Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A November Post:

The written text is becoming my media of choice this month.  
I feel as though I must write daily.
…another shower and another day of finding comfort in writing my Croy's name on the steamed shower doors,  just as I did in my youth - my teenage years where I wrote my latest crushes names on the steam filled door in a big heart, or with an eye and a tear, the dramatic teen mastering the precision of drawing an eye ball, showcasing  the shadows that silently fall in the tear drop, the subtle lines, grey tones, whites, tints, shades.  Shadows.
I always found comfort there, comfort in my "shower drawings - my shower art". 
Personal.  Private.  Mine.

Now, as I seek ways to urge myself to make it through another day without my Croy, I find a renewed comfort, a peace, writing his name in script followed by a heart,
< my heart >
wrapped around his name.  His heart wrapped around my soul - my very existence. 
I close my eyes and rinse the shampoo from my hair and often, when I open them, he is gone. 
                                  croy is gone
His name has quietly dissolved back into the steamed walls and I am left wondering how to keep his name, his memory, his youth and his magic alive. 

Through my art - through my text - through my narrative - through my teaching. 
I don't know. 
But I know I must - it has become my "art with purpose".


Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25, 2012

It's been too long - but I have more MemoiART to add as I am living such a busy life as mom, art teacher, grad student, wife, friend, artist, writer, presenter, speaker...I'm tired.

Music has been a big part of my life the past few months - specifically the Indigo Girls.  As I listen to their music, I am fueled to dig deep and attempt to figure out the "where am I going...where am I headed" feelings that I am haboring daily.  I'm not sure if this is mid life "stuff", 4 years of hidden grieving "stuff", or complete and utter exhaustion - bottom line, life is good and music and art most definitely SAVE!

Here are the lyrics to "Closer to Fine" - Thank you to these incredible song writers, guitarists and singers - from morning to night, I listen to these words and I keep moving.  I am working on an art series and a few personal poems that are inspired by this song.

Songwriters: AMY ELIZABETH RAY and EMILY ANN SALIERS - Indigo Girls!
I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all
Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

We go to the bible, we go through the workout
We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

20th Year of Teaching...

So I have successfully completed 2 1/2 weeks of teaching - and so far, so good!  I have to say, after 20 years in the classroom, I still LOVE IT!  My students are learning, creating, thinking and making me look good!  Their art is spectacular - I took a new approach this year and spent the first week going over painting techniques with both my intro and advanced students. 

We "played" with acrylics, watercolors, resists, brayers, stencils, collaged materials, etc... and created pages to help us prep our visual journal assignments for the rest of the semester.  There were a few students who were a bit confused with the chaotic creating that went on, but I think overall it taught them A LOT!  Not only did they learn to get their own supplies AND clean them AND put them back (and if you teach teenagers you know that can be one of the biggest challenges in secondary art education!), but they realized that art truly IS an expression of one's self!  When given the freedom to experiment with the tools, their art rises to meet their creativity level and magic is made!  They began to realize that good artists must be good researchers AND good art detectives!

I will share a few of the outstanding visual journal entries I received in the first week!  Pure Joy!

These were my Art II student's 2 page spreads with the prompt - "ME"

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July...a difficult month

July is my least favorite month of the year.  Interesting that at one time it was my favorite, but now it only brings memories of my son's illness and ultimate death - 1 week before his birthday.  My Croy would have been 16 last week.  July 22nd was a very rough day.

I have been working on a paper for grad school this month and according to my major professor, with a few edits, it could become the first chapter of my dissertation.  It has been a very difficult paper to write.  I submit the first few pages here:

Making Sense of Memoir – My Personal Pursuit of Purpose
By:  Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT

Maxine Greene (1997) so eloquently writes what I deeply feel,
…fore the loss of my daughter not so many years ago, is one that leaves a hole in the center of what I am trying to compose.  It leaves a hole that cries out to be filled.  And it may be this loss that keeps me moving in search of myself, my woman-self, that makes me sure now it was not a “waste of time” (pg. 34).

When I first read these words, my heart froze and I was rendered breathless.  I have been reading about Maxine Greene for years and was familiar with her writings about the importance of empathetic teaching.  What I hadn’t realized was that Maxine had lost a daughter and suddenly, I felt a connection to her on a deeper level.  Her words mirrored my feelings, the feelings I have been harboring since July of 2008 when my 11 year old son Croy died at Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta Georgia due to a “pharmaceutical mathematical error” (Dr. S, 2008).

“Memoir begins not with event but with the intuition of meaning” (Birkerts, 2008, p. 3).

How does one possibly begin to make meaning out of something so tragic?  This is the fundamental question that I ask myself every single, day.  Maxine Greene, a philosopher and art teacher, is an inspiration to me as she works through this, making meaning out of her life through her work.  As the philosopher in residence at the Lincoln Center, she played a role in developing arts programs for educators that promoted imaginative living and social justice.  Her views on the power of arts to reimagine and recreate the world are why I find myself wanting to know more about her and including her work in each paper I write.  Greene (1988) often wrote about the behaviors and actions of caring teachers: “the caring teacher tries to look through students’ eyes, to struggle with them as subjects in search of their own projects, their own ways of making sense of the world” (p. 120).  A caring teacher cannot dictate or lecture to her students.  She must help her students imagine a different way of living, in connection to each other and our communities.

John Maxwell (2004) wrote an entire book called, “Make Today Count”.   It’s a fun and easy read, and pretty powerful in its message. One thing that really stuck with me while I was reading it was a paragraph titled, Have a Purpose Worth Living For (p. 25).
Nothing is better than perspective for helping a person want to do the right thing.  When you have something to live for, not only does it make you desire a long life, but it also helps you to see the importance of the steps along the way.  Seeing the big picture enables us to put up with the little irritations.  It’s hard to find motivation in the moment when there is no hope in the future.  A sense of purpose helps a person to make a decision to change and then to follow through with the discipline required to make that change permanent.  I found that to be true after my heart attack.  A friend who spent a lot of time with me during my recovery saw me pass on desserts time after time – something that was not characteristic of me – and finally he asked, “Have you lost your craving for desserts?”  “No”, I answered, “but my craving for life is greater”.

When I consider my lived experiences and how they inform my life, specifically the ways in which I am living my life as a woman, a wife, a mother, a friend and a teacher, I think a lot about the journals, books, articles and papers that I have read over the past few years. I crave to better understand.  I also consider these readings to be a part of the data that helps to inform my “Art with Purpose” curriculum, an innovative approach incorporating service learning to visual art learning which aides my students in discovering how to make deeper connections between their personal learning and art making. I want to ensure that my students have early and plentiful opportunities to recognize how, and perhaps more importantly, why, it is imperative to “make each day count”, in other words, to have a rich and relevant purpose.  As Maxwell and I have both had life changing events occur in our lives, my hope is to transmit to my students and my daughter through various service learning activities that will ultimately aid them in better understanding that in order to make each day count they often must open their eyes and step outside of their comfort zones, stepping into the shoes of another.  I used to think that I lived this way; that I lived with empathy in my heart for others, but it wasn’t until the death of my Croy that I was forced to step out of my personal comfort zone and view the world through a new lens.  When I consider memoir as a research tool, I must first consider my story, Croy’s story, and appreciate that in telling it, the purpose for this curriculum and this dissertation and ultimately, this life I now live, begins to have significance.  Sven Birkerts (2008) writes, “apart from whatever painful or disturbing events the memoirist recounts, their deeper ulterior purpose is to discover the nonsequential connections that allow those experiences to make larger sense , they are about circumstance becoming meaningful when seen from a certain remove” (p. 8).
July 22nd 2011:
Today Croy would be 15. Today Croy is 15. He is just celebrating in heaven instead of on earth and again, my heart cracks open.
I wonder what your party theme would be and who you would invite?  Would we have another pool party for your birthday or would you be more mature and want a girl/boy party?  What do you look like now that you are a teenager?  I feel your hugs – I feel your smile – and I try to smile through my tears. You are “my big boy” for real – my Croy – what do I do with these emotions, these rips that I feel tearing my heart open?  And again, I can’t  b    r     e     a          t               h                      e.
(personal care page journal entries, July 2011).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last week I took my daughter to her cheer camp in Milledgeville, GA.  It was a 3 hour drive each way for a 2 day camp, so I decided to stay and do some writing and researching and artmaking and I must say, I had a truly wonderful and reflective time!  Here is what I wrote on Friday afternoon:

dwest - photo 2012 "St. Stephens"

    As I drove into the small town of Milledgeville, GA, specifically the campus of GCSU I immediately noticed a lovely, old Episcopal Church and I knew that I had to see it.  There were aspects about the old wooden facade that brought me back to my childhood church, St. Georges in Ardmore, PA, the church where I was confirmed, the church that I taught my first Sunday School class in and the church that I returned to on the day I married my best friend.  It also reminded me of the quaint church in Ocean City, NJ that I visited often in the early 90's.
    So today I woke up and put on my exercise clothes and I walked - I really wasn't sure where I was headed but I knew deep down inside that I wanted into the church.  I walked aimlessly for about an hour, checking out the little campus while talking on my cell phone with my Moo - a story for another day - and suddenly I was standing before the old church!  I wasn't even sure how I got there, but here I was.  I hung up the phone and slowly walked up the ramp as the sign prompted me to do only to find that the door was locked? 
    Who locks a church? 
    Evidently, they do, so I walked around to the side door and there stood a darling older woman who opened yet another locked door to let me in.  I asked if I could come in and see the church and spend some time praying and she promptly unlocked the back door to the chapel and here I sit!  It's a charming yet dark and spooky and mesmerizing building and I have to say, it feels really good.  As I sit here in the 4th pew on the right side I am taking it all in.  The dark walnut wooden planks that make up the floor and the steepled roof, the brass organ pipes that feel as if they are in need of pouring out their musical souls, the musty smell of hidden stories, and the illuminated sunlight peeking through the 13 stained glass windows and I find myself crying.  Crying with remembrance of my Episcopalian upbringing, days growing up and the feeling I always had when I entered our old beautiful church, a feeling of "good".  My heart melts a bit as I feel somehow closer to God and Jesus as I sit here.  I feel closer to my Croy, closer to history.  I see Croy standing and holding hands with both God and Jesus and his smile is brighter than the sun through the colored glass windows.  I am filled with a peace.  It's a mixed feeling peace.  Sad in that I miss my boy so much I ache, yet happy knowing with all my heart that he is in such a magical place, heaven.  My tears are peaceful.
    I am interrupted for a bit by Chris, another woman who comes in to see if she can answer any of my questions.  As I wipe my tears away I tell her briefly about my Croy and she tells me about her deceased granddaughter - Brittany was 7 - she was born still born and lived with cp - a miracle child from the start. Chris told me about her poem that she felt compelled to write about a month after she lost her Brittany, she believes she was in fact "told" to write this poem and wonders if that was God?  She tells me that God's hand was surely in it, and I believe her.  I wish I could read her poem.  That poem gave her tears a peace of their own. She then tells me about some of the history of the church and she leaves me to my prayerful moments, kindly telling me to take my time.
     And I am now alone again, sitting in this little church and being hugged by God!  Somehow Croy is here with me and I am about to go back on my long walk and head back to my computer and write some more. 
     Reflections can be cathartic. Church is cathartic.  And I question, where does my path lead? 
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings.  Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will direct your path" (proverbs 3:5-6). 
     Am I destined to be in a Church?  Why was I drawn to that church - how did I end up there?  As I reflect on my hour spent at the church I look to my notes,
     "I breathe the old, hot air of the little dark brown church of St. Stephens - built in 1841- and I listen closely as the history reveals itself.  The church has seen and felt sad times but I can feel it is begging to be revived - I want to hug it in the way in which it is hugging me - there is a reason I was brought here today."
What's my path?

dwest - photo 2012 "Welcome"

As usual, I am not sure where this is going but I feel it is important to share - to consider- to journal and try to figure out where it fits in my collage/puzzle of notes and research and lived experiences.  More memoirs to consider in the day of a life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

As I consider how the International Memory Project plays into my own artist/researcher/teacher (and mom) story, through my own research also known as, MY PERSONAL "memoir" and MY PERSONAL "artmaking", I am left pondering my personal, individual Memory Project - my memories of Croy and the memoirs and images I have made to honor his identity, and also my identity as his mommy.  Here are some thoughts to ponder - I need to make sense of this and figure out how to incorporate all of this information to help me "put the puzzle together".

As an artist/researcher/teacher my search to find an authentic methodology that “incorporates tools from science and the arts to make insightful sense of data during and beyond the research project, recognizing the researchers as the “primary instrument for documenting and interpreting knowledge that ultimately informs the researcher about herself as well” and allows me to “present my final work as blurred genre that can speak to diverse audiences both within and outside of the academy” (Cahnmann-Taylor, 2008, p. 9).  A/r/tography is a methodology that is relational and responsive, a living inquiry that will allow art making processes and products to act as methods of inquiry (Irwin & Springgay, 2008; La Jevic & Springgay, 2008).  A/r/tographic practices attend to “the process of creativity and to the means through which one inquires into an education and phenomena through artistic and aesthetic means” (Springgay, et al, 2005, p. 898).
Life took me by surprise
I wasn’t supposed to lose my baby boy
                                                My joy
                                                                                                                                …my connection to all things good
But he is gone.
                                                Croy is gone.
The words melt my soul and leave me breathless
I cannot internalize that he is no longer racing off of the school bus to embrace me with his smile,
                                …his never ending love...
And now his short life informs my every move.
His life informs my daily actions, he has become my space.
 …in the art room. 
….in my studio.
… my life.
His marks, become my marks
                                I teach with my Croy in my heart, in my soul.
…he remains my connection
                                                                                                (Personal Journal Entry, January 6th, 2012)

A/r/tography is embracing and living an embodied curriculum (Riddett-Moore, 2011).  This body of research forms the researcher, and this is why examples of a/r/tography are difficult to absorb.  The work is not specifically visual art, it encompasses all art forms, literature, poetry, music, dance, theatre and due to its very nature, it can be explained but it must also be experienced.  According to Riddett-Moore (2011, p.22), “a/r/tography forces the researcher to bare their soul”.

dewestudio 2012 - "Memories of my Croy Series" - Collage, Acrylic, Pen and Ink, Mixed Media on plywood

Monday, June 11, 2012

As promised - here is a bit of information about the International Memory Project (IMP)!  It's one of my favorites and each year I am completely WOW'ed by the passion, talent and love that my students put into their art; art they create to honor the identity of an orphaned child in another country or state or town.  Their art is making a difference in our world and it's powerful stuff!

(watercolor by Anna; colored pencil by Abigail, watercolor by Leslie and watercolor by Neli)
International Memory Project
The rationale for my study was to investigate how the IMP can improve secondary visual art curricula when combining this service learning activity inherent in this lesson with traditional art curricula for art II students.  My art II students worked on this project for 2 weeks in May of 2012 and I wrote my observations and my student’s experiences daily in a visual journal which became the main source of my data. I collaged my thoughts, images, words, poems and memoirs, creating a total of 10, two page spreads from each of the ten days that they participated in this project.  I observed and interviewed my students as they worked on their portraits for the orphaned children we “adopted”.  My research procedures were conducted in the following order: 
  1. Introduced my students to the IMP lesson through the IMP website,, specifically via a powerpoint slide show that discusses why this service learning art lesson was created and how it works. 
  2. Each student was given a photograph that I had pre-ordered from the IMP’s founder, Ben Shumacher, of an orphan.   This lesson permits us to “adopt” forty orphans from Peru and then honor their identity through the art of portraiture.  I laid the photos of the orphans out on a table and students selected their child to draw or paint.  I observed and interviewed the randomly selected students as they chose their orphans. 
  3. Students selected the media and paper that they wanted to create their portraits on.  All completed portrait sizes must be 9 x 12 to fit into the preordered plastic cellophane envelopes provided by the IMP organization.  Students worked on their portraits for approximately two weeks, as our in class schedule dictates, this amounts to ten days, with 55 minutes of studio/instruction per day.  As my art II students have participated in a standard portraiture lesson in the past, I did not have to fully explain the art of portraiture to them.  We did, however review the basics, such as the measuring of facial features, the use of line, shape and value and how each student could creatively alter the negative space to showcase personalization of the final art portrait, thus traditional art lessons ensued.  I guided each student individually as their art educator. 
  4. Students concluded the lesson by attaching the photo they drew from on the back next to a photo of them, as required by the IMP guidelines.  They wrote a personal note to the child as well, in either English or Spanish.  At the end of the art lesson, each student participated in a project evaluation form writing assignment, which acted as an assessment form, where they graded themselves while reflecting on the lesson in written form. 
  5. The randomly selected participants for this study were observed, interviewed and had their visual art, journals and written comments evaluated as part of my data collection.  My projected time line for the entire study was eight weeks, allowing time to collect and analyze my data.

Students kept reflective journals as a lesson requirement that they wrote in daily explaining the processes of creating a portrait for their selected orphan.  These journals encouraged students to internalize the lesson, add to their current knowledge base, and broaden their thinking about service learning when combined with a traditional visual art lesson, specifically the IMP. The reflection piece allowed my students to make the connections between their technical learning experiences and their service learning in order to meet the general models of a service learning curricula.  I was looking for particular service learning student outcomes, including academic, civic responsibility, life skills and personal development.  The connection between thoughtful, "worthwhile" educational experiences, action, and further learning, is the cornerstone of the service learning reflective process. Dewey saw reflective thinking as a way to discover specific connections between actions and consequences. He believed that reflective thinking would help students learn from experience and improve their problem solving skills.  The theoretical basis for reflection as a practice in education is grounded in the work of John Dewey.  Bringle and Hatcher (1999) noted that at the core of Dewey's educational philosophy were three principals:
    1. Education must lead to personal growth
    2. Education must contribute to humane conditions
    3. Education must engage citizens in association with one another (p. 181).
Dewey's "educational continuum" distinguished between educational experiences that are worthwhile versus those that are not. Worthwhile educational experiences "do something to prepare a person for later experiences of deeper and more expansive quality and “this is the very meaning of growth, continuity, and reconstruction of experience” (Dewey, 1934, p. 47). 
The reflective piece of this study was what I found to be the most useful.  As I utilized my final visual journal as a major part of my data using arts-based methods and the findings became a part of a newly created type of collaged memoir consisting of poetry, artwork, and personal reflection/student reflection memoir put together via the media of collage.  A final meta-reflection of the entire process presented a philosophy explaining the dynamics of the intrapersonal relationships found from this lesson. The method I went through was intense and I discovered that the stages of my student’s learning development appeared to reflect the stages within a “rite of passage” (Ruud, 1995) as well as the literature connecting to self-actualization (Maslow, 1968) and peak experiences (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). These discoveries made me reflect and realize the importance of the connection between a visual art educator and her students as a catalyst for enhancing an internal sense of “presence”, or as Dewey (1934) mentions,                                                                                                            
The general features of a reflective experience ... are perplexity, confusion, doubt, due to the fact that one is implicated in an incomplete situation whose full character is not yet determined; a conjectural anticipation - a tentative interpretation of the given elements, attributing to them a tendency to effect certain consequences; a careful survey (examination, inspection, exploration, analysis) of all attainable consideration which will define and clarify the problem in hand. It is the extent and accuracy of these steps which mark off a distinctive reflective experience from one on the trial and error plane. They make thinking itself into an experience. 
As stated in one of my journal entries: “I believe through this project that I have learned to be fully present with myself,  better understanding the creative thought process that is needed for my students to understand what it is to walk in another’s shoes while believing in themselves as creative artists and divergent thinkers. ” (West, 2012).

(colored pencil by Rachel, watercolor and pen & ink by Jessica, colored pencil by Taylor)
Taylor and her beautiful layered colored pencil portrait...filled with LOVE!

Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4th - 1st day of Summer Art Camp is now behind me and it was WOW-erful!  When I came home from teaching 25 beautiful, creative young artists, I felt compelled to create myself!  I completed my 1st draft summer research paper for my UGA Summer Course with Dr. Cahnmann-Taylor AND created my next summer installation in our MemoiART blog - "Brighten My Day"!

So tonight I worked on my next summer visual journal spread: "Brighten My Day".  It was interesting how this piece worked itself out.  As most of my visual artworks end up, I had a completely different vision in mind.  As I started to add my art materials to my spread, my media, my imagery, my text, I was overcome with thoughtful reflections of what actually DOES brighten my day?  I usually spend most days happy - seriously happy!  As in, if you wake up breathing, you're having a pretty damn good day!  As in, one of my favorite mottos that I stole from Neila Conner, "TGIT: Thank God It's Today!"  but thinking back, my really truly remarkably BRIGHT days were back when my family was right there next to me, beside me, tucked in at night.  So my collage of text and imagery began and I found myself layering papers to create "secret hiding" places within my pages.  Within each "hiding" space, I would insert more ripped text from my memoirs and even a piece of a ripped crossword puzzle that I worked on one morning years ago.  This ripped piece of crossword reminded me of my mornings when I have "shushed" my children while sipping on my tea, acting as if that puzzle was more important than the children I brought into this world! 
Shame on me! 
Shame on US! 
We all do it! 
We live in a society where we are keeping up and busy as ever, and suddenly, before our eyes, we see your babies as teenagers, no longer needing us.  So as I searched for images in my cabinets of holiday cards gone by showcasing our together family, I thought of the fruit that was once my baby/babies and I long for those days for those are my BRIGHT days, my BLESSED days - but I should hold tight to my "tucked away memories of brighter days" and that is what my final collaged piece ultimately became tonight. 

dewestudio Visual Journal Spread - "Brighten My Day" - June 2012

Enjoy this art - enjoy this blog but more importantly, ENJOY your family, your life and LIVE BIG!  Tuck away your memories and build new ones daily!

Here is the beginning of what ended up being a 33 page 1st attempt research draft - can't wait to get some feedback and keep on learning!

Context and Introduction
In January of 2012, I took a Translingual Memoir course at the University of Georgia where I wrote several stories about experiences in my life that I considered to be important and life changing.  This type of writing became a heuristic, experimental arts-based self-study which I took as an opportunity to take an in-depth look at the personal process of learning by using my primary instruments needed to fully understand my personal “lived experience” consisting of family, students, and the visual arts.  The original intent of this paper was to explore and develop my gesture at a synthesis of the Translingual Memoir course expanding on how I saw the relationships between research methods and making and teaching art, but it turned into something much bigger and self-reflexive.  During a conversation with my major professor, we discussed the following:
·         Your paper should be your gesture (act) at a synthesis (mixture/blend/production) of the Translingual Memoir (biography, account, history, chronicle record, journal, log, report) course (plus what you have already written about a/r/tography, arts-based research, etc…) to expand upon how you see the relationship between research methods and the making and teaching of art. 
·         How do scholars articulate the theory and practice of arts-informed research methodologies (practices, procedures, methods, styles)?
·         What constitutes (establishes, comprises, represents) "data" (facts, documents, files)?
·         How is one's personal life story a part of the research "data"?
·         How are relationships between "researcher" and "participants" (teacher, students) defined in such an arts-based approach to data in education?
·         Who are your models for such study?
·         What did you find in memoir-based research and creative writing that inspires your approach
                                                                  (Personal Communication, 2012)

I started the whole process of trying to answer these questions from a personal perspective sensing a need to work on my personal art making on a regular basis. My attempts to become reconnected to my visual art making became a process for me to utilize the visual arts as a cathartic tool to help me heal after the death of my son.  Specifically, I wanted to create visual collages of the stories and poetry that I had written over the past few years and particularly during my Translingual Memoir course.  Through this course, I discovered that there was something very important happening, I was becoming reconnected with a deep understanding of how my life truly does inform my daily curriculum as an arts educator and that arts-based research “challenges us to think creatively about what constitutes research, forcing us to explore even more varied and creative ways to engage in empirical processes and to share our questions and findings in more penetrating and widely accessible ways” (Cahnmann-Taylor, 2008, p. 3).  A/r/tography calls on the researcher to aesthetically create in the process of research as a critical dimension of rigorous inquiry (Irwin & Springgay, 2008; Sameshima, 2007).  I wanted to better understand these concepts.

The overall purpose of this paper is to provide theories describing how to continue to interact with data in an artistic and authentic way. My hope is to provide a theoretical background, beginning with a brief summary describing heuristic and arts-based research methods, how I recently used them, and how their synthesis helped me to better define “arts-based reflexivity”.  I also hope to illustrate how the final result or meta-reflection of my project relates to the continued development of this arts-based reflexivity method.  Next I will provide a template describing the processes involved in arts-based reflexivity for researchers to explore and springboard from in their own research.  And finally, I will reflect upon the implications of this method and where I hope to take the data to achieve an even greater sense of authenticity and credibility, in this case, a better understanding of why service learning in the visual art classroom is so important.  There are various extracts from this project but I am most interested in the heuristic research approach and how that fits in with memoir and a/r/tography.  Thinking about my art making and art teaching as research tools, I found that I needed to put it into a context of an actual research project.  Upon investigating and reflecting on several service learning lessons taught to my students through the years, I selected the International Memory Project (IMP) to conduct a pre-study for this paper. 

More on the IMP later - very, very good stuff for sure!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I am late.
I was supposed to post my "dream" page last week as we have scheduled our summer with weekly prompts to guide us in our art making and our writing. 

My dreams are full.  My dreams are busy.  My dreams are many.
My dreams consist of Croy.  I wish he was still here by my side instead of sitting in my heart. 
I dream that I could turn the clock back and bring him back to us. 
I dream that all of the little events that eventually led to his untimely death could be erased - the horrific nightmare of a hospital in Savannah, the ambulance ride that seemed to take forever to get us to Atlanta and the numerous mistakes made by Children's.  I often feel that Croy should be here with us - but then I have to hold deep in my heart that God needed him.  Croy did so much "good" here on Earth - he spread his joy, he loved unconditionally - so my new dream is that I can live as fully and as whole as he did. 

The definition of dream is:
"A series of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. A daydream; a reverie.  A state of abstraction; a trance. A wild fancy or hope. A condition or achievement that is longed for; One that is exceptionally gratifying, excellent, or beautiful."

And to explore the act of "dream" used throughout time:
MLK:  "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."   Amen!
PAUL MCCARTNEY: The tune for "Yesterday" came to him in a dream...
MARY SHELLEY: Frankenstein was inspired by a dream - "when I placed my head upon my pillow, I did not sleep, nore could I be said to think...I saw - with shut eyes, but acute mental vision - I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out and ..."
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON:  He described dreams as occurring in "that small theater of the breain which we keep brightly lighted all night long".  His classic novel "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was conceived, written, re-written, re-re-written and printed inside of ten weeks in 1886 and was conceived in a dream.
JACK NICKLAUS: This golfer found a new way to hold his golf club in a dream, which he credits to improving his golf game back in 1964.
STEPHEN KING: "Dreams are just another part of life.  To me, it's like seeing something on the stree you can use in your fictioin.  You take it and plug is right in." 

So this week I will consider all that could be locked away in my dreams - there is documented proof that famous creative ideas materialized from dreams - writers, poets, musicians, philosphers, athletes, artists...dreams inspire and so I hope my dreams will inspire me to write and create my story.  My story about how my Croy informs my life now - my curricula, my daily actions, my future.

"Dream Spread" - Visual Journal Entry - dewestudio - May 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

I think I've made an interesting correlation between memoir and research and how the 2 merge.  I am such the "teacher thinker" that I believe I am always searching for creative ways to explain difficult concepts to my students. As I have been pondering some of my upcoming summer grad school questions regarding the empirical aspects in my dissertation, I find it confusing.  So the other day, I had a revelation of sorts and here is what I wrote: 

"I was thinking about my jewelry collection the other day.  I love my jewelry. I consider it to be my art that I get to wear, my proverbial "artwears" for the world to see easily without having to enter my house or art studio to see my art collection that hangs on my walls.   I have been collecting this wearable art for years now, starting on my 12th birthday. I can still recall purchasing my first ring at a “real” jewelry store, and learning the term “filigree”.  My step grandmother, Esther, took me to the store and together, we picked out a dainty, 14K yellow gold (that was a REALLY big deal back then) filigree ring with a topaz stone in a beige brown tone, that I adored!  In my young mind, it defined me, this ring with a historical definition and a stone that told the world that I was born in November.   I loved that ring, maybe as much as I loved my Esther.  In fact, when I think about that ring, I consider how it symbolizes my eternal, neverending love for this remarkable woman.  I think about how she was the ultimate teacher, the teacher who could make a simple shopping experience a true learning experience that will forever be embedded on a young artist’s mind.

As I sit here today, as a 46 year old woman, a teacher, I slowly begin to count the jewelry that I am wearing.  39 pieces of jewelry are adorning my body at this moment! 39!  From my stacks of rings, 4 rings on 2 fingers and a thumb ring that I put on during my sophomore year of high school and have yet to take off.   Each ring has a significant meaning, each necklace has a deep, personal meaning.  From the thumbprint of my deceased son and the small diamond cross from my best friend Dee who saved me on the day of his memorial service, to my wedding band and engagement ring that symbolized my husband, Chuck's commitment and love for me,  to Croy’s medical bracelet that I took off of his little wrist as they wheeled him away to donate his organs, to my toe ring that my daughter Carson and I got together at the beach 4 years ago. 
I have a multitude of silver bangle bracelets, one to document each of my trips to Mexico and St. Martin, my souvenirs, each with a memory that brings me joy.  I have jewelry that has text inscribed in it, such as my ring that now sits in between my engagement ring and my wedding band that simply says, CROY CARSON, and my ring that states, PURSUE HAPPINESS, a gentle reminder to do just that.  I have a bracelet that says, MAY YOUR CRAYONS NEVER MELT that sits right next to my classical Tiffany heart link bracelet given to me by my Chuck on our 5th wedding anniversary.  I have a tiny diamond stud earring in my 5th earring piercing that is from my Mamaw, and 2 anklets that I started collecting a few Christmases ago selected by Carson.  I could go on and on reflecting on the individual stories each piece of jewelry represents, in fact, I could reflect on the contents of my jewelry box and perhaps write my entire dissertation.  These stories from each piece of precious jewelry take on a life of their own and I begin to understand the essence of how memoir meets research.  As I reflect on my jewelry collection, the gold and silver metal that adorns my body, I become intrigued about the history of jewelry.  I think about how Esther, who lived in Tucson and worked with Native American children, had a beautiful jewelry collection and I want to know more about her jewelry and the jewelry from her Navajo friends and the symbolic meanings behind the engraved silver and turquoise pieces that define a part of their culture.  So I begin to research the history of jewelry. 
And this is how it begins.  My personal story and interests lead me to the scholarly information that is out there and I begin to better understand the relationship of how one's personal life story becomes a part of the research "data"."  And in my case, I then begin to form and write new curricula around the merged personal story and scholarly info to inform a new genre of learner - it's a beautiful circle where the learning never ends. 
And it all started with a simple story of an art teacher's jewelry collection.
From this short memoir, I am ready to begin a bit of historical research on jewelry to combine my story with that of the academic story!  Who knew there was so much to learn by taking a moment to reflect on the obvious in our lives.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Our first prompt was SUMMER EXPECTATIONS - I had fun making the cover for my visual journal, I am calling it my book of "Marks" since I am very interested in using mark metaphorically in my dissertation.  I think the large, overarching goal of my research is to not only see how life informs curricula, but look closely at the "art of the mark" in both the 2D realm and the 3D realm. 

I am adding my cover image as well as my first page of summer expectations.  I have merged my text into my imagery and blurred the message a bit.  Bottom line - my marks will be informed by the elements of art, line, shape, color, value but on a much larger playing field - these will fuel my summer as I will search for deeper meaning while reading, writing, creating and appreciating my family while relaxing at the beach.  I will search for peace - I will love unconditionally - drinking in life and living fully!

Visual Journal Cover - dw2012

Summer Expectations - dw2012

Friday, May 4, 2012

Drew, Tammy and Debi are excited to share this blogspot where we will post weekly reflections from our lives.  We are all moms, Ph.D candidates, teachers, artists, writers and friends.  Our goal is to continue to push ourselves as creative beings and through this site we will post weekly.  We have prompts that will guide us on this journey of working in our visual journals, improving on our craft.
Enjoy!  And know that we enjoy and appreciate creative comments!

NOTE:  I have used a piece of art for our header done by a past student, AE.  This is a piece she was working on for her AP portfolio 2 years ago and she never completed it.  It reminds me of the metamorphosis we all go through during our lives - growing, changing, learning, observing – when we pay attention to the little things in life that help us to spread our wings and eventually fly with confidence, we illuminate with positive energy and beauty! 

There are so many things I love about this piece of art, the old discarded wood that it was created on, the bold marks created with various media that tell the story of my student’s growth as a divergent, creative thinking artist and what a joy it was to watch her grow over the years that I was her art teacher.  AE is now a student at SCAD and she is indeed growing, changing, learning and sharing her stories with me.  Another student continuing to make me proud!