The fixed notion of Community Art is elusive, and yet, community art has been around for centuries. Artists are intrinsically drawn to the world they live in, and for many that means not only viewing but participating in it. As I start my personal journey with Community Art, I intend to find out what exactly it means, how exactly it can be defined, so I can help spread this creative fervor and transform the general public into the creatively passionate.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Are they getting anything?

Like any good artist/thinker, every once in a while I have an existential crisis. Is there any point? Does looking at pretty pictures ever actually matter? Am I making any difference? Why should we do anything when in the end we all die and the earth gets blown up by the sun? That sort of thing.

In the past two years or so, and even more intensely in the past six months, I haven't found these questions repeating themselves in my head. At this point in time, my life direction is clearer than it has ever been. I love what I learn, what I do at work, the people in my life, where I live, pretty much everything. It's a little surreal to tell the truth, but that train of thought is for another time.

Despite the current absence of my existential crises, I am constantly shoring up arguments for my rational self to use when they reappear in my life once again. At work yesterday a perfect example presented itself to me. I had a good chunk of time in the afternoon between two classes I was teaching at the MFA and it turns out that my co-worker and friend was in the same predicament. She suggested that we go to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum since it is literally right up the street and I'd never been there (or so I thought).

I eagerly accepted and we made our way through the strangely warm January day to our neighbor museum, wearing our IDs on our red MFA lanyards. As we entered the new wing of the Gardner, which architecturally looks very much like the new wing at the MFA, we were kindly greeted by museum workers with bright yellow Gardner lanyards and I had to wonder if our separate museum superiors hadn't planned the obvious contrast.

Walking through the new wing was lovely. Looking at art and places where art is displayed and talked about is always interesting, particularly when you have good company. But my new found weapon against future existential crises came when my friend and I walked through the glass tunnel connecting the new wing to the original Gardner museum. As I entered the stone and brick mansion, I had the strangest feeling of deja vu. I shook it off, knowing that sometimes that just happens, and followed my friend in the main hallway of the museum that circles around the famous courtyard.

Finally, a memory that had tickled my mind for years snapped into place as I stared at the small hallway on my right.

There are some memories which are so specific that I can see bits of them in my mind as clearly as if I am looking at a video or a photograph. The hallway I saw yesterday belonged to one such memory. For years it had floated around my mind and every once in a while I would try to place it. Could it be the New York cloisters which I went to on a 2nd grade field trip? Or some scene from a medieval movie? Maybe it was from one of the cathedrals I saw in Italy that for some reason felt like it had happened a long time along?

Actually, it was the first floor hallway on the right side of the courtyard in the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. Despite the fact that last time I saw it I was about a foot and a half lower, I recognized it instantly.

In fifth grade my class took an overnight field trip to Boston. We did all the usual historical and tourist routes, which is what I remember. However, apparently, we also went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and the image of the cloister-like hallway in a building that had once been a woman's home engrained itself on my ten-year-old mind.

So how does this argue against my future existential crises?

Something that can be hard to tell as a teacher is whether you've really gotten through to your students or not. Of course there are the obvious responses, the glowing eyes, bright smiles, and exclamations of joy. But what about the kids who aren't as overt with their responses? Are they still getting anything?

I still don't have a definite answer. However, I can now say from personal experience, sometimes people are absorbing information even when they don't realize it. Ideas you were taught in your youth could be recalled from your memory banks at any point. And no, not everything will stick for every child. But there's still hope that at some point in their lives your students will have a moment of eye-opening memory that brings back some dormant lesson you taught them. Maybe they'll feel a deep connection to an art piece or a museum that you brought them to. Or maybe that's just me. Either way, existential crisis: averted.

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