When I was an innocent freshman at MICA, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who cared enough to blow my little mind. We had a class called Fundamentals of 2-D Design, or something like that, which was supposed to be about concepts and methods of using space and color and form to express ourselves. In actuality it was a calculated mindfuck. We’d all been programmed by our public and private high schools how to use pencils and markers and oil paint (well, not my public high school, we made do with tempera paints) and the fundamentals of what art was supposed to look like. So, we applied that to the first assignment we were given.
Our teacher, a vibrant, boisterous woman named Mary, had us put our stuff up on the wall and present it, and we did, in halting sentences amid shuffling feet. Then, she stood up and started ripping parts of our designs up. Literally ripping sections off and moving them around. “How about doing this?”
I think the first student she did this to almost started crying. The second got mad. The third might actually have cried. And on and on. We had worked hard on this shit, and here she was, tearing bits and pieces off, moving things around, questioning us. I was shocked–and intrigued. Because she was right. Her suggestions were spot-on, of course. She was fearless. And she scared the shit out of all of us.
Next week, we got into the gouache. Gouache is a painting medium somewhere between tempera, watercolor and Satan’s ballsweat, deviously simple and devilish to control. It mixes quickly and dries out in seconds, so skill and patience is required to work with it. We had to color-match squares of specially-purchased colored paper, a package of which was expensive and irreplaceable. We had to cut out squares of the colored paper, glue them to bristol board, and then draw a square next to it the same size and shape. Then we had to mix gouache to match the size and color exactly. Points were given for accuracy of color, execution, and cleanliness. Doing this exercise perfectly was next to impossible because the fucking gouache was, well, gouache. It was like smearing poop around on the wall: it’s only ever going to look like poop. We all tried, lord above, did we try.
More assignments like this followed, and students began dropping out. Not because they weren’t doing the work, but because they didn’t get it. They argued with her, they reasoned with her, they spent hours after class trying to make her happy. And she tried to get them to open their minds. They didn’t understand.
The first lesson taught us: Nothing is precious. Everything is game, and be prepared to give it up for something better. The second lesson was that sloppy work wasn’t acceptable. We needed to strive for perfection. Further projects taught us that it wasn’t about what the finished products looked like, really; it was about how we approached the solutions and what we learned getting there. The dropouts had been conditioned to do the assignments but not to question the ideas or develop a concept or think about what any of it meant. They couldn’t process this, and gave up.
For those of us that got it, it was like a door had been kicked open, and we started thinking with our own brains. It led me to consider unconventional ways to solve problems that I still use to this day. None of the assignments we completed were portfolio pieces, but they made the few of us that understood better artists, designers, and communicators.
In the class I’m teaching, I’ve been reaching for that same kind of impact. I’m winging it this first semester because I’m not familiar with the syllabus or the organization of the department or the grading standards, but I’m getting the hang of running the class and offering input and guidance without solving problems for the students–I’ve got to know exactly what to say to get them to think of things differently without giving them the answers. I’ve got students who do not understand conceptual thinking: They just want me to tell them what to do instead of thinking for themselves. I’ve also got students who are killing it, coming up with brilliant, elegant concepts and layouts that make me smile to myself. I can’t take credit for that, as the hard work was done by someone else before me, but I can at least help them get ready for the real world.
We made it through the storm pretty well on Saturday, although the house was fucking freezing. This month’s ~10˚ overnight temperatures have really illustrated just how poorly insulated the Lockardugan Estate is despite all my attempts to the contrary. The first floor becomes pretty much uninhabitable after 8PM, and the kitchen is like a meat locker (there is no heating in the kitchen; we removed it during the remodel in a desperate bid for cabinet space).
Sunday I spent the morning digging out. A freakish upswing in temperature meant I was out in a fleece and light gloves, sweating in the sunlight. After I got the sidewalks done, I came in and made bacon egg & cheeses for the family (NOM NOM NOM), and then went back out to finish the cars. The Accord is suffering from an old no-cranky battery so I jumped it and ran it for a while, but next weekend I’ll definitely pick up a new one. After that chore was done I took Finn over to the school for some sledding. Mama found a great Wham-O sled at the bargain store a while back and we put it to the test. Strangely, we had the whole hill to ourselves.
The afternoon was spent in the den, creating castles with Legos, while Mama put together venison steaks with duck-fat fried potatoes and fresh green beans for dinner. All in all, it was a great day.
It’s a pleasure to be able to call someone up on a Friday afternoon and offer them a job. I have a smile on my face.
I’m recovering from a head cold that had me snuffling into tissues since Monday. I’ve found that liquid DayQuil definitely trumps the power of huge horse-pill sized caplets. Finn is past her weird virus thing and back at school, which is good for the whole family.
It was a blistering 8˚ this morning, so Jen boiled some water and we filed onto the back porch in our PJs to make snow: throw it up in the air and watch it steam and descend as flakes. Some of the water splashed back onto my hand, so two of the knuckles on my right hand are angry and red today. Still, snow!
Class is going well, and I’m enjoying myself. They offered me another class in the fall last week, which I’m going to take contingent on the timing: they should be able to schedule it for 6 or 7PM instead of 4, which works much better for my commute.
This is the 4,001st entry here on Idiotking.org. Given my sporadic posting around here lately, I wasn’t expecting to hit it quite so quickly.
What shall I waste time writing about here? Well, we got hit last night with a blast of icy Arctic air and about 4″of snow. With wind chill, it’s about 5-10˚ out there right now, so we wisely decided to stay inside today. Finn has been battling some kind of flu that sends fluid out both ends, so she was mending quietly on the couch all day. I went down into the basement and finally wrangled piles of stuff strewn about the place, building a rack for our spare dining room chairs, a rack for our spare lumber, organizing the recycling, transferring the IPA to a secondary fermenter, and about 30 other small jobs. When I came back upstairs we heated dinner up and did a double-feature of How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Up before getting Finn in bed. Tomorrow is due to be as cold as today, and there’s snow in the forecast. I also have to teach tomorrow night, which means I’ll eventually have to go back outside.
This year, I was on it. Three weeks ago, I started contacting babysitters to see if anyone could watch Finn for us, and I struck out everywhere. I decided fuck it, I’d make dinner for my girls and we’d share Valentine’s Day together, and they seemed happy with that. I hit the store this morning and got caught up in the pre-Valentine/pre-snow rush, but made it out with the fixings for Shrimp Creole and some brownies. At home, I worked on the Scout a little bit, worked on cleaning up the basement a little bit, and took the dishwasher apart to clean out the drain. Then I got to cooking. Usually my attempts at cooking are panicky and uncoordinated. I have problems getting everything on the table at the same time in the correct order, and I leave chaos in the kitchen. Tonight went smoothly, and everything timed perfectly. After setting the table and uncorking some alcohol-free wine, I lit candles and served the ladies while gentle snow fell outside. Finn was excited to drink wine with us and even more when I brought out brownies decorated with hearts in red sparkly icing. I can’t remember a better Valentine’s Day.
This is an awesome bit of brand elevation: