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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Art All State 25- The END and an OVERVIEW

The Start of the Installation-- The End of the WorryMen
All right-- a view from an artist/mentor of one of the Art All State Studios for the 25th Edition of the program held at the Worcester Art Museum.

I know I live-blogged much of the event, and I also know I lost track-- my focus always is on the students so forgive me for doing this post event wrap up to cover my tracks.

The students are partnered with pairs of Artist teams-- this year I was placed with Rich Gombar who is a remarkable painter from the wilds of Vermont.

This is my eighth year with the event, and there were some changes made that definitely improved the overall experience and actually made the entire process both easier and more engaging.

The students are dropped off on Friday morning early-- and the artists arrive by 830 where we have a small breakfast (someday we'll have an Omelet Station) and are given final instructions by AAS Manager Gillian Bonazoli.

At 915 we head across the street with the students for a welcome address by Museum Director Matthias Waschek, AAS Chair Krisi Oliver and Gillian who give the students words of encouragement and explain the rules of the event-- no smoking, no offensive behavior, etc.  The students spend the night at the Clark University dorms so there are logistical challenges as well.

At 930 the Artists give a presentation of their work and discuss their journey as Artists.  We're each supposed to stick to 4 minutes with four slides shown.  In years past we did this portion of the progam after dinner on Friday night and honestly it sucked the life out of the evening.  It was too much to sit for dinner, and then sit for another hour+ (16 artists x 4mins+ = 64 minutes) and THEN go back to the studio to work.  Moving it to the morning was one of the suggestions I put on my evaluation sheet and even though I was begrudging it at 9am in the end it worked so much better.

This year I actually used a stopwatch to keep myself on time-- and I'm glad I did.  Previously this talk runs long-- and by long I mean anywhere from a half hour to an hour over planning-- and I can easily see why.  I glanced down at my stopwatch about halfway through my talk and it said 3:28 (!)-- it felt like I'd talked for under a minute-- so I wrapped it up.

I can completely sympathize with the artists who went over-- I must have been one of the worst offenders in previous non-stop watch years.

In the end, we did go over by an hour-- not good.  The kids were getting antsy to work.  But the talk ended with a look at the student work set to music, which brought the energy level back up.

Following the close of the ceremony we head back over to WAM to our respective studios where we introduce the Ice-breaker portion.

The Ice-Breaker is important to get them to talk to each other as well as to loosen up.  I like to use one that involves drawing or painting of some type so that they can get that out of their system.  Most artists I know need to draw everyday and get antsy if they don't.

After the Ice-Breaker we grab lunch and then re-assemble to go into the museum to look at the artwork we've chosen as inspiration for our installation.  In this case we looked at two pieces that shared certain sensibilities but also reflected obvious differences.

The students brought clipboards, paper and pencil with them into the museum galleries so that they could make sketches and notes for the artwork to help them formulate a strategy to create the installation.

Our Materials
Back in the Studio we review our materials-- this year, brown craft paper, bright green yarn, spandex like gloves and latex gloves.

After they've had a chance to get into the materials we split the 18 students into 3 groups of 6 where they discuss what they'd like to do for the installation.  They're given paper and pencils to write down their ideas and then after 15min or so they present those ideas to the group as a whole where we ask questions and discuss the logistics of accomplishing the project.

One of the things you want to look for here are students who are dis-engaged.  Keep in mind, no matter how much the process is explained by art teachers or during the interview process, a lot of them (in fact I'd say the vast majority of them) come into the program either expecting a weekend of intensive art instruction classes with different professional artists OR with NO idea of what to expect -- and almost all of them have no idea what an installation is nor have they ever worked on a group project.

Art is solitary for the most part-- so the idea of collaborating can either be appealing or appalling-- depending on the student.

You can see the interest level during the presentation of the group idea and if you're on your game it's equally noticeable when you walk around when they are formulating their proposal.

Look for students who are not involved in the discussion, students who look like they're about to get a root canal, it's key to spot problems early.

The students presented their ideas, we asked questions and they were all good ideas.
They wanted to accomplish a few things here;

1. Audience involvement-- visitors would interact with the exhibit.
2. To honor the pieces we selected we needed an element of reflection and an industrial nature
3. Create an environment which offered a peaceful space, which I thought was a remarkable thought-- many of the studios both this year and years past feel the need to fill every inch of the studio with some kind of display.

We took portions of each idea, the brown paper would be used to create some kind of nest, the fabric gloves would be used to create either scales or a feather pattern for wings and the latex gloves would be blown up and tied off to create little purple people/creatures which we eventually dubbed The WorryMen.

The green yarn would be used to create a net of sorts which we would fill with the WorryMen-- the idea would be that people would write something or someone that worried them on the little men, then toss them into the net to end the worry.

Very Zen-like.

The net itself created a logistical problem, and on occasion we'd find students concentrating on areas that no one but them would notice and would try to steer them towards the main portion.

I spoke to three different students who were at different levels of dis-engagement, the strongest of them just not happy with any of the elements of the program or installation we were doing.

Each discussion took place out of the studio and away from everyone else.   I explained to each of them that AAS is not just a learning experience, but a growing experience.  I could totally sympathize with their concerns, at 16 I would not have had the ability to enjoy this, my opinions of modern art and installations at the time were decidedly negative, but that attitudes change.

They could either do what they could to embrace the concept and make their part of it as good as it could be, or they could focus on the negative and make themselves unhappy for the duration of the event.   Letting go of negative energy was what the whole installation was about after all.

As an Artist Mentor it's easy to get frustrated with kids that feel this way, but you have to keep in mind the limited scope of experience they have with experimental art and do what you can to reach them, even though there are some who just won't get it until years out from the program.

We broke for dinner and then spent another hour and a half in the museum after they asked if we could visit some of the rest of the collection.   I was really impressed with most of them and their interest and knowledge in the arts.  Appreciating a museum shows a great deal of maturity and understanding as well as personal artistic growth.  Something we as educators need to instill.

We ended the first night with a group meeting to see where we stood and take note of what we should concentrate on for the next day.

We broke at 10pm where they listened to artist Michael Townsend talk about his tape art installation and Veronica and I went home to grab some sleep before coming back at 8am on Saturday to begin again.

Saturday rolled in and even though it's mostly studio time it goes very fast.  Basically the three+ hours you have from 9am to Noon is the main studio time, because then it's a break for lunch, the group photograph and the students get their T-Shirts after turning in their evaluations.  We have about two hours to cleanup and get ready for the exhibition from 1230-230.

The giant preying mantis bird figure was too heavy to hang, so they opted to have it turned into a costume and Kris agreed to be the guy in the suit who would sit motionless in the studio and then move when someone came near him.  Izzy and Madison also suited up in Zen-like robes to hand out the WorryMen to the people coming into the studio and soon the net filled up with worries of all kinds-- luckily vanishing away into the void.

At 330 the closing ceremony is held and then the studio is dismantled and put back the way we found it when we came in.  The students tend to exchange contact into at this point with each other and say their goodbyes.

I was happy to get so much positive feedback from them and their parents after the event.
Another successful year-- exhausting but exhilarating at the same time.

All that's left is to fill out my own evaluation and apply for next year.