|visual journaling 2005|
Mastering a skill is a journey and a beautiful process of learning. And wow it is full of surprises too.
Last Saturday, I was invited to facilitate an art workshop with Children International with very little time to prepare a module as I was also cramming for a peace campaign with a series of public events with only two eyes, two hands, one brain, and a 3 year old laptop about to fall apart. And well, the organizer and I also only had a chance to get in touch the day before the workshop.
The night before, I was still totally unprepared, half knowing and trusting I would eventually know as we go along. I only knew that these were young adults 12 to 18 years old who are the best artists from their class and that I was supposed to help them enhance their artistic skills in preparation for an art competition.
How do you teach art to those who already know how to do art?
But then again, who knows exactly how one does art anyway?
Do we make art or does art make us?
My recent experience revealed this primal streak about art making..
So at first I thought, I should prepare a slide show of paintings by local and international master artists to give them an idea of the many ways we can express and perceive reality through visual art.
Then I hesitated.
It would be so wrong to give them a fixed idea of what "art" is. . I should know because I was brought up learning art this way - that if you can copy reality, you are a master artist. I should know because I worked at a museum for 3 years and co-designed studio art workshops (drawing, painting, etc.) with artist facilitators. I should know after heading an art organization of the university art gallery, that if you can be audacious and avante garde, or that if you can pretend something is not obvious but really obvious, then it is what is considered art.
Of course, these are all art.I am always trying to be conscious of not hating western art and museums. The long history of how art has evolved from its place in the daily lives of people into a museum has its own beauty and creativity to honor.But I guess this is not the way I see art now; or rather now how art is just supposed to be. I would rather think that we also need to remember and validate the need of experiencing art and creativity from the inner depths of our consciousness and our immediate understanding of being in the world around us.
Maybe it was the school system, maybe popular culture, maybe it was the museums, maybe the unaware parents who sent children to art workshops to tide them over during vacation, maybe it is a growing culture of enchantment with too much lights, skin, and glamour up on the billboards on the streets. I don't know.
These young people were good. They knew how to represent nature well through symbols, characters, designs, etc. It seemed they did not need me.
For a moment while introducing myself, I suddenly remembered when I was 16. As the class artist, I was asked by my classmates to join an on the spot drawing competition. Right in the middle of the event, I stopped and decided not to pursue the competition for two main reasons. First I felt embarrassed because I saw that all the others were drawing the usual styles of student competitions - from abstract to realistic, to representation, etc.and it made me feel I should make the same kind of pieces. I actually felt that my style which I was still learning to discover might not fit with what the themed competition wanted. Second, I just didn't feel right about doing art to compete and to create impromptu art on a time limit. Hmmmm...in hindsight now, I realized I just made an impromptu art piece by not doing art. Haha.
What does a teacher teach if not his/her own life experience?
I have learned a lot about how I was taught and saw it as an important intention to facilitate art the way I wanted to experience and learn art and my creative potential.
Because I am on an integral path in my life work, I make sure I emphasize the head, heart, and hands in module writing. I engaged them through a discussion in understanding how we embody our visions and imagination by feeling them and actually make them, mold them, write them, draw them, sing them, and dance them.
Then we needed to get back to basics by exploring how we define things for this shapes how we create. What is art? What is creativity? We rooted back to creativity rooting back to the word creation which roots back to the word creator. And because there is a higher creator that created all including ourselves, we consider ourselves as co-creators.
|a co-created mandala in mediation with children of bantayan island (April 2010)|
Because it was environmentally themed, I wanted to reconnect them to the idea of art as creation and art found in all of nature - most especially within us. I asked them why indigenous peoples do not have a word for art or the environment.
I got a shocking answer: "Because they did not learn from the school."
As urbanites in a really poor community (a very far place off the main city) they have not probably glimpsed or experienced endless mountain ranges in the horizon nor a velvet night sky heavily beaded with stars. One girl eventually pointed out that it was because the indigenous peoples never felt separate from the environment that they had no word for it. I was just so happy she knew. I only learned this profound realization as a 23 year old! I told them even in art making, the original cultures created art for everyday life. I emphasized that true artists have deep connection with everything and never see things as separate from oneself, the artmaking process, and the artwork itself.
|quick, rough sketching of the ivory saints collection of Ayala Museum|
What is an art workshop without art exercises?
I made sure we addressed the abovementioned fundamentals of being an artist before we ran through the basic elements of art to check if they were familiar with these. Since it was an art workshop to enhance skills in visual art, I ran through several drawing techniques such as the viewfinder grid style, developing perspectives, etc.
And then when I let that all go, all the magic came about.
It brought me shivers and great insight and gratitude that I was being guided as I connected the lessons together with life.After each 5-15 minute exercise, I did a feelings check and an exploration on what important life lessons these exercises revealed. We had very interesting insights from each activity.
- Non-dominant hand drawing play:
- Unlearning is important in expanding ones mind and fertilizing imagination
- That there are no rules in art making. The more we play, the more we create beautifully
- It is important to feel and express feelings in art making.. The artwork must invoke feelings too.
- As we play we realize there are many ways of seeing reality and this helps in creative problem solving.
- Using the Tonal Value scale (they told me they have not used this in school before)
- That there are many levels to things and not everything is black and white.
- Drawing one's hand from the right side of the brain using the non-dominant hand without looking but tracing the outline of the hand with the eye
- Art making requires self discipline
- The artwork is also the process of art making itself
- One of the students said that the artwork was ugly which led me to ask them how do they define beauty? There were several answers from which we realized that there are different contexts and perspectives in measuring beauty. One answer that struck me was how something that holds meaning to oneself is beautiful
- Practicing this exercise everyday will help them master drawing naturally without thinking.
- Exploring negative space drawing (This realization brought me shivers)
- That the true artist can make the invisible visible
- Everything is connected - like energy fields among the spaces between things.
- The true artist is connected with his/her spirit.
- Symbol making through a mandala
- An artist uses symbols to represent meaning and reality
- A symbol is powerful for it not only expresses meaning but invokes feelings and memory
- A mandala shows the connection of the self with others and the world around us just as an artists reconnects us to these levels of existence.
We closed with a breathing prayer with reflections on gratitude and the intention of being genuine artists. A true artist grounds and connects with the spirit. The more we can master and be aware of our breath, the clearer we see and the more vivid we can communicate with our art.
Indeed it was a truly beautiful morning allowing myself to surrender to all these guidance. I mean, it wasn't a burning bush or automatic hand drawing but all these insights and exercises just synchronized itself organically as the exercises took place - the words I spoke, the insights revealed by the students just magically wove together.
As I continue to learn and allow, more and more I deepen my belief in the beautiful guidance that takes place only if we allow ourselves to empty and to surrender to the sacred process of how things manifest. If our intention is pure, then we channel clearly. This is an ongoing journey. I am learning with these young people. I am grateful to bear witness to this, how the universe is displaying its grand power in front of my eyes, or rather through us all. I am grateful.