Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer at Caprock Canyon State Park

Caprock Bluff, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.
Here's one of my recent paintings of Caprock Canyon. This one is 12" by 12" square, and is oil paint on canvas.  It's a view from one of the hot, summer days I spent camping there last summer with my friend Jon. For most of our time there the skies were clear and empty, so there was literally no escape from the sun other than our tent!

This was painted fairly quickly so the brush work is very loose. I tried to let the brush strokes themselves take the form of the rock formations. There's already so much color in the canyons that I've restrained myself from embellishing too much, trying to concentrate instead on capturing the hot, dry atmosphere.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Making the Case for Fine Art in the Classroom

This summer I'm serving as the Arts Integration Specialist for a Thriving Minds summer camp in Dallas.  It's a wonderful program where core content curriculum (math, language arts, science, and social studies) and fine arts disciplines (including dance, theater, music, visual art and more) are integrated by combining a teacher from each discipline together to team-teach a single class.  The content teacher has the class solo for the first couple of hours, then a fine arts teacher joins the class and they team-teach the same content from a fine arts perspective, and then the students have a studio time at the end of the day to just focus on the arts process.  I went to a few days of training this past week, and Tuesday and Wednesday I'll be helping to train other teachers before camp starts next week.  This whole process has got me really thinking about the value of arts education and how to get that across to the parents, teachers, and adminstrators I work with.  I came across this summary as part of a report on the Katy ISD website and thought it was worth passing along.

The following are findings reported in Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning  (Fiske, 1999) that should be noted by every parent, teacher, and administrator:
  • The arts reach students not normally reached, in ways and methods not normally used.  (This leads to better student attendance and lower dropout rates.)
  • It changes the learning environment to one of discovery.  (This often re-ignites the love of learning in students tired of just being fed facts.)
  • Students connect with each other better.  (This often results in fewer fights, greater understanding of diversity, and greater peer support.)
  • The arts provide challenges to students of all levels.  (Each student can find his/her own level from basic to gifted.)
  • Students learn to become sustained, self-directed learners.  (The student does not just become an outlet for stored facts from direct instruction, but seeks to extend instruction to higher levels of proficiency.)
  • The study of the fine arts positively impacts the learning of students of lower socioeconomic status as much or more than those of a higher socioeconomic status.  (Twenty-one percent of students of low socioeconomic status who had studied music scored higher in math versus just eleven percent of those who had not. By the senior year, these figures grew to 33 percent and 16 percent, respectively, suggesting a cumulative value to music education.)
I think that's pretty compelling evidence, but even more compelling to me is being in that classroom and seeing the light bulb turn on for a kid who's been struggling with some content.  In today's multi-media age of embedded videos, photo sharing, and sound bites, I think a gounding in the arts may be more important than ever.

Along the Beach, Galveston, TX

Along the Beach, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.
This is a view along the beach at Galveston State Park. I have spent many wonderful vacations with my family in Galveston, and my wife and I wound up spending part of our short honeymoon there. Painting the beach can be quite a bit of relief from all the greens that tend to dominate the landscape in Texas, especially in Southeast Texas where the abundance of Pine trees offer little change in foliage throughout the year. I'm always interested in depth in the landscape, and I've tried to use subtle shifts from the warmer yellow and orange tints in the foreground to cooler pinks towards the waves to increase the space of the otherwise short expanse of sand. The grasses in the foreground help with that alot, and the overall loose handling of paint is my attempt at relating the light filled, breezy atmosphere of the Gulf Coast. Alot of people bad mouth Texas beaches, but I have always loved the look of the Gulf Coast.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Clouds over Galveston

Clouds over Galveston 300, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.
This week was supposed to be a vacation week for me. My wife and I had planned to take our kids down to my brother's home near Winnie, TX. My wife just graduated with her Bachelor's Degree from UNT (yeah Tammy!), and my family was going to have kind of a get together for her. We were planning to end up in Galveston for a few days at the beach with the kids. But as often happens, plans changed. I accepted a position with Thriving Minds to serve as the Arts Integration Specialist for one of their summer camps, and I had to attend training in the middle of the week. I also wound up with a couple of shows to perform with one of my bands, so my wife took the kids and went on vacation without me. I've spent part of my time at the easel having myself a virtual Galveston vacation. Growing up in Beaumont, the Gulf Coast beaches were one of our main vacation spots.  I usually made several trips a year to Crystal Beach, Sea Rim State Park (wiped out by recent storms), and Galveston. I have lots of reference photos and sketches from my many beach vacations, and the images are always in the back of my mind. The salty air and the sounds of the waves lapping against the shore are something I've really missed since living in Dallas. Standing on the beach truly gives you a sense of infinity, watching the land disappear and the horizon so far off in the distance. It kind of makes you understand how early explorers might have thought the world was flat and you could fall right off the edge if you sailed far enough.

Time Waits for No Artist

Well, summer's finally here and now that I have a little breathing room in my schedule I've realized that it's been a few months since I've updated this blog.  Between my full-time job teaching art, my often not-so-part-time job as a musician, and my busy family life, something had to give.  So rather than giving up time making art and playing music, I gave up my regular postings to my blog.  However, I've come to see that I really missed it and enjoyed the connection to the other artists I've met, so I'm rededicating myself to posting at least a few times a week.  I've written before about the juggling act we all face as artists in today's busy world, and there's plenty of excuses we can offer that seem perfectly valid, but the truth is that time keeps marching on.  No more excuses, just do it, or as we like to say down here in Texas, git 'er done!