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.



Join the largest creative community established exclusively for visual arts educators, college professors, researchers, administrators, and museum educators.

Join NAEA Renew Membership

« April 2013 | Main | June 2013 »

Friday 05.31.13

Decoding and Encoding Meaning... in Community

  Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.  ~John Cotton Dana

Words cannot express gratitude for the visionary leadership of NAEA Executive Director Dr. Deborah Reeve and the extraordinary NAEA staff for the provided scaffolding and direction that helps art educators to become a powerful community of leaders in our increasingly visual age.  Connecting us through annual convention, publications, events, e-portfolios and other amazing member benefits, NAEA supports and inspiring us in our important work while furthering our professional development and networking.   Thank you!

Serving as Monthly Mentor for May 2013 has been an unique opportunity to reflect on and share how I SEE--and apply my FTC vision of encoding and decoding art and experience to my teaching practice, whether working with learners in K-16, graduate level or professional development experiences such as SummerVision DC

Started in 2010 as a Professional Learning Opportunity, SummerVision DC has evolved into a Professional Learning Community (PLC) consisting of diverse art and non-art educators to foster learning, networking and leadership while nurturing the nurturer.   The intensive experience includes virtual and actual decoding/exploration of the museum as a work of art.  Daily visual journaling provides opportunity for encoding the pedagogical interdisciplinary experiences in each museum so participants often feel renewed in artistic skills through practice affirmed by community sharing.  Carole Henry, author of The Museum Experience (2010), links Falk and Dierking’s (1992) broad definition of a museum experience as all that transpires to involvement in SummerVision DC. That is, it encompasses participants' first thoughts of attending SummerVision DC, to their experience during the four-day experience, and then to how they think about the experience and how it impacts their lives as artists and as educators in the future.

As your summer break approaches, please consider joining SummerVision DC 2013.  Whatever your plans, here's hoping each of you will get the rest and renewal needed to explore the meaning of your life and work--and share it with your students and our growing NAEA professional community.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~TS Eliot

-Renee Sandell

Sunday 05.26.13

Using FTC for Encoding Meaning That Leads to Deeper Discovery

As far as I’m concerned, there is only one study and that is the way
in which things relate to one another.   
—Wayne Thiebaud

Having shared some ways that I use FTC as a balancing tool for decoding works of art and museums, this entry focuses on how learners can use FTC for encoding that leads to deeper exploration, understanding and discovery.    Specific criteria provided under Form+Theme+Context headings can be used to prompt and engage learners to embrace many of the creative considerations that artists "naturally" explore in creating meaningful artwork.

Using the FTC Palette helps individuals navigate their own explorations and creative processes to solve any visual problem.  For example, take a look at a studio assignment entitled Marking and Mapping the History of Art Education where students explore the history, research and issues pertaining to the field of art education.  FTC is used to guide their creative processes and gain knowledge and understanding while reading Roots of Art Education Practice (Stankiewicz, 2001) and other sources.  Students engage in 15 weeks of marking and mapping1 their research to help them personally visualize their professional roots and discover their place in the field of art education.  Intended to provide needed scaffolding for the semester-long assignment on a single sheet of Canson 140 lb watercolor paper, black Sharpie pen, set of 6 Derwent Inktense pencils, and a waterbrush, the FTC Palette helps document the evolution of the creative process stages leading to a final product examples as shown below.  All students engaged in encoding visual evidence through a range of selected formal qualities, using the elements of art and principles of design related to the theme and contexts at play.

Using an FTC Palette for Marking/Mapping Discoveries from the History of Art Education: Past to Present, students explore “how a balance of formal, thematic, and contextual qualities shape our professional roots and ‘shoots’,” while finding their place in the “big picture” of art education.   In exploring thematic qualities of our evolving field, students found unique ways to represent relationships with art and other subjects as they recorded the big ideas within the field throughout time, noting trends and patterns in art education history and contemporary issues.   Finally, students’ History of Art Education Maps revealed their own shaping and discernment of art education’s significance and relevance that preceded them, rooted in a wide range of underlying contextual qualities.

Below are some final examples from students studying with Drs. Kim Sheridan, Mary Ann Stankiewicz and Jacqueline Kibbey, assigning this problem at their universities with variations of emphasis, scaffolding, and assessments.   As you look at these History of Art Education maps, consider: how might YOU visualize our field’s history and evolving issues?

1     2
Lois Peterson, George Mason University, Fall 2011, Kim Sheridan, Instructor
Sue Young Kim, Penn State University, Spring 2013,
Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Instructor

Cassandra Mazur, MAT Art Student at SUNY Oswego, Spring 2013, Jacqueline Kibbey, Instructor

-Renee Sandell

Since many people find the acquisition of traditional drawing and compositional skills intimidating or even threatening, I often use the construct of Marking & Mapping™ to ease access to artistic literacy while rekindling the pleasure we all remember from early years.

Monday 05.20.13

Beholding the Museum As a Work of Art

Museums can provide opportunities for reflection and moments of insight,
not only about the art on display, but about ourselves, and the world we live in.
                                                                        ~Carole Henry

In today’s digital world, it’s easy to “virtually” visit museums on-line without setting foot in the institution, but how does one get to more fully “know” a museum?  One way is by examining how you are affected by how a balance of formal, thematic, and contextual features SHAPE a museum’s unique meaning and impact.

To that end, the FTC Palette for Decoding an Art Museum is used for “blended learning” that connects museum visitors, such as participants in SummerVision DC, with their own anticipated museum experiences.  Approximately one month before participants come to Washington DC, by applying relevant criteria and using the FTC Museum Palette, they proactively learn about each museum by “playfully” recording its unique formal, thematic and contextual qualities. Exploration of the latter includes the museum’s particular environment, ambiance, services, emphasis/scope revealed through its permanent collection and special exhibitions, along with its location, history, outreach, mission and purpose contributing to its significance and relevance.  During the SummerVision DC program, upon arrival at each museum, these pre-visit virtual engagement notations on each individual FTC Museum Palette transforms it into a self-guided map that can be readily brought to life with actual participatory experiences at the museum and afterwards.   By linking virtual to actual experience, participants share meaningful discoveries as they add commentary to document personal and collective FTC insights, assessments, and questions.  

As an example, take a look at my FTC Palette for Decoding a Museum for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, recently completed with the assistance of Director of Education and Exhibitions Niki Stewart and Interpretation Manager Aaron Jones.  Although Crystal Bridges is less than two years old (and thus more recently “encoded” physically, educationally, and otherwise,) the FTC Museum Palette facilitates understandings of formal, thematic, and contextual qualities of this museum. The FTC Palette provides a balanced structure for exploring Crystal Bridges’ uniqueness in terms of meaningful criteria.

Anyone and everyone--not just visitors, can employ a balanced approach using the FTC Palette to decode a museum.  Museum curators, docents, administrators, board members, and support staff including custodians and security guards can explore FTC dimensions as they share findings to connect through institutional understandings.  How might you use an FTC Museum Palette to decode a museum--in your community or around the globe--to connect more deeply with the museum itself as a work of art along with its art contents and other dimensions of meaningful learning?

-Renee Sandell

Tuesday 05.14.13

FTC Palette: A Tool for Deeper Engagement

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.  ~Mark Van Doren

Palettes are highly useful tools--whether for a painter or graphic designer as well as cargo distributors, interior decorators, or anyone choosing to put on make-up.  For an artist, a palette is a structure for color choice making and mixing up those color choices that deepen engagement towards a unique outcome, whether a physical object or understanding.  A Form+Theme+Context (FTC)™ Palette is a graphic organizer that helps chart one’s critical and creative experience by uncovering discipline-specific criteria in art.  This balanced approach includes identifying visual evidence through formal qualities, exploring relationships embedded in thematic qualities, and discerning significance and relevance rooted in contextual qualities.  

At Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, a balanced approach using Form+Theme+Context (FTC) has become the beginning point of all curriculum development and educational research--FTC is used to train gallery guides, school tour guides and employees. FTC is used as a museum education tool where 160 works of art have been identified as “education core,” for which each has a created FTC document.

At this year’s Arkansas Museum Association conference for all state museums hosted at Crystal Bridges, Director of Education and Exhibitions Niki Stewart demonstrated use of the FTC Palette with a work of art, Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell.  Niki presented how exploring formal, thematic and contextual information contributes to a greater viewer experience.   

To demonstrate how non-art museums could utilize FTC,  Interpretation Manager Aaron Jones shared his adaptation of the FTC Palette for Crystal Bridges'  “Living Collection.”  Focusing on Dogwoods, FTC was applied to trees, shrubs, plants, and wildlife.   A single-page FTC Palette on the Dogwoods has been implemented with Trail Guides; the back of the page showcases the species of plant, its blooms, fruit, leaves, bark, etc. as well as different stages of development and seasons.  Aaron says that plans are in the works to include Natural Features (such as Crystal Spring), Architecture (specific buildings and engineering features seen on the architecture tour) and historic landmarks (important site locations with evidence of the Civil War and the Trail of Tears).   To view these Crystal Bridges’ FTC Palettes that explore art and nature, click here

Easily applied to lesson planning, diverse subject areas, and other phenomena, FTC Palettes can be customized to demonstrate different ways of decoding and encoding information, such as how to view/know a work of art. My next blog entry will focus on using FTC Palette to decode a museum itself as a work of art.

-Renee Sandell

Monday 05. 6.13

Seeing more than meets the eye…

     It is not enough to believe what you see,
     you must also understand what you see
                                       --Leonardo Da Vinci

Living in today’s rapidly-changing, digital age, where popular culture’s preoccupation with  transformation, talent, and innovation, compels a need for vision and understanding to scaffold meaningful communication and connections. Everyone can become a visual learner and the experience can be stimulating, inspiring, and captivating, if not also sometimes distracting and even addictive.  With instant access to information using Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, we in art education have potential to develop new sight, skills, knowledge, and languages.  For example, using Pinterest, everyone’s a visual collector, developing curatorial skills that can lead to shared discoveries.   In addition to his effective demonstrations of medical concepts, Dr. Oz sometimes ends his television shows by displaying large public sculptures to underscore specific health concerns he’s highlighted.  My Pilates teacher recently used the Visible Body medical app on her iPad to show students the relationship between ribs and lungs during breathing. 

Increasingly, as our students need to decode and encode complex understandings, an art teacher’s role will go much deeper than exploring what is shown at face value.  In addition to the plethora of images and information, repetition of media-covered events often affects the students’ psyches. For example, Lynell Burmark, author of Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn, admonishes us as teachers to understand the potential impact of looking at terror when we present our students with works of art such as Munch’s The Scream

When we decode compelling artwork such as The Scream or Hokusai’s The Great Wave, using a balanced approach to formal, thematic, and contextual (FTC) qualities, we can discover subtexts leading us deeper into the meaning of art--in context.   Furthermore, we can relate these artworks’ meaning(s) to our own lives and current events.  For example, how might we use FTC to help our students make further sense of the horrible Boston Marathon attacks?  How might they achieve more balanced insights and understand what they've been exposed to in the media coverage?  How might they describe form, theme, and context?  Would they discern form from media coverage and new surveillance techniques?  Could they find themes in the horrific acts and heroic deeds?  Might they see context in the need to continue community traditions, the need for collaboration to assure safety and security, the appreciation of the skills and dedication of first responders, caregivers, and the courage of survivors?

FTC can be used for meaningfully navigating phenomena for deeper vision and understanding; my next blog entry will focus on the FTC Palette as a Tool for decoding and encoding meaning.  I’ll show how this graphic organizer can be applied to integrating art with a number of different fields as a catalyst for fully perceiving what is present and allow us to draw our own conclusions in terms of significance and relevance.  As photographer and educator, W. Eugene Smith wrote: “If I can get them to think, get them to feel, get them to see, then I’ve done about all that I can as a teacher.”

Note: While googling the phrase “Seeing more than meets the eye…”, I found the following by Jim Goldstein that should resonate with art teachers: “As leaders, we have the potential to affect people’s lives in ways that others often don’t.  One of the most powerful things we can do is to see more in a person than they are currently showing us.”

-Renee Sandell

Wednesday 05. 1.13

New Eyes Discovery

The only real voyage of discovery consists
     not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
                                                              --Marcel Proust

I’m delighted to have this opportunity to reflect on issues we face as 21st century professional art educators.  My emphasis will be to focus on developing vision by having, using, and sharing “new eyes.”  My future entries will provide examples of “new eyes” discoveries from classrooms, museums, and SummerVision DC, NAEA’s Professional Learning Community (PLC).

Given the enormous quantities of available images and data in our app-driven culture, we art educators need to function as leaders and change agents in today’s ubiquitous online, instantly in-view information age where people can’t “un-see” that to which they've been exposed.  If, as Sydney J. Harris states, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows," our role is to help students “learn to learn” how they can easily discover so much more than what is seen.  While this capability assists in decoding and encoding art, it readily transfers to a broad range of other school subjects as well as qualitative life experience, locally, nationally, and globally.

For example, one way to engage today's learners to proactively explore and interpret what they see involves departing from our traditional, over-emphasis on sensory and technical qualities (which I refer to as FORMAL characteristics such as elements and principles of art).  We need to help students to learn how to go much deeper than these formal characteristics by teaching them to link these formal qualities with meaningful themes and contexts. We can lead this change by using the following equation: Art =Form+Theme+Context and pose the FTC question: How does a balance of formal, thematic, and contextual qualities shape layers of meaning in a work of art?  

Using FTC as a balanced, accessible, and interdisciplinary approach can help learners efficiently decode and encode the meaning of art, artifacts, events, and much more.  I'll provide more examples next time.  In the meantime, please comment to make this blog interactive and start a discussion on how you see:
      -Our role as leaders and change agents;
      -Our need to help our students to learn to learn and develop new eyes.

Click here to read how one SummerVision DC participant reflects on Using New Eyes.

-Renee Sandell