes, without the lawn work, I’ve got to say.

Here are today’s birds…all at Frank’s Flats.  I continue to hope that the pond on the other side of the chain link fence isn’t drained until the fledge happens.  We’ve a lot of nesting water birds at the moment.  We have one widowed Goose (female, I think), as well as a widowed Mallard (male).  They were hanging out together for quite a bit today. However, as I snapped a photograph, the Mallard flew out of frame.

No smiling at the pond these days!  If I smiled, I would eat my weight in bugs.  Must be the reason for the excitement on the water.  The gulls, laughing in a wild frenzy, are annoying the other birds.  The Yellow-headed Blackbirds seem to be pecking away in the huge batch of blooming dandelions.

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Giving me the Stare Down!

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Female Blackbird

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Female Blackbird

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Black Headed Gull

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More than a few…and Noisy!

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One of the Male Grebes Having a Float

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Overseeing his possibilities.

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Female Blackbirds checking out the Men. So many visible, while for weeks, the men were out there doing the soft shoe on the cat tails on their own.

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Cranky Pants

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Widowed Two Weeks Ago

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This must be my O’ Canada Photograph

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Looking Up

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Chain Link Fence and Wigeon

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Gadwells and Gull

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Savannah Sparrow

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Male Red-Winged Blackbird Giving a Shout

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One Photograph was edited today. Guess which one? (Not this one)

The Back of The Turtle by Thomas King

I still had 100 pages to read when I drove north to the Forest Lawn Branch of the Calgary Public Library to participate in a reading circle with Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI.  These meetings are aptly titled, Chapters and Chat Meetings and the book up for discussion on my birthday was The Back of The Turtle by Thomas King.

I poured myself a hot cup of coffee and filled my plate with fresh vegetables, fruit and dip and made myself comfortable in a circle of, this month, ten people.  I was pleased to meet up with friend, Roberta, a writer I recently connected with at a Jazz event.

Michelle Robinson The Back of The Turtle

Photo Credit: Michelle Robinson (group leader and inspiration)

The meetings are always full of discussion and they ground themselves in truth and honesty.  Every person’s voice is heard respectfully and I find this process very powerful and helpful in my quest to understand and respect diversity in every aspect of life in contemporary society.  Some of the discussions that took place, this week, included science and the silencing of scientists, reconciliation and healing and the ‘Stereotypes in Toeshoes’, and a follow-up discussion about Joseph Boyden; his writing, self-identification and the CPL session of a couple of weeks ago.  A very interesting exchange of ideas.

Yesterday, I finished the book, The Back of the Turtle, and thought I’d write a brief comment.  In the end, I’ve decided that this is a beautiful novel…an easy read…nothing too complex and yet, lovely, for its setting and its contemporary challenges to the reader.  The book moves easily back and forth between Dorian’s struggles as they unfold in the role of CEO for a BIG corporation and Gabriel’s struggles as they unfold for a ‘guilt-filled’ scientist in a formerly-idyllic and Eden-like setting named Samaritan Bay.  Even the turtles have gone.

Thomas King writes a novel that offers the reader inroads to a mythological place through a combination of Christian and indigenous narratives.  He warms the heart with such rich characters as Soldier and Sonny.  He describes an intricate and symbolic beacon of hope, eventually constructed on the beach.  It is a story of optimism, in the face of utter destruction.

I loved the very heart-breaking description of the mother turtle, the empty aquarium, the empty houses…

I liked the story of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky.  Donna Rosenberg has recorded anthologies of myths from all over the world.  Very little is published about her biographically.  I wanted to link up to a version of this myth so that my readers might enjoy.

I liked the book.

For next month, we are reading The Inconvenient Indian by the same author.

The Back of the Turtle

Today’s Birds: May 10, 2017

I took my camera to my birthday brunch, thinking I would snap some family photographs, but once there, I didn’t really think about taking photographs.  So, for today’s post, I won’t have any accompanying images.  Well, I can share this one.

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Today’s a good day.

Instead of going to Frank’s Flats, this morning, I decided to take Max over to Sikome Lake and check on the status of the female goose on the Osprey Platform.

She finally broke her brooding silence and was honking away and very active on her nest, after about four weeks of stoic waiting.  This could only mean one thing.  And, sure enough, before leaving, I witnessed the tiny bobbing heads of some of her offspring.  As a result, my own motherly defenses surfaced and I got on the phone as soon as I got home, feeling very powerless and somehow, invested.

First, the Fish Creek Park Conservation Officer (didn’t get his name) returned my call and answered all of my questions, patiently, but also, firmly.  I felt huge confidence after he made two things clear to me, 1. it is a criminal offence to mess with nesting birds or wildlife under Provincial jurisdiction and 2. Mother Goose is doing what is natural to her, or she wouldn’t be there.   So, after saying good-bye, I decided that I was going to let go of my fears and upset over the potential loss of life and to accept that all is happening as it was/is meant to be.

Second to this interaction, I received a lovely and informative letter via e mail from Alison Anaka, the Environmental Specialist for Enmax, the company that is responsible for the maintenance and establishment of almost twenty platforms around the city. Alison has given me permission to share her information with my readers…communication that might be appreciated by my friends living, here, in the deep south.

Today’s Birds: May 4, 2017

Over the past two days, ‘they’ve’ been draining the water from one of the smaller wetlands that neighbours the pond at Frank’s Flats.  I’ve been holding a bit of a grudge, given that, of course, multiple families of geese and waterfowl have already done their romancing and settled in.  Changes will be even more dramatic when the 22X (Stoney Trail) expansion requires ‘them’ to interfere with the wetlands on the west side of Macleod Trail.  I know. I know.  This infringement upon wildlife and plant life is a constant struggle as human beings lay down more and more pavement, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t cause a person grief as they are witness to the process.  Where are the advocates for wild life and who is listening?  I sometimes wonder.

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I met ‘a guy’ in one of those bright orange vests.  Don’t ask me his position.  It was a complicated title.  I just nodded.  He seemed interested that I pick litter and that I know anything at all about the wetlands.  He participates in the annual river clean up.  hmmm

He was out on that fine day, checking that everything was staked out and assured me that the remaining large trees would be coming down, but that on the first rip down, because of a specific time line and government regulations, as well as the distance from wetlands, they were required to leave the big ones for the sake of the ecosystem and the nesting birds.  I explained that the magpies and crows….murders of them…were so distraught that for days they gathered in a single tree, yelling at the land.  And yes…I did cry over the crows.

Due to the construction of a heavy duty drainage system last season, Enmax has not been able to properly maintain/facilitate the Osprey Platform on the Sikome Lake side.  As a result Mother Goose has been there for almost five weeks.  I’m thinking the goslings will either starve or fall off the platform.  In the meantime two pair of Osprey have had to take up residence on top of sign platforms both directions on the loud and dangerous roadway.   I don’t know how they will all manage.

Follow Up to This: The Fish Creek Conservation Officer returned my call,  inquiring about this.  I was assured of a couple of things.  First, it is offence to mess with wildlife in any form, in its natural circumstance in a Provincial Park.  Second, if a bird is nesting ANYWHERE, then this is natural to that bird.  This gentleman had a very calm voice and was telling me the facts.  At this point, I need to grow in acceptance of some of these circumstances where I make observations of birds/animals.

Nature will have to take it’s course.

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I know that for the entire extent of the Stoney Trail’s development, wildlife, wetlands and trees/natural plants have been impacted.  I know that I need to accept ‘progress’ here and in our beautiful park lands, including the Bow Valley Parkway.  It’s just that I don’t think the general population receives all of the information as some of these projects go ahead at warp speed and gather a momentum that becomes destructive and insensitive to a wilderness/natural environment that we, as citizens of Alberta, generally, treasure.

Maybe this is a cliche, but our human population needs to slow down.  Not good for economic climate? Tourism? Well…things to think about.

Today’s pelican…a senior, just like me.  On its own, but it took flight, just after this photo was taken…something about Max, I think.

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My friend, Julie, let me in on the very public location where Mrs. Great Horned Owl and her offspring are hanging out these days.  These owlets will likely fledge within the next week.  In the meantime, Max and I took pause, some distance away and watched.  Of course, I cried.  I was in awe that edging on a bike path, a mama could tend to her babes…so vulnerable, so strong, so absolutely magical.  We need to realize that the species we share this planet with require our advocacy.  We need to stop…and watch, learn and cherish.  This is my plea as I write tonight.

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Species that I have observed in the path of Stoney Trail development, presently.  The mammals; coyotes and deer, have already vacated the paths I take.

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Mallards
  3. Osprey
  4. Black-capped Night-heron
  5. Goldeneye
  6. Redheads
  7. 5 nesting pair of Grebes
  8. Common Mergansers
  9. Common Raven
  10. Red Winged Blackbirds
  11. American Wigeons
  12. Buffleheads
  13. Frogs like no other year

For the Birds: April 23, 2017

I am becoming frustrated about birding photography because I am growing to recognize focused photographs and can easily determine that a lot of mine are not (focused, that is)!  At times, my equipment IS holding me back and I’ve decided that, given that I am highly enthusiastic about taking photos of bird species, likely my point and shoot Canon Powershot will not always feel adequate. Today, however, I’m going to post some of those poor quality photographs because, as I’ve said before, I’m trying to archive my sitings as my interest lies primarily with my observations and encounters and only as a sidebar, the photography.

I can not share with my readers what utter joy I have been having exploring this one pond ecosystem and it seems as though every season, I’m discovering more.  My eyes are wide open, that’s for sure!  Read Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear  and you will find me inside those pages!

The nesting platform that has been for four years, attended by a pair of Osprey, this year, has been occupied by a ‘sitting goose’.  Damn! How could this happen?  Surprisingly enough, I’ve witnessed it happen before at the more westerly platform location and watched as the Osprey family violently fought the goose away.   This year, the Sikome Osprey couple arrived just a week ago, to learn that it was impossible to inhabit their familiar platform with such a stubborn, however, unusual bird already well-moved-in. You know, dear readers, and I know that this is going to lead to a certain fate for the large numbers of goslings that will fall crashing to their deaths, not long after hatching.

However, Enmax, who DID respond to my call for help in very short order, was unable to reach the nesting bird in their long armed bucket yesterday, due to the changed drainage ditches and rock retaining systems that were constructed before fall of this past year.  They wrote to tell me that the Osprey would have to wait until the gosling hatching and then, mayhaps, they would reclaim the nest.  I just wondered, after this response, why they can not erect a new platform in the meantime…and so…more drama today!

As I drove to Frank’s Flats, Maxman in tow after Mass this morning, I noted that Mr. and Mrs. Osprey were sitting on two different light standards staring, with evil eyes, in the direction of the platform.  The goose sat, indifferent.  I sent off a post to social media once I arrived at the pond.

Returning home, the first stick was set down.

“Uh oh,” I thought to myself, “by end of day, this, a nest will be!”

Sure enough, after Pow Wow dancing class (you should try it!), I drove down to check on progress!  A full nest is well engaged on the top of the sign that appears east 22x just before the bridge.  This nest edges the bike path directly and has a view of a bustling and particularly noisy traffic area.  Oh dear!

Yes, I HAVE let Enmax know….but, what saddens me is that, at the destruction of this nest, the Osprey will have to sort out a new location…and there just isn’t one that makes any sense.  What makes sense is for Enmax to grow some determination, get that goose down, and let the Osprey nest.

I’ll keep you informed…and in the meantime…this is all for the birds!

People are now out and fishing on the river.

I watched as a Bald Eagle and the two Osprey did the work of negotiating their way around these wires that cross over the Bow River…in the name of advancement.

The Black-headed gulls have returned to the south…I noticed this first when I was in my neighbourhood park at dusk last evening and hundreds of them flew overhead…pure magic!

First time for everything…I watched Mr. mount Mrs.(not posted here)

At Frank’s Flats…the past couple of days…The male Loon appeared yesterday and fished the pond for the entire day.  Today, he was gone.

Since chopping down most of the trees and leaving this single deciduous tree just on the other side of the fence, the crows are at a loss for where to build new nests.  They gather together these days, in far larger groups than this…but, I’ve noticed a change in their activities.

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Thanks to my friend, Pat, who has this amazing way of organizing for such wonderful experiences, I attended Theatre Calgary’s A Thousand Splendid Suns a few weeks back.  It was an event for ‘seniors’ (Pat, Mary, Janet and me) in the afternoon and we enjoyed coffee, finger foods and cake, as well as a short presentation/question period with Pomme Koch who played Tariq.  Pomme gave an interesting background on the play, as well as a little about his own prior accomplishments in theater, film and such.  He had an easy manner and was very gracious, answering questions. I noticed and was annoyed by some chatters throughout this portion of the program.  During our post-event discussions (we always have them) we considered what is it in audience members that causes them to dismiss their own responsibility to contribute to making it a wonderful experience for everyone.  Who speaks when there is a performer requiring our attentions?  Chit Chat can wait, folks!

The magic of the stage performance was captivating; the sets, the characters, but especially the script; and I knew that I wanted to read the book over the coming days.  I had fallen in love with Mariam and admired the strength of Laila.  I wanted to know these women more and so once home, I picked up the copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns off my book shelf, another second hand book sale find.

Adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma
Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Original music written and performed by David Coulter
Directed by Carey Perloff

I had read The Kite Runner some years ago and so I was prepared for the painful renderings of a history of Kabul and surrounding regions.  I knew, especially, having seen the play, that this would be a sad and painful story.

The bonded friendship between Mariam and Laila was the most essential element for me; a woman, reader and artist.  I was challenged through several moments of violence and violation of these women in the book.  These caused me tremendous pause and rage and sadness.  I loved that out of such hardship, this friendship grew.  While one might only focus on the darkness of their shared years, this is a story of resurrection for not only these two women, but also for the people of Kabul.  It is a story of hope, the final chapters, heart warming and sentimental.

Things I thought about…

The position of women in the context of family, culture and and the world.

The treatment of women in domestic situations.

Secrets we keep.

Who we protect.

Patriarchal entitlement.

Friendship

Nurturing

Basic Human Rights and Dignity

Jalil’s mistake.

A right to education.

Self-sacrifice

The complexities of the politics of this region.

What position does/should the world take in atrocities that occur in different regions of the world at any given time?  What is right?  What is just?

What about the children?

Forgiveness

A Thousand Splendid Suns

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

 

Courting

It’s spring and the water at Frank’s Flats is only, today, beginning to open up.  So, it was no surprise that three couples were there to greet me and Max-man…all three on the same section of open pond; Common Goldeneye male and female, Mallard male and female and Canadian Goose, male and female.  I managed to get a few good photographs and had opportunity to watch Mr. and Mrs. goose participate in their courting dance.  Quite spectacular, but in some ways, frightening.

First…the Goldeneye twosome.

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And next, the geese and their special dance.

The two arrived and did a mirroring activity, scooping the neck down and up, beak into the water and then out, over and over again.

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Then, in unison…notice how their beaks are turned toward one another.

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Then, as if from no where, this happened!

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Mrs. is fully submerged here.

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He begins to move on…

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And he makes quite a scene about being happy and proud and ‘all that’…

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I guess she feels pretty grateful, also.

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Rituals at the pond never cease to amaze me.  By observation, I learn so much.  Last year, one of the nesting geese at Frank’s Flats became widowed and it was so heart breaking to watch.  The widow did not stop looking for its mate for over a month and mournfully journeyed the circle of the pond every single evening, returning again and again to their chosen nest site.

If one looks closely, even the water bugs, although their life cycle is very short, are multiplying on warm days and in sunshine.  I took these photos on March 31.  Every rounded rock exposed along the pond’s edge was a wellspring of activity.  Today, April 1, the stones were absolutely clear, with no signs of yesterday’s chaos.

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Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

It continues to be my goal to read the books of as many indigenous authors as possible this year…and to read content that will increase my knowledge, leading to better understanding of issues related to our Canadian indigenous peoples.  I have a desire in my heart to be a part of the mechanism that contributes to change, following a formal Truth and Reconciliation process.  The formal process is a mere stepping stone…the work, by all Canadians, is yet to be done.

I am grateful to have connected with author, Sable Sweetgrass, through an on line book club that Sable established and then on to a group book circle at the Forest Lawn Public Library once a month, with the gathering, Chapters and Chat, sponsored by the Aboriginal Pride and 12 Community Safety Initiative and led by Michelle Robinson.  Books offer inroads to powerful ways of viewing the world and understanding, whether non fiction, fiction, theater or poetry.  We owe it to ourselves to become educated.

This month’s read, Wenjack by Joseph Boyden, was selected as much for the weight of issues surrounding its author as for any other reason.  We decided we really wanted to have an honest discussion about appropriation of content.

The aesthetic of the book is beautiful…lovely paper, interesting and welcoming format, gorgeous illustrations and attractive associations with the natural world.  Based on the historical events of a young boy, Chanie who, in fact, was forced into a residential school system and as a result, died,  the discussion about the issues surrounding the writing of the book became a many layered, and at times painful, conversation.

I was unaware of Joseph Boyden’s reputation as an author, given that this was the first time I have picked up one of his books. Highly successful and recognized as an award winning author, Boyden’s connections with indigenous culture and appropriation of indigenous narratives has been called into question in various ways over many years.  His response has been anything but straight forward and the topic has been explored all over the internet.  An example of one such article can be found in the National Post.

I love books and I love the act of reading and it is for me to be discerning around my selection. As a visual artist, I have had to consider ethical boundaries as I explore certain topics in my paintings and it is important that appropriation is considered as I set up these boundaries.  While I am not fond of censorship, I do think, as artists, there is something refreshing about being true to our own stories.  I found our shared discussion circle to be invaluable as it contributed to expanded knowledge, in a very thoughtful way.

wenjack

 

Big Brushes! Big Paper!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about  the Alberta Art Curriculum and where it concerns Division One students, including Kindergarten.  Division One, for those readers outside of Alberta, Canada, are Grades One, Two and Three.  Within the framework of the Expression Component of the Alberta Art Curriculum, there exists a language that, since 1986, when the curriculum was written, published and implemented by teachers,  is becoming more and more distant and misunderstood.

In the 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of the Fine Arts team under the inspiration of our Fine Arts Supervisor, one of the Supervisors in our District Program Department.  That team included a Music Consultant or two?, a Drama Consultant, and a Visual Arts Consultant/sometimes Visual Arts Specialist.  Today, I feel like writing about ‘the best of times’ in our District when Fine Arts were well-supported, vibrant, inspiring and growing!  Professional Development was offered on a very regular basis where teachers had opportunity to share ideas with other teachers in the District, learn techniques, share lesson plans and observe demonstration lessons being delivered by professionals in the field.  For many years, there had been a Fine Arts Center, a place where students were bused on a regular basis to have experiences in Art, Music and Drama.  It was an amazing time for Fine Arts in Calgary!

When the ‘NEW’ curriculum came out for Visual Arts, the schools were assured that expert teachers became familiar with how to use the document and feel comfortable with designing lessons, and further mentored non-specialist teachers to the point where they became comfortable with delivery of lessons and program.   Resources were updated, including textbooks and large visuals, in order to support the Reflection Component.  If teachers were struggling with ideas or implementation, a specialist booked one-on-one appointments and traveled to schools to explain, support, observe and assist with ordering media/resources or teaching.  This was happening in core subjects as well, but not to the detriment of Fine Arts education.

Somewhere during that process, our department developed a list of indices for administrators…these described what an administrator would see if, in fact, the curriculum outcomes were being met.  For example, walking down a hall, a person might look at the walls and be able to quickly identify what quality art works would look like at each Division.  Photo copied and cloned or teacher-made works, for example, would optimally, not be presented as student art work.

Not meaning to sound stuck up or arrogant, but truly, ‘perfect’ art is not ‘child made’ art.  Child made art is perfect because it shows the true schematic development of each individual child.  Somewhere along the line, adults, over the years that I’ve been teaching have somewhat imposed their fear of ‘not being able to draw a straight line’ onto children.  They sometimes fail to celebrate the wonky cutting and ‘out of control’ line that is imperative to developing fine motor skills.  Congratulations to those of you who treasure these discoveries.

All of these experiences and initiatives, I see as valuable and imperative to the life of the arts in schools.  It seems, however, that since then, this DISTANCE between educators and the arts, at least visual arts, has been growing larger and this concerns me.  I believed then, as I do now, that Fine Arts are essential to the healthy development and well-rounded education of children.  The parts of the brain used in each of the experiences of visual art, dance, drama and music must not be left unexplored.  Creatives are the answer to so many of the world’s challenges right now.  These have always been my beliefs.

So….what are the realities in schools today?  What are the pressures being put upon an authentic visual arts experience…for the sake of this rant,  and authentic visual arts experience for the youngest of our children?

Occupational health and safety guidelines now require that only a certain percentage of bulletin board space may be covered in paper.  Now, we see the art works, even by Division One children, shrinking.  We see their tools becoming smaller.  But, THIS IS A PROBLEM!!  We can not sacrifice who our young people are and what they need to experience based on the numbers of works that we can display at any given time.  It is possible to observe the safety requirements and still address the actual art curriculum, that also, is required.

Because of their little fingers, young children need large brushes and large paper.  If you have to rotate their works of art over a month long period, to be fair, I think that is a possibility.  Their fingers are not ready to hold tiny water colour brushes, or to manipulate lines and shapes, with paint in an 8 x 10 picture plane.

I’m ranting…let me see if I can find a little video or something that supports anything I’ve written here.  Well, HERE is a write up titled, YOUNG IN ART by Craig Roland, outlining and illustrating the natural progression of making symbols and then images.

You may want to mute the next video.  I know that I did.  Sometimes music distracts.

I think teachers of art will be less frustrated and children will be less frustrated if they can enjoy art experiences that challenge, but do not frustrate.  Somehow, it’s important for teachers to identify the stages of artistic development that exist within their classrooms.  If a student struggles with fine motor skills, media needs to be selected that will ease that struggle.

For young children, I recommend BIG brushes and BIG paper.  Drawings can easily be accomplished with a piece of white chalk.

My thoughts on Pinterest?  Did anyone ask? I’m laughing here.  Truly, this post is a rant and not anything but.  I have to say that Pinterest is both a blessing for a visual arts educator and a curse!  To generalist and specialist teachers alike, I pose these questions. Do you understand what the curricular outcomes are that are being met by each Pinterest ‘idea’?  Are the outcomes appropriate for students at your grade level?  Are you including in your art experiences, lessons in Reflection, Depiction, Composition and Expression?  Are the end products the driving force behind the lesson or is the experience the child is having while creating them, the most magical?

All things to think about…

I think that we have done a disservice to teachers cutting back on professional development where it includes topics with direct impact on teaching.  I think that these are the days where we focus most on technology, assessment and inclusion to the detriment of self-reflection, lesson and unit planning and professional sharing opportunities.  In ‘the trenches’, there is very little time to explore.

The cost of art materials is, I’m certain, escalating.  The time on the schedule is diminishing.  Visual arts education is slowly being absorbed by other subjects and being called integrated visual arts.  If students use crayon pencils and markers, there is some thought that they are practicing art.  This, in my opinion, is a fallacy.

Anyway, I feel like I need a drink after all of this.  Good for you, if you read to this point.  I hope that you know that I’m behind all my readers and I certainly use my opportunities, as a guest teacher, to explore the art curriculum with kids simply because I love it!  Sometimes the kids call me Painter Lady.  That makes me happy!  What better way to learn, create and explore ones mind, but to dip a big brush into a buttery bucket of paint and then to watch that paint flow out onto a surface?  For those of you out there, with kidlets, have fun with them.  They appreciate any opportunity you give them to roll up their sleeves and get into those gritty aspects of learning!

Valentines…a lesson, or two.

Valentines this year…Grades Three and One.