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Monday, May 7, 2018

I Heart Art (Shows)

It feels like I just ran a one hundred mile ultramarathon, with a grand piano strapped to my back, while wearing pinecones instead of shoes. In other words, I’m tired. I’ve spent the last two weeks preparing for a big art show at the school where I teach--and I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that by the day of the show, my feet were killing me, despite wearing supportive clogs. Also, my brain was in knots from counting art, cross-checking names, sorting art, gluing art to background paper, labeling art and occasionally removing labels from art after determining that this art piece was not done by this Luciana, but by that Luciana. And there were blisters on three of my fingers. But the good news is that I put together my first art show as an elementary art teacher, and I lived to tell the tale! Not only did I survive, but I also felt very proud of the show.

There were more than 450 pieces of art at the show. Almost 400 were done in my classes, and the rest were done with homeroom teachers. They were displayed against neutral backdrops of black fabric and white tablecloths, which made the bright colors of the art pop. We had drawings, paintings and origami pieces. Not all of the projects completed this school year were in the show because I gave back the fall projects before I learned there would be a spring art show. But each student chose a piece in the show and there was variety.

Here are a few thoughts and anecdotes from the last two weeks:

A few days before the show I had a brief spell of panic, while sorting art. I was in a fog after labeling hundreds of pieces of art, and maybe this led to self-doubt. Unfortunately, I started falling down the rabbit’s hole. I wondered if I could put together a good enough show. I questioned whether I had taught the kids something interesting this year. I began to fret and worry. Panic set in. But then…I yanked myself out of the rabbit’s hole and sternly said to myself, “Shut UP! SHUT UP!!!!” This was my way of halting the downward spiral of self-doubt. I simply didn’t have time to be derailed by doubt. There was a looming deadline and too much to do.

Soon after, I turned the corner with the preparations. The next day I felt more confident and I told Hubby about my stern talk with myself the day before. I am prone to self-doubt. I have very high expectations of myself and because of that doubt can creep in. And when you’re intimidated, a task can loom as large as Mt. Everest. I’ve learned something really valuable because of the busy schedule leading up to the show: simply refusing to succumb to doubt is a helpful response! This was the first time I’d ever told myself that we didn’t have time for doubt. Historically, I’ve let doubt set up camp, but this time I moved past the quicksand, and found that my fears were unfounded. I’m going to try to use this technique in the future, even if I don’t have a looming deadline. 

Kirigami flowers made by my seventh grade class. Kirigami is different from origami in that you cut paper.

Kindergarten Aboriginal art piece. Aboriginal art often incorporates circles and dots.

First grade Aboriginal art. 

First grade art: an introduction to perspective. I thought it was charming that this student decided to label each crop.

Second grade: Aboriginal art. In this type of art, there is a lot of pattern in the background. 

Third grade: Aboriginal art, including circles, geometric shapes and of course, dots.

Third grade art: Aboriginal designs in earth colors.

Fourth grade Aboriginal art: an animal is often the main focus of the art, with shapes in the background.

Fifth grade art: still life drawings of bird of paradise flower, lemon and three-dimensional container.

Fifth grade still life. This student's bold outline gives the piece a distinct look.

Another fifth grade still life. Lots of texture and added color in this one.

Fifth grade. Same subject matter. Completely different style.

Fifth grade still life. Lots of texture.

So much action and life in this fifth grader's still life.

More Aboriginal art, using a traditional earth tones color palette. Aboriginal artists made paint from clay, dirt, charcoal and other substances found in nature.

Fifth grade: an introduction to perspective drawing, in which all receding lines meet at the vanishing point on the horizon line.

Sixth grade: Aboriginal art incorporating the use of symbols, which recorded major events.

Sixth grade: Aboriginal art including symbols commonly used.

Seventh grade: raccoon drawing. This project tied in with a book the students read, Where the Red Fern Grows. In the book the main character has coon hunting dogs.

Seventh grade: another raccoon, but with a completely different style.

Seventh grade: a curious raccoon...

Eighth grade: bird of paradise still life.

Eighth grade Aboriginal piece: dots for days...

Eighth grade still life: full of color.

The day before the show some students came into the library, where the art show was. The library looked quite different with its temporary fabric “walls” up. One first grader came in and said with confusion, “Is this the library?” So cute.

It’s been a full year. At the beginning of the school year I wasn’t sure I could teach. The hard parts of teaching were harder than I’d expected. Noise and behavior were big issues. But at some point, I turned a corner. I got savvier. The kids are still noisy but they have warmed up to me. The little ones hug me and the teenagers try to teach me dance moves and new slang. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m returning to do it next year.

I feel proud to be an art teacher. I’m new at it, but I think I’m doing a good job. No, I’m not curing cancer. But helping kids to learn something is important, too. Showing them that they can do art, that they can shade something to look 3-D and that they can draw--this helps them overcome their self-doubt. For the ones who are creative, it gives them pride to see their art displayed in a show. Some of the kids remind me of myself when I was a first grader. I was very shy, and I was as uncoordinated as a newborn octopus wearing roller skates. Sports scared me—but art was where I could shine. So I relate to the little artists in my class who may struggle with spelling or math or sports—but who love to draw. And for the ones who don't believe they are artists, when they try, they show themselves that they have potential far beyond what they imagined...


  1. Awesome! So proud of you, and of your students. Way to go, Sar!

    1. M, thanks! They did a great job, didn't they?

  2. Amazing job, both you and the students. What an experience it has been! So glad to hear you going to do it again. What a rewarding job!

    1. Adri, thank you. I always appreciate your support...

  3. That's so cool Sarah! You did a great job and I love seeing your student's art. I wish you had been my art teacher in school.

    1. Super Ky! Thanks, friend. You are such a creative soul...

  4. How wonderful, Sarah. You had a good year. :) Congratulations!

  5. Awesome art show and loved seeing the progression of the art by grade levels. Bet there will be some real artists developing and lots of kids who just enjoy art because YOU are their teacher! Thanks for sharing your journey through self-doubt and your trouncing of it - way to Go, Girl!!! Yes, you ARE an art teacher and I'm so glad you will be returning next year - they are so lucky to have you!

    1. Debby, your pep talks last fall gave me encouragement. Thanks so much...

  6. Truly incredible and inspiring. You were born to do this!

  7. So gorgeous!!! I just love every single piece, and your captions for each one. Fantastic job!!!

  8. There is a lot of gorgeous work. Imressive by the 8th grade. Could you teach perspective to the White House? I'd like them all to form lines and vanish in the distance, LOL!

    1. Hi Ray, you are a hoot. Glad you like the art, you creative soul...

  9. It looks awesome! You did a fantastic job!