Thursday, May 9, 2013

K-12 Art Teaching and Magical Thinking

I've been getting works ready for the "Those who teach, can" exhibition at Indigo Artist Coop in Champaign, Illinois, May 10 - 18, 2013. Opening reception, Friday May 10, 6 - 9 p.m.

For one of my works, I selected 16 images from over 200 pictures that I took on my iPhone4 documenting some of my experiences teaching Art Survey 1 at Centennial High School during the 2012-2013 school year. My idea here is to convey a sense of a “year in the life of a high school art teacher”. As I took each of the pictures appearing in this series, I shared my favorite ones on Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram; and I even Tweeted some of them to my friends in Twitter. My iPhone camera roll (now totaling over 3000 images) is filled with these kinds of photographs, along with shots of family, friends, events, sunsets, my garden, favorite personal objects, and some creative explorations with various photography apps. I originally thought to exhibit these in a grid, similar to how I see them on my iPhone in my Instagram app.

But then, I decided to exhibit them on a timeline in order to better convey the "year in the life of an art teacher" idea. I took a quick snapshot yesterday as we finished the installation and posted it to Instagram.

There is something both ordinary and extraordinary about all of this…about visually capturing and sharing experiences so easily through digital and social media, about printing ones own photographs and presenting them for public viewing in an art gallery, about working with like-minded colleagues in our endeavors to make art with creative young people, and about being an art educator with a mission to make a difference in the lives of others. I have always thought K-12 art teachers to be people who engage in a bit of “magical thinking” when it comes to what exactly it is we do, and all I can say about that is “please let there be more magical people in the world!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Anyone-an-artist, DIY culture, and Selfies

I put together a couple works for the "Those who can, teach" Champaign Unit 4 Art Teachers exhibition at Indigo artist coop. May 10-18, 2012, 9 East University, Champaign. The image below is one of the works I exhibited, a composited collection of my Facebook mini-collages (Selfies) that I created over the past 3 years. My other image was a collection of snapshots I took during my year of part-time teaching (2012-2013) at Centennial High School.

What are Selfies? 

Selfies are self-portraits taken with inexpensive digital or cellphone cameras (sometimes taken with mirrors, other times not) and posted on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Self-portraits are nothing new in the art world. What's new is the fact that the age of digital and social media facilitates a virtually infinite number of self-portraits to be created and shared with viewers online, and that the creators of these self-portraits are not traditional art-world or academy-trained artists, which is to also say that their self portraits have little economic value. My recent hashtag search in Instagram for the #selfie hashtag and its variants produced around 35 million photos, and a search for the #me hashtag in Instagram produced over 44 million photos. These are astonishing numbers by anyone's count.

Selfies are characterized by bloggers and social media commentators as annoyingnarcissistic, insufferable, and ridiculous bordering on offensive. Selfies are also recognized as a resistanttransgressive, an empowering form of self exploration and personal creative expression, and a visual diary marking our existence in the world. There are apparently even rules for doing selfies. Although I doubt if very many of those folks who have posted over 35 million selfies to Instagram are paying attention to anyone's rules, some interesting trends suggest an the emergence of an online-world aesthetic when it comes to portraitsfemales' and males' selfies. Setting all these debates aside, what remains clear is that selfies are an unashamed way of saying it's #me, I'm here, please look and like!

My creative process for making selfie-collages

For my original self-portrait image I used my laptop camera, sat at my dining room table, positioned the laptop lens, and took a pic of myself.  I shared my self-portrait in color and in black and white with various folks at the NAEA who needed an image of me. With the original in hand, I started making these selfie-collages in 2009, which was about the same time I joined Facebook. My original profile pic on Facebook was a snapshot of a Christmas ornament that I modified in Photoshop. I just didn't feel comfortable in 2009 sharing a pic of me on the Internet. (LOL, I soon got over that feeling.) 

Each mini-collage selfie took anywhere from 2 - 3 hours to create and refine. The process (described below) was exacting, but lots of fun.
  • In addition to the original self portrait image (mentioned above) I took pictures of subject matter that I wanted for the collage (computers, cornfields, airplanes), initially using my inexpensive digital camera, and later using my cell phone camera.
  • I also searched online for other images of subject matter I needed (soccer ball, TV set, pic of the state of Florida, etc.)
  • Using image editing software (Photoshop in my case) I isolated (cut and saved as a separate image file) the part of the image I wanted to use.
  • I then modified each image to be collaged. I got rid of unwanted background content; cleaned up the edges of the remaining image; and played with size, positioning, saturation, color, contrast, sharpness, levels, etc. 
  • I then pasted each modified image onto the self-portrait image (using Photoshop's layers tool).
  • I further adjusted each of the layered images to create my desired effect.
  • Once I had something I liked, I saved that file to my computer as a .psd image file (layers intact).
  • I then flattened and saved the digital collage, paying attention to format (jpg, png, tiff), resolution (DPI), and dimensions (height/width) settings. I gave each version of the image its own file name.
  • I usually made two or three variations of the collaged final image. Each version had its own file name.
  • Because these were for Facebook, I kept the dimensions and resolution low, but now I keep larger versions of each collaged image as well.
A couple more tips

In 2011 I abandoned the use of a digital camera and Photoshop to create these selfie-collages. I now take pics with my cellphone and use Preview (an app on my Mac) and Pixlr (a free online photo editor) to create these collages. The process is the same as when I used Photoshop. I archived most of my Facebook mini-collages to a Flickr set. These are all small format images. I wish now that I had created them larger (dimensions and resolution), saved the larger files, and then reduced their dimensions for Facebook.

For the art exhibition, my interpretive wall text for this image talked about FacebookDIY-culture, apps, and the popularity of "selfies" in social media sites.

Regarding the "Those who can, teach" show... (a smart title for this exhibition of Unit 4 art teachers put together by local high school art teacher, Stacey Gross) all I can say about recognizing the artistry, creativity, and excellence of our teachers (all of them, not just art teachers) is that if we want good folks to choose this profession, we better start supporting them, and on that standard, I give America a big fat "F".