Saturday, November 29, 2014

Miriam Spilman's Improbable Beautiful

clay bowl by Miriam Spilman

1. How long have you been a teaching artist?

Formally, for five plus years.

2. What discipline(s) do you teach?

I teach visual arts to elementary school children and am particularly excited to be making the transition to choice-based art. I also have provided arts-integration professional development for staff at my school site.

3. Describe the setting(s) in which you teach

K-5 urban public school setting

4. Describe the relationship between your personal art practice and your art teaching?

In some ways they are very divided: hands in clay in my personal art practice and many kinds of visual arts (but unfortunately no clay) in my art teaching. In other ways they are so integrated: We (my students and myself as artisit) are heavily involved in the 8 Studio Habits of Mind: develop craft, engage and persist, envision, express, observe, reflect, stretch and explore, and understand art world.

5. How do you sustain your art while teaching?

It’s a challenge due to time constraints, energy, family commitments. I carve out time whenever I can. Currently I have been able to work consistently every week in a dedicated studio space.

6. Who shaped your initial thinking about teaching art?

In my childhood I had dual experiences, extremes really. One was in school where my art was judged harshly because it did not look exactly like the art teacher’s (which was the requirement). The other was in a much freer setting where I basically explored all kinds of materials without any guidelines or restrictions. I clearly felt more at home with the second and in my child’s mind explained it to myself that the first was school and the second was art. In my own teaching and for my students, I do not want this distinction to develop. Art making (exploration, expression) happens at school, at home, everywhere.

7. What training in the arts and/or education have you had?

I have a teaching credential/ M.A. in education and also an MFA in Creative Inquiry with the emphasis on clay.

I also have completed (and thoroughly enjoyed) the Integrated Learning Specialist program through Alameda County Office of Education.

8. How do you develop and deepen your teaching practice?

What comes to mind first is showing up, no matter what, putting in the time. A close second is learning from other artists and teachers, books, videos, nature, staying loose and experimenting, observation, day dreaming and particularly all types of artist demonstrations where process as well as product is examined.

9. What are the biggest challenges you face as a teaching artist?

Time! Sporadic (or non-existent) funding.

10. What are the unexpected rewards of being a teaching artist?
It may be a cliché, however I do learn so much from my students—especially since they say whatever is on their mind and make sense of what they are seeing in ways that stretch my own view. Teaching art is a second career for me, and very different than the first. Because of this I feel very fortunate to be involved in what interests and nourishes me every day---art making, the art world, arts oriented colleagues, working with my artist students and everything the 8 Studio Habits of Mind involve.

11. What advice do you have for artists interested in teaching?

Dig deep for hidden reservoirs of patience, humor, persistence, inspiration---you will need them all! Learn from and enjoy every opportunity to participate in professional development, collaboration and conversations with teacher colleagues, other artists, students’ families and community members.

*Please share one anecdote of a memorable Teaching Artist experience

Recently, one of my first grade boys was very engrossed in his art making, standing, talking, moving around all while drawing and gluing collage materials. I walked by and heard him suddenly say out loud, “Oh no, I have a problem. I have a problem. What am I going to do? I have a problem,” with great distress and with his eyes fixed on his work. I did not interrupt him, just quietly watched as he tried –while continuing his conversation with himself--to figure out how to fit his carefully cut out- but way too big-- collage materials onto his paper in a designated spot. Coming back five minutes later, my student was still very engrossed in his art making and still talking, moving, etc. This time he was saying, “I love art. I love my colors. I love my art,” while drawing on top of the carefully cut out collage materials that were hanging mostly off the edge of his paper. He seemed immensely satisfied with what was happening now.

This is a small, everyday type of experience, however it felt like being given a gift. We are all artists in a community art studio when in the school art room. To be fortunate enough to witness my student’s engagement, process, choices, problem solving, and joy and pride while working on his artwork, to encourage and nurture, verbally and non-verbally to students: please do everything you need to do (again the 8 Studio Habits of Mind), to create and express yourself through your artwork, this is what being a teaching artist is all about for me.