elizabeth jade rodak

artist + art educator

learning through art

Elizabeth Jade RodakComment

Through this process of reflecting on art lessons, I can’t help but think about all the external lessons I have learned through art. Many of these lessons came with time and I didn’t know I was even learning them until way after the fact. This excites me about art education, though. This gives me hope that there is way more to art than meets the eye. Looking into my past art projects, I can see glimpses of what I was feeling when I made it, yet, at the time I made it I hadn’t a clue as to why I was making anything at all. If I were asked to explain I would probably have said something like “I was following the rubric and this is what I came up with.” Even in those projects I was making meaning, I just didn’t know it, because no one told me or asked me to think more. I hope to be a teacher who requires and inquires. I want to require the best out of my students but also inquire deeply about every decision they make. I want to be helpful in those crucial times where insight and inquiry come in handy. I want to help my students start to recognize the lessons they are learning through art earlier on so that they can become critical thinkers earlier that I did.

So I am going to attempt to share lessons that I have learned through art. I can be quite poetic and wordy, so you may have to bear with me, but my personal story with the transformation art can bring to a child’s life is the BEST advocacy I have for art.
1. I’ve learned to have fun and play. Art is a creative outlet in this already messy world. So why not find a way to be messy while having fun? Playing is something we grow out of after our “child” phase is over. To play means you are immature and a child. These are actually assumptions. In the long run, we are losing a part of ourselves by canceling time to play from our schedules and filling it with more work, numbers, stats, and “right” answers. We need time to play in order to maintain space in our minds for creativity and therefore art. (PS, art manifests itself in a crazy amount of different modes so your version of “play” may be chess while my version is getting dirty in the mud, no shame either way)
2. I’ve learned to fail, a lot. Especially with being in ceramics, anytime anything goes into the kiln, it may not come out. I’ve had large pieces completely blow up, and I’ve had ugly pieces come out perfectly. So much effects clay. Nonetheless, I’ve learned to improvise and get creative after things fail and turn them into something that isn’t a failure.
3. I’ve learned to take ugly situations and make them beautiful again, while still embracing the ugly for what it is. This directly pertains to the statement above. I’ve had really large ceramic vessels lose a chunk in the kiln but most of it is till in tact. So I have opened the kiln to an ugly broken vessel and transformed it into a functioning, standing vessel. The imperfections give the vessel a story and some personal, unique characteristics.
4. I’ve learned to visualize the emotional interior of my mind and body. It is really hard to express thoughts and feelings into a visual, tangible form, but through art I have been able to. I can use forms, lines, layering, and mediums to follows my thought processes or externally play around with and fight with the feelings I am having within.
5. I’ve learned to work incredibly hard and diligently. You can’t be lazy with art. I guess if you didn’t care you could be, but if you really want to make something amazing, you will work your butt off, stay up till 4am 2 nights in a row, and you’ll probably cry over the project at leasts 3 times. Art is a piece of yourself and we should care about ourselves.
6. I’ve learned to reflect and be in the moment. Art means reflection. You have to really think before you can just bust it out. Art causes you to think about what has already happened in your life and what is happening in the moment and how those things relate. I’ve made art projects and I come out on the other side of the project realizing that I had a lot more self-realization than I intended. Art causes pre-reflection as well as post- reflection.
7. I’ve learned to think critically. Sometimes art looks bad. Sometimes you hit a big wall that is too hard to knock over and too tall to climb over so you just stare at your piece, dissatisfied and frustrated. You want to give up but you can’t because you have worked too long on it. So you get your thinking cap on and think about your piece critically. You make hard decisions that might be risky or scary, but you have to make them in order to see a better piece come out in the end.
8. I’ve learned to answer the question why as if a 3 year old were asking it… over and over again. You just have to. There really is a reason for everything. Sometimes the reason is simple like, “I just think it’s pretty” and sometimes it’s deep, “that color is the same shade as the boy’s shirt who hurt me.” Both those answers are legit but the question why can continue to be asked.
9. I’ve learned to collaborate, discuss dilemmas with others, and ask for help, on the daily. Art is a collaboration most of the time. It might just be asking someone else’s opinion or actually working together, either way, it involves interaction. Dilemmas occur often and it is helpful to work together. Two head and four hands are better than only one head and two hands.
10. I’ve learned how to make difficult decisions quickly and effectively. Disasters will happen. The clay may be falling and I have to think quick and move even quicker. I have had to make decisions in split seconds and then attempt to execute them with style. It’s not easy and I screw up a lot, but it keeps me on the edge.
11. I’ve learned how to manage time like a champ. Art is time consuming. I’ve had seasons where I had to choose not to work so I can dedicate time to my studio work. I have had seasons where I was working 20 hours a week and then had to stay in studio will 2 am every night. It can be really hard, but managing time is essential with art. Again, particularly with clay, you have to manage the drying process of clay, the firing of ceramic objects, the glazing and re-firing. It’s incredibly time consuming.
12. I’ve learned how important divergent thinking is. It is important to think outside the box, get others opinions, and try new things. If you always build small, try building big. Thinking broadly in a way that incorporates as much knowledge as possible will always enhance your art making practice.
13. I’ve learned that everything has a meaning, I just normally don’t know the meaning until it’s too late. Just as often as the question why is asked, there is an answer. I have found the meaning in my art to influence and explain most things. Even looking back at my art in grade school and high school, I have started to understand why I made what I made and most of the time I was sharing a lot about myself.
14. I’ve learned how to explain how visual elements correlate to conceptual ideas. I can explain almost anything. Learning how to explain what my art means has also allowed me to look at others art work and attempt to understand it. This has also helped me in the world. If someone randomly stops coming to class, I can see past the “he’s just lazy” and start thinking about why this person would just stop coming. I can also look at a painting or sculpture and recognize visual elements that could mean different things about the artist’s culture, feelings, or background experiences. Check out the VTS method if you would like to know more.
15. I’ve learned to have passion and deep care for community and life. As I mentioned before, art is communal. Studio is a communal space. Art studios are much different than design studios. Most things are shared in an art studio. We have shared kilns, shared clay mixers, shared everything equipment wise. When you have to share things, you start to work together and love one another. You become a family. This is why it will always be my number one rule that my studio or my class is family.
16. I’ve learned to strive no matter what. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I have had seasons where I make terrible art. I don’t like what I am making, I am miserable, and I have thoughts of giving up, but then I remember that art still has meaning even when it is ugly. This is the same as life. Life can get ugly. Even for an optimist, I can have moments of desperation. I am reminded to keep striving to find the meaning and the beauty because it IS there, I just have to keep working through it.
17. I’ve learned to use my thoughts, emotions, and hands in unison. (aka, mind, heart, body) I’ve learned to be embodied. Art contains it all. It is emotional, hand-on, thoughtful, intentional, and real. Everything impacts art. Your thoughts, feelings, experiences… everything plays into what you create. You can only create as much as you have personally experienced in some way, shape, or form.
18. I’ve learned how to present myself professionally. With art comes galleries. Gallery openings are usually a bit more classy than studio time. You have to be a little bit more professional and a little bit more lovely. You have to be able to explain your work and network well. You have to be prepared at all times for all things.
19. I’ve learned to love learning. With art, there is ALWAYS more to learn. You can never just stop and feel good that you know it all. It doesn’t work that way. There is always another step. You can always go back to old work and improve on it or find another function or meaning for it. Learning never ends in the art room.
20. I’ve learned to like myself. I didn’t always like myself. For a long time I actually hated myself. Through art, I was able to find something I was good at, something that I created and could make beautiful to my eyes. I was the maker and by becoming the maker, I also became the viewer and the appreciator. I learned to appreciate what I created and what I found meaning in.