Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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May 01, 2009

Painting by the Numbers

I will take this first blog article as an opportunity to tell you a little bit about myself.  As a child, I never envisioned myself as an Artist. I certainly never envisioned myself as an Art Educator. While growing up in Connecticut, I spent most of my time and energy playing sports at a very competitive level and at the same time being completely lost in school. I spent my high school years knowing that I did not “get” what everyone else seemed to understand about school. A day in high school was a series of trips to different rooms where I had no idea what was taking place. Of course, these were also the days of drowsy allergy medicine, so being loopy on over-the-counter sinus medication did not help my situation either. All this was very tolerable because at the end of the day there was going to be some type of practice or game where things made much more sense to me. After almost not graduating from high school, I went onto college, a place where I quickly left due to flunking (and saying that I flunked is too proactive, I just stopped going). So I found myself, at the age of barely 19 years old, a college dropout without an interest in anything worthwhile. 

This was when a small paint-by-number work of art that hung in my parent’s living room changed my life.  A family friend who was artist saw this painting that I had completed as a young child and told my parents that I should take painting classes at the Danbury Art Center. Since I wasn’t busy on Tuesday nights (or any other night for that matter), I decided to go down to Main Street and see what painting was all about.  And it was literally that night, which things started to make a little bit of sense to me. The instructor showed me a book of Vincent Van Gogh paintings and, suddenly, I found something that I understood. Flipping thru that book of Van Gogh paintings was something that I “got.” For whatever reason, this visual language was something that I understood. This story, which is wrapped in a neat little bow, continues with me returning to college with a newfound ability to perform simple to complex learning tasks that had previously baffled me. This experience is certainly not unique to me and is a story that we hear often within Art Education. My point is not to give you any great insight into my own life but to speak to Art’s unique ability to give our students an encounter with learning.

NateMorganteachingat MOMA

Because my involvement with Art began later in life, I tend to be fascinated by stories of individual’s first experiences with art. I will assume that you must have some fascinating and meaningful stories of your involvement with Art. So the first conversation that I would like to begin with is, when did you begin to learn how to learn thru the Arts? My moment was a white light experience, but yours may be a spiritual experience of the educational variety? Regardless of the profundity of the moment, when did Art become important to you?


I look forward to hearing of your varied experiences and conversing with you over the next month.


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Susan Bivona

Hey Nate - Great opening post! My experience with art began with my Aunt Joan, who would take me to all the art museums in NYC, the Met was always my favorite, because they had a children section downstairs with all sorts of "hands-on" stuff you could touch and move! That's why aunts are so great --- they do ALL the things that moms don't always have time to do with you! At some point we went to the Frick, the was a Calder retrospective -- I was hooked, I LOVED it! Looking forward to reading more!

Nate Morgan

Thanks Susan,

I am always amazed when people talk about being interested in Art for their entire life. Your Aunt Joan sounds awesome. My uncles would take me to ride the go-carts...which was also awesome!!

linda Devlin

Hey Nate- Great to have you as the May Mentor!
I can't ever remember one single experience that turned my heart. I wish I had an experience.

I have always loved all of the arts.
I only became an art teacher because my dad wouldn't let me go to NYC to be a performer. I guess he was pretty insightful because I love the visual arts, teaching art and I certainly love performing in the classroom.

Peter  Geisser

We met at the convention and this blog thing is a first for me. I taught k-12 Deaf students for 33yrs. loved every minute. One of my great memories was meeting a young Deaf man who was not so young any more. He signed to me: "You love art still?" "Of course," I replied. He laughed "You always love art, I remember. That's why I love art too!"

Nate Morgan

Thanks first trip to NYC was in High School - while I didn't go to museums, it was certainly a powerful place to be...

Nate Morgan


It was great to meet you at the convention. I look forward to speaking with you about further about our wonderful students....


What a great story. I think you started something here: everyone's telling you their story, and aren't they all interesting?

sandra gonzalez

My expeience with art started at a very young age drawing cartoons and little girls with ponytails. Your story is very interesting to me. It is amazing how through the arts you found your path.
I have to say that your experience is one of my goals for my students who have the talent and are confused.

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