Visit a school. Do arts-in-education/bookmaking project. Repeat year after year.
I love the work I do in schools, which is a good thing because it’s a demanding calling, both creatively and physically. If I’m not excited by what I do, burnout shadows every move I make. In order to keep being a visiting artist, I have to stay fresh, which means I have to do more than just repeat what I’ve done before.
The best scenario is that this arts-in-education work will evolve in the same way that any artistic growth happens, which among other things, means asking intriguing questions of the work, and taking time to explore possible answers. This takes time, lots of time. I have to allow many weeks, even months, to develop a new project. Ideas need room to percolate, space to expand and contract, time to be explored. Sometime I sit with excruciating dark stretches of nothingness, but these times seem always to mask uncharted, fertile territories. In a talk given by John Cleese, he said that the most important ingredient to making the best work is time: time beyond the first hour, beyond the first idea or the second idea.
It takes a leap of faith stay on track when there is no track, but that’s where the fresh creative work is discovered. The actual logistics of introducing new project can be tricky. Here are a few ways I got about refreshing my way of working:
- I encourage just a couple of relationships with teachers who ask me to create something new for them, and who view my workshops as a way of expanding their own way of working with students. I create handouts and templates so that these teachers can repeat my projects without me being there. This does not, by the way, cut into my workload. Sharing what I have to offer always leads to more work.
- I modify existing projects in such a way that I can ask a new question that has occurred to me. The photographs included here are a year’s exploration asking, “Would students care about their work more if we first created a somewhat dimensional, anthropological figure that lived in their books? “ By the way, it was revelatory to see how students become attached to their characters.
- Teaching for free is a great way of introducing a new project. Picking a favorite venue (I like local, underfunded organizations that serve children) to do some pro bono teaching is a good policy. Then, of course, I write about these projects on my blog, and things go from there.
New projects never go perfectly the first time out the gate. I think it’s important to be willing to try something out, then, along with teachers, assess what worked and what didn’t. Each time I teach something I will try to refine the structure or the presentation. I get a great deal of pleasure in the refining phase of this work.
The balancing act I have to do in order to stay interested in working with schools, then, has three components: 1) repeating projects I’ve done before, which is necessary and comfortable; 2) continually trying out ways of improving current projects, which is great fun; and 3) plunging in with something completely different, which is the most uncomfortable, but also the most exciting, most full of discovery, and which also keeps me in touch with the art in Arts-in-Education.