- Day One after Debate III- The New York Al Smith Charity Dinner: Hillary and donald
- Quick announcement- Stan Lee’s Comic Con!
- Madaya Mom, a powerful digital comic about the war in Syria
- Reflections on two recent conferences- Long Beach Comic Con and DML
- At the 2016 Long Beach Comic Con
- Can one learn from a moot question?
- Museum On The Seam
- Why arts education? An ongoing discussion
- Reflections on teachers, and the questions that they ask
- Dissertation news catch up
Search this site
The 2016 Stan Lee’s Comic Con (formerly known as Comikaze) is happening at the LA Convention Center on Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30. This will be my first time, and I have heard really good things about past conventions here. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by on Sunday, 10/30 at 11:30 am in room 301 A (although that may be subject to change. I am going to me moderating a panel called Zap! Pow! You got an A! Comics in the classroom! The panelists are Peter Carlson and Johnny Parker III, experienced educators, and passionate advocates for comics. We will talk about how they use comics in classrooms, some of titles they choose, as well as learning objectives. We will talk about some general strategies that are proven to increase both children’s interest and levels in literacy, through a very wide range of narratives and content.
Come on by! This should be fun and imformative!
I just binge watched the entire first season of Luke Cage on netflix, and, all because of the really interesting, engaging and critical discussion between Dr. Henry Jenkins of USC and journalist Jose Antonia Varga at the recent Digital Media & Learning conference held at UC Irvine. DML has always been one of my favorite conferences for educators and technologists to meet and talk about critical issues that are at heart about how technology can and is used to enhance learning and education. The combination of dynamic sessions and passionate educators always is inspiring and presents a really cool realm of possibilities created by being part of this continuum of dreamers, thinkers, and creators, investigating and celebrating the universe…., er, I digress.
It was a treat to be able to listen to Henry and Jose’s dialogue that was presented as part of their long, continuing dialogue about critical issues that face the US and the world. For this session, they started the dialogue about white privilege, then went on to address global migrations and diasporas, and the nature of illegal immigration. Some of the questions and issues that they addressed were:
- How to make migration an issue in different communities, especially the LGBT community
- Interesting to consider that goods and commodities can move around freely, but people, often the people who make these goods, cannot.
- White people can travel around the world, often without documents, and are called adventurers, while people of color are illegal.
- The critical need for white people to own up to and understand white privilege.
- The role of digital communication in facilitating the true lives and experiences of people
- “Who gets to tell the story is an important as the story getting told,” Vargas
- Diversifying entertainment (who is behind the camera)
- The need for more empathy building and honesty in popular media
- Ways that we can help undocumented students in education and society
- Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC)- http://e4fc.org/
Then things got really interesting- they entered the realm of ways that graphic novels and comics can be used to address these issues. Jenkins discussed the nature of dreamers in society, the ones who think and dream of creating a better world for all people, and the ways that educators can help dreamers to facilitate their activities by building bridges between content and action, and that the superheroes can be used to build those bridges. Superheroes help readers look at and imagine all sorts of change- in action, theory and even sensibilities. After all, Superman is actually an undocumented resident.
Jenkins and Vargas went on to speak about the nature of diversity in comics, both the creators and the narratives, and they both looked to Luke Cage as an positive example. Not only are creators Black, the narrative highlights important Black thinkers, writers, musicians, and activists. Conversations in the barber shop where cage works bring up Oscar Peterson, Ralph Ellison, Miles Davis, Malcolm X, MLK, Walter Mosley and other greats. These names are not just dropped, they are integrated into the narrative in natural and organic ways that also contextualizes them in US society and history, showing them to be the important people they were (and are).
As usual, I left the DML with my head buzzing with ideas for education in general, and more specifically, about my dissertation- using graphic novels and comics in the classroom to teach critical issues about social justice, communal and individual identity.
As I reflected on these ideas, I began to think about the panel on diversity in comics that I participated in at the 2016 Long Beach Comic Con. I unfortunately arrived late to the session, and missed the names of the other panelists (and they all split to other events immediately after it was done. The discussion was already in progress when I did sit down, and after a few minutes, when there was a break, one of the moderators (there were 2 or 3), asked me to introduce my self, and I was genuinely surprised and pleased when I received a round of applause when I mentioned my dissertation topic. I felt that I was off to a better start.
It was a diverse panel- 3 Black men, a woman (possibly gay), and me. The moderators were a Black man, a White man, and a White woman. The discussion was rich and dynamic and pretty positive. One gentleman in the audience challenged the panel about the lack of Blacks in the industry, but said in a way that felt that he was not given the opportunities that he felt that he deserved. He also ragged about some of the creators who have succeeded, but in a way that downplayed their success. The panel pretty much agreed that we are at a time where we need to support those who can do their work, encourage it and celebrate it, even if you do not particularly like their work. It is important that if we want to create change, then we need to celebrate and support each other. One of the panelists then told his own story. He is a true comics geek and always wanted to create them. As he grew older, he found that the path was incredibly difficult, and that he may not be able to succeed. But rather then give up, he became a publisher and publishes the kids of comics that he wanted to make, primarily about the Black community (and super heroes). I really like this idea, and know of other examples where people modified their personal dreams in order to support and empower others, which also can be considered a great way to engage the community of creators and users.
All in all, it was a very positive discussion, with the participants showing great respect for each other and love of the medium!
But there was a fly here, that I’ve been reflecting and thinking about. At one point, the discussion shifted to the producers of comics and movies and the perception that many of these producers and agents are Jewish. The moderator of that moment, a Black man, leaned over to me and made a comment that can only be described as anti-Semitic. This so surprised me that I was stunned, and could not really respond, and I have been wrestling with it ever since. It seemed out of place at that point in the conversation, since we were all agreeing that in order to combat racism, sexism and hate, we need to work together and support each other. What it showed be was that people often find it difficult to let go of stereotypes, no matter who. I was disappointed, mostly in myself for not bringing up and addressing his comment at that time. But I was in shock. I also began to think that although this type of comment exists across all lines of color, race, and gender. It is the poison that corrodes our society. There are plenty of examples where people are the stereotypes, which often are pretty negative. But there are plenty examples of stereotypes of people who do good work, who reach out to collaborate to together build a better society for all. And I do believe that comics can help in this process!
A couple of weeks ago, I spent the day at the Long Beach Comic Con, among all sorts of sapient beings in multiple sizes, colors, genders, faiths, with fur and without, in costume or not. All in all a nice a really nice confetti community having fun.
I went to sit on a panel with several other comics professional to talk about diversity in comics. It was a good mix of voices- a couple of women, African-Americans, and me, the Jewish kid. And amongst us, there were authors and artists, a publisher, and I cannot remember what a couple of my colleagues were, but they were definitely advocates of using graphic novels in classrooms to teach about social justice and diversity. My colleagues graciously welcomed me into the ongoing discussion after I appeared 15 minutes late (I could not find the room) . At a small break in their conversation, I was asked to introduce myself, which I did. After saying that I am writing my EdD dissertation on using comics and graphic novels in the classroom to help teach social justice, individual, community and social identity, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a round of applause. Actually, it was pretty cool to to get that immediate positive feedback!The panelists were interesting, knowledgable, and also creative thinkers, everyone was engaged in some really stimulating discussion. But because I was late, I did not get their names, and the participants and audience pretty much vanished immediately after the panel.
The moderators asked really interesting questions that stimulated a lot of good dialogue and more questions about diversity in the comic world. There was a discussion about the lack of diversity in the production of comics- very few writers, authors and producers are people of color, or gender. After some engaging dialogue, we decided that rather then complain about the lack of these creative, it is better to go out and do it on your own. One guy (if you are reading this, please forgive me, as I cannot remember your name) did exactly that- he opened up his own publishing house for artists/writers/stories of and by people of color.We also discussed the lack of heroes who are not white/male and what can and is being done to change that. We talked about Gene Luen Yang, the Hernandez brothers and a lot of others. Additionally, we all are fans of the independent publishers because they have more freedom to publish edgier stuff.
As an educator, I spoke about some of the benefits of using comics in classrooms, such as the development of cognitive visual-text tools that help with understanding the relationship between words and pictures. I cannot say this are new ideas, but they are novel interpretations and applications of the blend traditional learning theory with contemporary story-telling.
A while back, when I was an art student at UC Santa Cruz, I was working late in a painting studio and chatting with my classmate, Michael Blatt (now an architect, doing really cool stuff). At one point, my imagination got a hold of me and I asked Michael THE question, “If you could live in anywhere in any time period, where and when would it be?”. Michael, the curious scholar first made a point that this was a moot question. We are here, now and as far as we now know, we cannot travel in time. But then, Michael continued, this is still an interesting question and we had this really engaging conversation that touched on a lot of interesting and important ideas about values, life, history, philosophy. Now, I do not remember all of the details of the discussion, yet I still have a vivid image of the question, the initial response and then, the rich and meaningful conversation.
I just discovered this really cool museum in Jerusalem, with important and engaging exhibitions. It is called the Museum on the Seam, and is located on a seam between Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods.
Source: Museum On The Seam
Too often, the arts are left out of any educational plan and that the arts are looked upon as a secondary or minor component of education. The importance of the the arts cannot be ignored- it is the arts that infuse meaning into a hard science. There is beauty in the sciences and math, but not everybody thinks in such terms and the arts infuse the hard sciences and math with beauty, with meaning and with the human elements. For example- look at space- Pilots and astronauts who can look out at the universe and describe it in hard scientific terms. But what about how they feel? What about the parts of being human that cannot be qualified or quantified. What would happen if an artist or poet was sent up on the next space mission. How would we explain and interpret what is seen and what is felt? Too often it is the arts that create meaning into an experience. Imagine what a poet would say when standing in the new cupola of the space station describing what they see as well as what they feel. The technical, linear and logical with the emotional, subjective and personal. Take this idea back to the classroom and have students of any age describe their experiments in terms of what they feel and what happened. Perhaps we can begin to address the human condition and shift it to a situation of thinking to a situation of feeling. Perhaps we can make it shift form hard analysis to the human feelings. This may also provide us with answers to what we actually feel.
I think that two of the signs of a good teacher are the questions that they ask and the dialogues that they start. A good question can engage students throughout their lives as they gain knowledge and experiences that cause them to re-evaluate, re-answer and re=apply their responses. A good dialogue will inspire students to life- long conversations with all of their teachers, colleagues, peers and most importantly, them selves.
Although I have had my share of uninspired clunkers, I have also had the opportunity to steady and learn from some amazing, amazing teachers. I feel that I am in constant dialogue based upon many of the questions posed and conversations started. Sometimes I am lucky enough to be able top continue these conversations with my original teachers from high school and university, where we engage in conversations where we continue to teach each other. Sometimes, because of distance or death, I am left with their original comments that I then re-interpret to apply to new knowledge or experience. In many ways, these conversations are similar to the process of learning Talmud, a Jewish text filled with commentary on the bible, Jewish law and comments and conversations between scholars of different generations. Through the way the books are studied, contemporary scholars can engage in old conversations, argue with ancient scholars and then apply meanings and knowledge to current issues.
But I digress. Because of my dissertation topic and background as an artist, I recently have been thinking a lot about the process of making art, what it all means and some of the conversations that I have had (and continue to have). Many of these conversations were started in some classes that I took nearly 30 years ago with Margaret Rinkovsky, one of my favorite art teachers at UCSC. I do nor remember how many drawing and printing classes that I had with her, but they were always filled with interesting and inspiring assignments (such as drawing a nude model completely covered with a sheet), we well as insightful and meaningful critiques and discussions. On a practical aspect, we were being trained to look and really see, to focus on the subject and style, while the theoretical aspect helped to teach us to think, to constantly evaluate and reflect on our reasons our immediate decisions based on our marks on a page or plate.
One discussion in particular that has stayed with me is on the importance of identifying our intent of making a specific drawing, painting or print. We had to identify who are intended audience was, what we were trying to communicate and how, whether the work that we were doing addressed formal issues of 2D art (such as pure composition, light, etc), or whether we were instead doing something illustrative, to tell a particular story. In very broad terms, one way that this can be described as knowing whether we were doing a Jackson Pollack style (pure formal issues), or a Norman Rockwell (much more narrative and illustrative). Many of us young art students struggled to understand and apply these issues, while some were able to understand and integrate them directly and immediately into their work. Now my memory is kind of fuzzy and I would like to think that I was part of the second group, but in all probability, I was in the first- listening, discussing, and reflecting. Doing it again, and finally gaining the insight that enabled me to begin to become more mindful of my work, what it meant and the formal and informal issues that I was addressing. Over the years, I have become clearer on the intention of my visual work, of what and how I am communicating, along with the formal issues that I am exploring. As most artists, my work is iterative- I continue to explore certain images and ideas I am curious about. Sometimes the exploration is through a series of images; sometimes it is the multiple layers that are used to construct one image.
It is the understanding of this iterative process that helps guide me through my dissertation. Knowing that I am a visual thinker helps me to actually visualize the data and information that I am writing about. I can see the major and minor ideas, the associations between themes and words, textures between thoughts, all of which guide me to construct my dissertation in a mindful, authentic, and meaningful way.
All of this stimulated by a discussion started way back then with a great teacher. The lessons in one class can be applied to many others and the work of a good teacher can inspire and teach for many, many years after the classroom.
One more related thing. Yesterday, I went to a free Latin jazz concert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. As I sat in the sun, listening to this great band, I decided that since I am thinking and writing so much about arts education, I needed to do some art. With phone (and camera), and sketchbook, I tried to capture some of the flavor of the afternoon. Neither media was really working, until I began to think again about my process of iterative art. So, over the next couple of weeks (based on when I have time) I will be working on a composition – a blend of digital and practical to see how will I captured the spirit of the day. I have no idea what will come of it, if it will be horrible or nice, illustrative or formal. But stay tuned here; I’ll post it when complete.
For additional information about my dissertation (and to help fund me), please visit:
My dissertation is a feasibility study regarding the use of technology to enable museum-school partnerships to provide arts education to underserved urban and rural communities on a regular basis (throughout the school year as opposed to a one or two day program). The main reasons for my interest are that I believe that arts education is a critical component for the cognitive development of learners of all ages. There have been many formal studies and academic research about the numerous benefits of arts education, data that will be an important component of my dissertation. For now though, I am interested in exploring the personal, emotional and psychological reasons for arts education. But before I can do this, I feel that it is important to start at the beginning and define the basic term “art”.
According to dictionary.com (my primary source of definitions these days) art, a noun is defined as:
1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance;
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection;
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art;
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture;
5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art, industrial art.
Dictionary.com is fairly inclusive in its definition. When many people hear the word “art” they immediately think of the visual arts, without considering the scope of the definition, even for professional arts educators. For example, the late Elliot Eisner, who was one of the most eloquent, knowledgeable and staunchest advocates for arts education in schools, equated arts education with the visual arts. And although my own artistic and creative sensibilities lie in 2-dimensional visual art, it is my understanding and application of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence that makes me understand that different people have different ways of authentically expressing themselves in the arts- be it visual, music, dance, literature or any other creative form.
But art is more than the definitions provided above. In many ways art is like the mortar that holds the bricks of meaning together. While the sciences describe how things fit together and work, arts can provide an interpretation for why things fit and how they work. Although there are important formal aspects in the arts, such as composition, light and darkness, rhythm, and other components, the creation is really about meaning and interpretation, rather fuzzy subjects.
A while back (well, actually probably more than a while), in an art appreciation class, the teacher posed the question for us to write a definition of art. Although seemingly easy, he added the caveat that our definition had to reciprocal, meaning that whatever we wrote had to work both ways. I think that a basic math equation is the best way to describe what we needed to do:
If a student wrote that art is beauty, then beauty is art. This cannot be a true statement because not all art is beautiful, and not all beauty is art. I remember that one person wrote “art is love” and as much as I appreciated the sentiment (after all, I love art), not all love is art. My own definition is that art is the result a person mastering a process where the outcome illustrate a sense of ownership of that process, a result of a conscious approach to a study of a practice where the end result is something out of the ordinary, a combination of knowledge, intuition, mindfulness and feeling.
This approach may be esoteric to some, but I think that it represents a true spirit of the creative process, and is completely inclusive to human endeavors. There is a line in the movie “Ratatouille” where the ghost of the great chef tells the rat that everyone can cook, but not everyone can be a great chef. Anyone can pursue artistic behaviors for pleasure and personal gratification, but not everyone will be a great artist. This is good though- the process of making art, or exploring a passion opens up the mind of the person doing it- they learn about themselves, and the world around them. Not everyone will be a Baryshnikov, or Horowitz, but that should not prevent him or her from dancing or making music or whatever creative endeavor that speaks to them.
An additional thought that defines an artist comes from my study of West African Dance. Everybody who participated in the classes learned, moved and had fun. But there were individuals who really captured the spirit, the motion, the rhythm of the dance and music. If complimented, their response was always “thank you, but what did I do?” A teacher explained this by saying that the music and dance has been around a lot longer than any of us, and the more that you did it, the more that you felt and became part of it.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi provides another explanation in his book “Flow”, writing that this is “the mental state in which “a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology).
Some semi-academic ruminations about STEAM
While reviewing and reflecting on arts education in schools, I am happily amazed by the variety and diversity of people and professions who are actively advocating for the return its return in the schools. There is growing understanding and acceptance role that arts play in cognitive development and providing important 21st skills in critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, innovation and more.
What is interesting to me is the actual need to reintroduce arts into school curriculum. After all, is it pretty universally accepted that an understanding and appreciation of the arts, in all media, has always been the sign of education and culture in just about every society. This has made be begin to wonder about when the arts actually began to be cut from educational budgets. Another thing that I have been reflecting on is that even with the current interest in STEM initiatives, the arts or math were never fully cut from schools. They may not have been as developed as really needed, but some sort of rudimentary for at least science and math has always existed. As an artist, I do not begrudge this, because I am also a nerd (smile when you say that partner) and understand the importance of STEM in education and society. But my heart speaks art first and I believe that the arts are of equal importance as the other disciplines, and that we really need to be talking about STEAM now.
I recently had a really interesting conversation with a guy who has put together a couple of web sites that promote STEM and provide rich and engaging lesson plans for science. One site even has an impressive section about the art of science illustration. While reviewing it, I could not help but to think about the work of Howard Gardner, who has researched and written about multiple intelligences. His idea is that although we can all learn anything, many individuals possess innate interests, and cognitive abilities. Some people think in science, some in math, some in music, some in art, etc. Like many theorists, there are those who support an idea, and there are those who do not. My own research, education, and experiences (especially as an artist) definitely put me in the former. Art can be used as an illustrative component of another discipline, but it also has its own language and power- art for arts sake.
The great Russian painter Kandinsky wrote about color that when he wanted to celebrate the beauty of yellow, he did not feel the need to represent the color as a lemon, but rather as an abstract. He also described painting in terms of music, there being a point, counterpoint, rhythm, etc. I happen to love Jackson Pollack’s action paintings. Now, with a scientific mind, we can possibly interpret them in terms of chaos theory. But at the time, Pollack was visually describing something else, a breaking of the barriers of the canvas, of formal composition. One critic at the time described Pollack’s work as capturing motion and freezing it on a canvas. I also find it very interesting that Pollack was also known as an excellent draftsman, before he began working in abstract expressionism. In these terms, science explores the “what” something is, the “how” it works, but art offers insight into the “why” and to the emotions it generates.
This is why I look at the importance of studying art, as art, in the language of art, be visual, musical, dance, theater, or multi media. I believe that the language of art is as important as the language of science in the cognitive development of a child, as well as playing a role in society. I am also a fan of multi-media as well as exploring innovative, interactive and immersive digital technologies as in the creating art. But as one needs to understand the science of how the technology works, one also needs to understand the art component of why and what it does to the individual, in many ways, the poetry of the work.