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!