Monday, January 28, 2013


Today I am thankful for the inspiring and spirited (in all sense of that word) model of the women of Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, TN. I've just returned from the annual Women's Retreat in Montgomery Bell State Park and feel so fortunate and grateful. It was profoundly humbling and energizing to be in the company of such smart, kind, and joyous women.

While on the retreat I thought and talked a lot about the students in the three classes I've just started: Graphic Design, Drawing, and Art Appreciation. Art Appreciation satisfies a humanities requirement for the school where it is offered and, for the most part, my students seem interested but relatively unexperienced in looking at and discussing art and visual images. The Drawing class is made up entirely of art majors; I am eager to get into the more technical elements of drawing with them. The students of my Graphic Design class are, so far, the most enthusiastic and the most diverse in terms of age and experience.

Each class offers me a different way to approach the idea of seeing and learning to see anew. "Be thou my vision," we sang this weekend. What is our vision? How do we learn to look at or recognize vision? In art and design classes we use basic language to describe what we see and this has been more challenging than I anticipated. The more I think about the classes and the idea of learning to see, the more I think there is a place (and an importance) to incorporate non-traditional ideas of mindfulness and physical action (like walking, sitting, and touching) in addition to exercises in comparing and contrasting, building negative space, and so on.

Nurse, lawyer, and ethicist, Kate Payne-- the speaker of the women's retreat--  talked about two physical gestures that signal comfort to us, both visually and physiologically. (Do them now as you read them, please.) The first is placing your hand on your heart with gentle pressure. Kate told us that it slows the heart and it is, in Western society, an indication of being moved. The second gesture is to cup the side of one's face with the palm. Kate told us this gesture stimulates the release of oxytocin, the "peacemaking hormone." Oxytocin is commonly associated with mothers and birth, perhaps why Kate described the cheek-cupping as a feminine gesture.

Soon, I will ask my students to place their hands over their hearts. And then we will draw. It will not turn my classroom into the Dead Poets Society and it might not even stave off boredom or frustration over the distance between what we see and the marks we make, but I think it will help us move closer to seeing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The great, creative, and prolific Dale Mackey (long may she live) once revealed to me the clever way in which she maintained work/life balance and perspective. She said (I paraphrase), "I think of my full time job as a grant I get every two weeks that allows me to pursue all the creative projects I do."

That slight shift in mindset-- from job as drudgery or chore to job as opportunity that funds creative work-- is a smart one. I think it could be an especially helpful way for creative people to frame the less-than-dream-jobs we take to make ends meet, pay the bills, keep the lights one, and other such practical matters. It's a more optimistic point of view.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Make Good Art

An inspiring talk from Neil Gaiman (whose Sandman series I'm halfway through). I especially like his recommendation to pretend to be the person who can do the task at hand.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rise Up

For now, the early gray days of the new year, I aspire to wake with Mary Oliver's benevolent mindset. I am training slowly to greet the world in happiness, in kindness.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety -

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light -
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Mary Oliver, 2004