Monday, February 8, 2010

Art Education: Bringing Light to Contemporary Issues

Although it's been four years since my accident I still think about my "old" life on a daily basis. I can't speak for other people in my situation, but personally I find it impossible to not be reminded of everything I had and lost. One of the aspects of my old life that I miss the most is my career. It saddens me to think about all the years I spent in collage and all the time and effort I put into my work. I was truly blessed to know what I wanted early on in life and to have the motivation and talent to achieve my goals. So many of my friends floundered through college and/or chose career paths that they are unhappy with. I genuinely loved my college experience and my career. Not many people can say they enjoy their job. I have pictured myself as an art teacher ever since I was in junior high and although I always believed I'd create art on the side, I never envisioned myself as a "starving artist." I chose teaching because I wanted the stability of a steady job and for my love of children. Being an art teacher was the perfect profession for me, because I got to create art every day and inspire children to love art just as much as I do. It was also greatly satisfying to see the children creating and to see their finished artwork. Children's art is special because it captures the world from their perspective. I couldn't help but feel happy and re-energized when I would see all my students' work. Displaying the finished projects was one of my favorite things to do, because I was so proud of the work and wanted everyone to see how wonderful it was. Hanging displays also gave me the opportunity to teach the concepts or history behind each lesson to the larger school community.

It was (and still is) important to me to teach children to appreciate art and understand the vital role art plays in our every day lives. All of my lessons included historical examples of art work and highlighted the reasons behind each piece of artwork or specific techniques. This way, my students could learn about practical uses for art as well as understand how art impacts humanity and how all cultures use art as a form of expression.

I suppose there is a certain irony to my life, in the sense of how my career path changed. Most art majors in college would probably say their dream is to be a successful artist in terms of exhibiting and selling their work. In fact, it irks me that a lot of people use teaching as a "fall back" career option. My dream has always been focused on the teaching aspect of art education and never so much on my own artistic fame or success. That is why I say it is ironic that I find myself outside of the classroom and "working" as an artist.

Once I began painting again, after my accident I focused primarily on skill and technique. I joined the AMFPA and the paintings I give to them I create with the intention of them being able to reproduce them and raise money for the organization. I paint mostly still-lives for the AMFPA and working on them is great practice and skill building for me.

As many of you already know, my personal artwork focuses on my feelings and struggles with paralysis. I choose not to sell my work at this time and rather use it as a teaching tool. Although I am no longer in my classroom, it is my hope that I can educate others through my art. The paintings I've had in exhibits all touch on different issues that impact my life. Some of my work is highly person and depicts specific challenges I face or events that were traumatic. Creating each painting helps me to flush out certain emotions and thoughts I've kept bottled up. In this sense I'm sharing a small part of my burdens with the viewer. It is my hope that when people see my work they walk away with a new perspective on paralysis and desire to help raise awareness. Anyone is subject to injury and I think it's crucial that people understand that they could very easily end up in my shoes. Empathy is more important to me than sympathy. I want people to have a greater appreciation for what they have and to think about how they might feel in my situation. Many of the struggles I face are general issues that all people with disabilities can relate to. I also think it's important to shed light on the big picture and to highlight current events that impact my life, both directly and indirectly.

So, I guess you could say I am still teaching, just in a different way. I'd prefer to still be in my classroom, but am grateful that I still have an avenue for inspiring others to love art and to use art as teaching tool. I've been fortunate that people have taken an interest in my work and have supported me in my goals. I'd like to exhibit more in the future and will continue to grab opportunities to raise awareness whenever I can. For me, fame is not a concern. If I can help educate others about paralysis and in turn help find a cure, that's all that matters to me.


  1. I've wanted to teach ever since about 7th grade. I always thought it was a neat idea to inspire the world's future...

    Graduating High School, I didn't really have th funding to go to college and support that without struggling too hard.. The Air Force offered me an easy out, kinda, and it's been a fun ride so far.

    I do need to start taking classes so I can get my degree, but here at Eielson, I've started teaching in 2 ways.

    First, in the less noticeable way, I'm one of the more technically proficient supervisors in the office, so whenever I work on a project, I make sure to take one of the "green" airmen we have, and explain how things work, and why we need to do them a certain way and such.

    Second, I actually teach (lecture style) the base's Network + class to get our folks ready for a required certification.

    It's a great feeling to start off with someone who knows little to nothing about a topic, and show them how/why things work the way they do.

    Have you ever thought of going to local schools as a speaker? Either to advanced art classes about the way your accident has inspired your style, and how you continue to work in art, even if you can't use your hands to do it. Or just in general to a school populous? Could inspire those youngsters to do some volunteer work to help your cause...

  2. Wow! I never knew you were interested in teaching. You're right though, in terms of the fact that you use teaching skills as a boss. In order to be a good manager/supervisor, I think you need patience and willingness to be able explain things in different ways. I think teaching by example is one of the easiest ways to impact people or help students understand information/procedures. I've thought about speaking, but still on the fence about it. Mainly, because I enjoy working with K-5 students best. I would consider teaching college courses, but I need to finish my Master's degree. As far as advocacy goes, I'm hoping my artwork, website and interviews I've done will help to educate others.

  3. I'll do my best to support you sis!

  4. I think we've talked about this, but what about volunteering once in awhile at a YMCA or some kind of similar place? Maybe you could teach an art class once a month or something.