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Field Notes- Wk 1

Florian's picture

Three years in the education program and I’m still not really sure how to do field notes. I’m not a big fan of the column format, either. Anyway, February 26 was my first day of my placement at the Center for Creative Works. Very easy to get to, but the places where the sidewalks disappear into car dealership parking lots were slightly terrifying to deal with. But I found the place all right. I signed in, gave my papers to the placement coordinator, and conveniently at that moment the sculpture instructor came upstairs to pick up a box of paints. I introduced myself and followed him downstairs. Immediately, I was surrounded by a lot of people introducing themselves and wanting to shake my hand. I had remembered this from my orientation last week as well. The placement coordinator had not given me the volunteer handbook yet, and did not until the end of my day there, but if I had seen it I would have known that the handshake is a technique they teach the artists as both an acceptable form of physical contact and a professional thing to do at gallery openings. While I was not aware of the handshake’s function at first, I shook so many hands in my time there that I was sure it was part of the culture of the center.


My job for the day was to assist “Usmail”, one of the artists at the center, to put some finishing touches on a horse sculpture before he started to paint it. Usmail had done all of the sculpting, but needed to make a mane and tail and put a coat of gesso on the sculpture prior to painting, which he would do on Monday. I knew that a trap that would be easy to fall into, especially for someone like me who has a great interest in art, would be to get overenthusiastic and start putting things on the artwork “for” the person I was supposed to be assisting. Not wanting to overstep my boundaries, I stuck to a purely assistive role. Usmail made the mane and tail of his horse out of strings he had pulled apart into “hairs”. At the suggestion of the sculpture instructor,I cut strings to the right length to be used for the mane, and then separated the string into its component fibers. Usmail then glued the fibers to the sculpture.


Meanwhile, every now and then other program participants who were walking around came over to show me their work and ask for advice. I would always be very encouraging, giving the same sort of suggestions I would give to my friends who do art- “Oh, I like the way you colored his face, it makes him stand out from his surroundings. If you wanted to make him stand out even more you could make the background dark purple, but if you wanted to stay in the same color family you could make it red. Blue could also look nice”- giving options for different things that could be done rather than just telling them one thing to do, because I did not want to get in the way of their individuality.

Usmail took a lunch break, and I continued to assist the sculpture instructor by taping off parts of sculptures that were supposed to be spray-painted. When he came back, the sculpture instructor suggested we put gesso on the horse sculpture so that Usmail could paint it with the painting instructor on Monday, which we did, Usmail preparing one side of the horse and me working on the other. When we finished, the sculpture instructor suggested that we clean and put away the paintbrushes at the sculpture station, which we did. Another artist interrupted me as I was cleaning the brushes and told me I was doing it “the wrong way”. He demonstrated the correct way to clean them, and I cleaned the rest of them his way. After that, it was time for the artists to wait to be picked up to go home, and one of them talked to me until her ride was there. Her conversation was very repetitive, which I didn’t know was a problem, having not read or even received the handbook yet. Reading over the handbook that evening, I found that it was suggested to change the subject to something more “constructive” if someone is speaking in a very repetitive way. I will remember that during my next visit, but I am not sure what a “constructive” conversation is.


smalina's picture

I'm interested in the question you raised at the end of your notes--what really is a "constructive" conversation? And what is its value at the center? Of course, things need to get done, but it seems like part of the idea behind having art as the focus of the program is that it defies conventional ideals of productivity and linear time. I wonder if this is a value that is actually shared by all of the teachers there--I know that the woodshop teacher who I have been working with really engages with participants when they bring up conversations that may be "off topic," even if they are repetitive. She enters the conversation with the assumption that there is some desire being expressed behind the repetition--for example, we had been spending smome time at the Haverford bookstore when we were heading to the lab, and one of the participants repeatedly brought up the "blue bird." While it would have been easy to change the subject or ignore him, the woodshop teacher kept pressing him to figure out what he meant. It turned out that he had started to read a graphic novel in the bookstore which featured a blue bird, and he wanted to check it out again. From an artistic perspective, this actually was important and "constructive" (to see other art in other, very different settings). It seems like we can't determine what is "constructive" or not without really reaching to communicate first.