Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Arting Crusaders

I'm the victim of some wicked camera tilt during
a sketchbook workshop at Moeller High School in Cincinnati.

All photos: Greg Stanforth

In March I spent a day working with art students at my Alma Mater, Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was the second time in three years I'd been asked by Art Department Chairman Greg Stanforth to hold a seminar on sketchbooks and the creative process.

The art program at Moeller was outstanding when I was there in the early to mid 1980s and it has grown since then. Graduating classes regularly garner between $1 million and $2 million each year in scholarship offers, which is an impressive feat for any school; even more so for one with fewer than 1,000 students.

The Moeller art program is where I first learned to keep sketchbooks, a requirement in all of the painting and drawing classes. Something must have clicked because I've kept it up with reasonable regularity since 1982. Now sketchbooks comprise the bulk of my artistic output.

The seminar began with a presentation of the 5-step creative process model in Dr. Mihalyi Csikszentmihal
yi's Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. The students were familiar with a similar model and easily grasped how sketchbooks relate to the stages in the creative process.

The rest of the day we discussed the role sketchbooks play in creative work, viewed sketchbook samples, and took part in hands-on exercises. Through the work of Leonardo DaVinci, John Copeland, James Jean, and the 1,000 Journals Project, we explored the role of sketchbooks as a repository for inspiration and images, as well as a laboratory in which artists experiment with techniques and develop ideas. We saw how artists Danny Gregory, Dan Eldon, and James Kochalka took three different approaches to the sketchbook as a visual journal. Finally, we discussed traditional beliefs about sketchbooks and the possibility that they could be finished pieces.

Throughout the day, I shared how my own work relative to each of these categories. When we came to the sketchbook as a finished piece, I showed Forgetting to Call You Back, a book I recently completed for the Art House Cooperative's traveling exhibition "The Sketchbook Project, Volume IV."

A few sets of interactive activities broke up the lectures, including some brainstorming, an exercise based on the Surrealist game "The Exquisite Corpse," and a brief critique of the students' sketchbook work.

It was gratifying to see young artists who already know so much about this powerful creative tool. I can only hope their experience was as inspiring as mine.

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