Overgrown Bulldozer


Today marked 1 week of visits up to the high school. I wrote in the morning and headed up there about 10am. The plan was to work with some Form 5 students, the oldest group I’ve worked with yet.

There were only 3 students at first, all girls. The reason for this: the students had to get special permission to leave their other classes. So this made for a different course of the class.

I am pushing at the climate change / global warming theme a bit more, framing my own artwork as something  concerned with the relationship between nature and culture. Today I went into my most in-depth explanation of it yet, and I didn’t seem to lose the students. There was at one point “I am really interested in what you are saying…” and afterwards one of them asked me if I understood the dialect because they felt like they can answer my questions in the dialect but are a bit shy or having a hard time to answer in our shared english.

To be truthful, this is the thickest Caribbean accent I have come across. When the kids are comfortable and talking to each other, it might as well be a different language 75 percent of the time. I’m picking up a few things, enough to make them laugh on occasion. “Whago-on?” is a standard greeting. Also you can say “Boom-bad!” when something is good or someone did a nice job.

I referred to the excess carbon in the air and how it creates the “greenhouse effect.” I told them, rightly or wrongly, to think of that like the Earth putting on a sweater. I asked them if nature included humans and they said yes immediately, which I honestly was a bit struck by. I felt a little odd speaking about the dichotomy of nature and culture, when I have read and tried to work past that myself over the past few years. But how else would you refer to it and communicate that idea? Perhaps these theorists who call for the death or the end of nature are a bit foolish. In some books, I’ve seen it written as human and non-human, which is still a dichotomy.

Regardless, we had a nice discussion.

After that we moved into drawing. Since they are in their last year, they need to produce a portfolio of research, writing and artwork around a theme. They had chosen “Gardens,” “Beaches,” and “Caribbean life.” We discussed ways to brainstorm how to make artwork around their themes. We also talked about thumbnail sketches and experiments with compositional lines. We looked at some paintings and drawings and talked about the compositions.

They all grabbed pencils to begin sketching their ideas. Only one out of the three was able to jump right in, so I focused my efforts on getting them to use color and to draw all the way across the page. There was a curious difference to all three. But the similarity was just a general lack of confidence in their drawing ability.

One student showed me a project where she painted on a piece of fabric and I was genuinely enthusiastic about the colors, shapes and compositional lines. Her drawing today replicated that same overall ability to use the page well and add interesting structure. She also had an interesting area where she was drawing the negative space between some well rendered palm trees. Her theme was the beach, so we briefly talked about how and why the beach is important, as well as how it is a particular way of relating to nature.

Another student had the theme of the garden. She was really hesitant to draw in the first place and searched for images of places she never had been on the internet. I kept pushing so she would draw sincerely, from what she already knows about gardens from her research. She ended up drawing this interesting imagined garden with a vaguely Chagall character to the lines. She spent a lot of time drawing the individual branches, leaves and flowers, but the objects were floating a bit too much for me. We talked briefly about how gardens are another way of relating to nature.

The third student was very shy and actually positioned herself farther away from me so I couldn’t see her work easily. She took a long time to get going, pretending to not know what she was doing. After she started rolling though, it was all momentum. She filled the entire page and had interesting colors and shapes. Her theme was Caribbean life. She drew from a picture, but added a very distinct voice.

All of the students were good in their own way. I found it curious that all the while they were drawing, they attracted a crowd. At one point there were maybe 8 others in the room observing. A common taunt when any of the students have been observing this week was along the lines of “You are a bad artist..hahaha…” Which appears to truly alter conceptions of self.

At one point I tried to discuss that point by telling them to not trust someone who says “I am a good artist.” Those who do are prone to rest on their accomplishments while the “bad artists” continue to work and get better. You are never defined by one single achievement, if you are an artist you are practicing and this practice has no end. You keep trying because you keep wanting to get better. If you are saying you are already good, how can you get better?

In the class, the craft teacher showed some fabric work that some of his students have done. I was genuinely impressed: Screen prints on fabric,

In the evening we drew the mural design in charcoal on the wall. A 3rd form student was primarily helping me, aided by two younger girls. The 3rd form student was not worried about drawing large at all. He grabbed the charcoal and accurately placed lines on the wall according to the drawing. He said that the image reminded him of some place, which I thought was sweet. It is imaginary, but at least I passed the kid and local test. I wasn’t too far off in my imaginary landscape. We added the charcoal and then it started to rain pretty heavily so that was it for the day.

I sense frustration with the artistic level of the kids by the adults. I sense a self policing behavior clamping down on the students from developing their talent. I also see some genuine ability across several areas. Am I naïve to think enthusiasm and exposure are all they really need at this point? Does this lead to the Waldorf school dangers of being too experiential? Would a traditional art education in terms of developing technical ability even be able to hold their attention? Would that type of instruction be more for the peace of mind for the older folks?

I was told there is little art on the island, so I am trying to make sense of the diverse patchwork of skills, talent and expression that I do see.