Painting Outside the Lines

Welcome to our 48th year of PTA Reflections! I want to briefly introduce myself. I have been involved in the Reflections program for the last 9 years, first as a local Reflection’s Chair and then as Southern Region Chair. I am excited to serve as the Illinois PTA Cultural Arts Director. Since 1969, the National PTA Reflections program has encouraged students in preschool through high school from across the nation to challenge their creativity and submit works of art in the areas of dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and the visual arts.

A few weeks ago, my family and I traveled north to Chicago for a quick weekend get-away. One of our favorite spots in the city is the Art Institute. My daughter, sister, and I spent Saturday morning (and a good part of the afternoon) wandering through the many galleries of the museum’s main traveling exhibition, “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist.”

Of course, I was familiar with Gauguin’s impressionist paintings from my college Art Appreciation class. He was the guy who went to Tahiti at the end of the 19th century and brought island exoticism into the prim world of still lives and fruit. However, what I learned was there’s a lot more to Paul Gauguin than paintings of Tahitian natives and mangoes.

Did you know that although Gauguin was born in Paris, he spent much of his life outside France? When Gauguin was an infant, his family fled France after the failure of the leftist revolution in 1848 and took refuge in Peru. When he was 17, he joined the merchant marine and later the French navy. He spent six years at sea and circumnavigated the globe twice. It was during this time he honed his extraordinary wood carving skills. Then he settled into the humdrum life of a stockbroker in Paris, marrying a Danish woman, raising five children and painting only on Sundays.

I hate my job. I hate my life. I’m going to Tahiti to paint.

Gauguin did not have formal training at an art school but was lucky enough to befriend a distinguished painter—Camille Pissarro. Pissarro became his mentor both instructing him and helping him meet other Impressionists working in Paris. In his early 30s, Gauguin decided to give up his day job and devote himself completely to painting.

Merriam Webster defines an alchemist as “someone who changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way.” Like an alchemist, Gauguin believed in the artist’s ability to take raw materials and transform them into something entirely new. The exhibit focuses on the vast range of raw materials he used and the many different ways in which he turned them into very beautiful objects. I imagine that you could have given him any raw material, and he would make something beautiful.

In the year of his death (1903, on a French Polynesian island, of course) he said, “It’s precisely an endless kind of art that I’m interested in, rich in all sorts of techniques, suitable for translating all the emotions of nature and humanity.”

Gauguin begged, borrowed and stole to create a unique vision of the world, which is evident in everything from his leaded pottery with colored glazes and unglazed stoneware vases, to decorative walking sticks, a carved wooden barrel, designs for fans and even a small, strange, pearwood sarcophagus with iron hinges.

I heard many visitors express their awe at discovering Gauguin’s skill as a sculptor. I must say I find it strange that sculpture is not something that is necessarily connected to painting. Yes, painting and sculpture and decorative arts are three distinct categories, but what Gauguin was doing was basically blurring all the lines and saying, “Well, art is art.”

And, I agree…art is art.

New to Illinois PTA Reflections This Year

So, it is in this spirit that we have decided to open up the Reflections visual art category this year to include sculpture submissions. The Reflections program asks our children to get creative, and we believe limiting our children’s visual art submissions to two dimensional art suppresses their imagination and creativity. The world would be a very small place without creativity. Stories, photographs, music, paintings and sculptures, dance, and films about the human condition have the ability to relate to a diverse population and allow us to ask questions of our community and of ourselves. We invite the children of Illinois to participate in Reflections this year and share their thoughts and ideas about the theme “Within Reach.”

Reflections Questions?

If you’ve got questions about how to run a PTA Reflections program at your school, sign up for our PTA Reflections Webinar on Sunday, August 27, at 7:30pm. We’ll cover everything you need to know, including forms, judging, and advancing to higher levels. If you can’t make it, contact Illinois PTA Cultural Arts Director Laura Murphy at lmurphy@illinoispta.org.

PTA SPOTLIGHT 2017: A Story of Art and Celebration

On May 13, the Illinois PTA 4th Annual SPOTLIGHT: A Children’s Celebration of Art and Community was held at Millikin University in Decatur. This year, 235 participants viewed the galleries, participated in workshops, and celebrated our children. We thank Mother Nature for providing our families a perfect day to make a day trip to Decatur and to be outside on the Millikin campus on their way to and from workshops.

Our story began last fall when students across the country were asked, “What is your story?” and the students in Illinois answered. Our children’s stories, depicted though their art, filled the galleries of Kirkland Fine Arts Center. This year, 166 Visual Arts pieces and 100 Photography pieces filled the walls of Kirkland Fine Art Center while 132 Literature, 50 Music Compositions, 54 Film Productions, and 53 Dance Choreography pieces were available for viewing. In total, 555 stories from our talented artists were available for public viewing in their chosen form of art.

The Story is Forever Changing

The SPOTLIGHT story continues to add new chapters. This year, 3 new workshops were added for our artists and their families to participate in:

  • Intro to Hip Hop invited our youngest guests to get up and move
  • Fun in the Sun–Solar Printing participants made a fun image using the light of the sun (thank you to Mother Nature for helping out here)
  • Intro to Acting encouraged creative expression and storytelling

These workshops were created by Milliken Art Education students and faculty members. These new workshops along with some favorites from past years had our families drumming, dancing, writing, drawing, sculpting, and more throughout the afternoon. All of the new workshops and many of the others were filled to capacity. The Illinois PTA Board of Directors once again hosted A Little of This, A Little of That… workshop for our youngest attendees and their families, where they tried they hands at 8 different projects during the 2 sessions.

Newly created art pieces from the workshops were shared as families gathered in the galleries between and after workshops. Many praises and thanks were extended to Illinois PTA, Millikin faculty members, and Millikin University Art Education students for making these workshops available and enjoyable for the children and the families attending with them.

Recognizing Students and their Stories

Our Recognition Celebration was definitely the highlight of the day. With family and friends there to help use celebrate, we recognized and personally thanked 71 students for participating in the National PTA Reflections program in Illinois and the Illinois PTA scholarship program. A total of 37 participants, 19 honorable mentions, 3 special artists, and 11 advancers to National crossed the stage. We also were able to honor Madelyne Ashbaugh, one of two Illinois PTA Scholarship recipients for 2017. The smiles of our students lit up the stage as they received their certificates, ribbons, and medals from Illinois PTA President Matthew Rodriguez. Backstage, our students posed for a group photos before returning to their seats.

Highlights from Spotlight 2017

  • Special Artist Toma Obayashi’ playfulness backstage as he waited for his name to be called. (Note: If we were outside Toma, I would have let you really pop that balloon under your foot.)
  • A mother that thanked us for displaying all the children’s artwork as her son showed his artwork to everyone, “He (her son) is so proud to have everyone see his picture.”
  • Sophia and Abigail O’Quinn holding hands and jumping up and down when their realized that this year they would both be going on stage to receive their recognition. Pure joy!
  • Alex Murphy’s look of surprise when he won the guitar donated by Guitar World USA.

SPOTLIGHT: Not Just an Event

SPOTLIGHT is not just another event; it is a story in and of itself. It has main characters, the children that shared their story through their art and their families that attend. It has a beautiful setting because of the commitment Millikin University has to celebrating children and the Arts. And it has supporting cast members that make it possible, the volunteers of Illinois PTA that understand, support, and believe in what we have built together for our children. As Illinois PTA President Matthew John Rodriguez said, “There are many Reflections recognition events run by state PTAs, but none come close to what SPOTLIGHT provides for children and families.” During the next couple days, we hope you reflect on this year’s SPOTLIGHT event and it brings a smile to your face. If you attended, we would love to hear from you, and please share some of your highlight moments from the day with us.

A photo album from SPOTLIGHT 2017 available on the Illinois PTA Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/2017PTASPOTLIGHT

National PTA Announces 2015-2016 Reflections Results

During the past school year, through the National PTA level of the Reflections Program, nearly 300,000 students in over 8,000 schools across the country and in U.S. schools overseas contributed their original works in dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts to be considered for PTA’s highest honor in the arts.

For each arts category, one Outstanding Interpretation Award is chosen. Then, for each age group in each arts category, three Awards of Excellence and five Awards of Merit are selected as well. Illinois PTA is pleased to announce that three Illinois students were recognized this year by National PTA:

Award of Excellence

  • Jessica Liu: High School, Literature, DuPage West Region

Award of Merit

  • Sara Dixon: High School, Film Production, DuPage West Region
  • Holly Bulthuis: High School, Visual Arts, South Suburban Cook Region

Illinois PTA congratulates these students on their success. We look forward to seeing what all of our children do with next year’s PTA Reflections theme, “Within Reach.”

7 Keys to Creativity

When we think about creative people, we tend to think of artists, writers, painters, and the like, but creativity is an essential part of almost everything we do. Whether it is figuring out the best bridge design to span a river or cooking dinner for our family, the opportunity to be creative is always there. So how do you help your child foster their creativity?

Creative thinking expert Michael Michalko spells out his seven tenets of creative thinking, the seven things he wishes he were taught as a student. Helping your child learn these lessons can help them (and you) be a more creative person.

  1. You are creative. Everyone creates, especially as a child. It is only as we get older that we begin to think of ourselves as creative or not. The main thing that identifies creative people is that they believe they are creative, and so they develop their abilities to express themselves.
  2. Creative thinking is work. Thomas Edison once said that genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Being creative requires dedication to developing new ideas, most of which will be bad. What separates great photographers from the amateurs is that the great ones take many, many more pictures. Every great movie leaves piles of footage on the cutting room floor.
  3. You must go through the motions. Our brains build connections as we do and learn things, and the more that we do those things, the stronger the connections become. Working to come up with creative ideas increases your ability to be creative. Creative ideas don’t come to you. You have to go chase after them, and the more you chase, the better you’ll be at catching them.
  4. Your brain is not a computer. Our brains don’t really separate fact from fiction. It is why a good book can transport us to another place. It is why we feel the same exhilaration as Luke Skywalker when the Death Star blows up and cower in our seats during a scary movie. Imagining is an essential part of creativity. Walt Disney called the creative people working on his movies and parks imagineers, a portmanteau of imagination engineers.
  5. There is no right answer. Little kids tend to think of things as black or white, but as adults we know there are many shades of gray in between. When trying to create new ideas, it is essential to not evaluate them as they come to us. Every idea is a possibility, so you should generate as many as possible before figuring out if they are any good or not. Edison himself thought of 3,000 different lighting system ideas before he even began to evaluate whether they would work or not.
  6. There is no such thing as failure. If you don’t succeed, you still have produced something. What’s important is what you learn from what you produced, even if it didn’t work. As author Neil Gaiman said in his commencement address at the University of the Arts in 2012, “I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once misspelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, ‘Coraline looks like a real name…’” Coraline is, of course, one of his most famous children’s books as well as a successful movie.
  7. You don’t see things as they are—you see them as you Experiences don’t have meaning until we give them meaning, and the meaning we give them depends on where we are in life and what we believe to be true. Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, which made mainframe computers, famously said that there was no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak saw the same industry through a different lens, and now most of us not only have computers in our homes but also in our pockets and purses. Creative people realize that we construct our reality by how we interpret our experiences.

By keeping these seven keys in mind, we can help our children become more creative, supporting them when they get discouraged and encouraging a growth mindset.

Photo courtesy Max Pixel.

Plan Your PTA Take Your Family to School Week Event Now

tn-2017-tyftsw-social3Founders’ Day, February 17th, celebrates the legacy and work of Alice McLellan Birney, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and Selena Sloan Butler to improve the lives of children. The date marks the first National Congress of Mothers, held in Washington, D.C. in 1897. As part of that celebration, National PTA designates the week that includes Founders’ Day as PTA Take Your Family to School Week.

This year, PTA Take Your Family to School Week is February 13-17, and the theme is Celebrating the Changing Faces of Families. Research shows that families engaged in their children’s education results in greater student success, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education. PTA Take Your Family to School Week provides PTAs with an opportunity to engage the families at their school in their children’s education. It also promotes your PTA and the work you do in your school, which can lead to more families joining your PTA to support that work.

Now is the time to think about how your PTA will bring families into your school building. Do you want to provide the opportunity for families to share a meal with their children, either before, during, or after school hours? Will you work with your principal to provide families the chance to participate or observe in the classroom? Do you have no idea where to start?

If your PTA isn’t sure where to start, both National PTA and Illinois PTA have resources to help you host a fun, pre-planned event for the families at your school.

National PTA also has an invitation letter to send to families and specially-sized graphics for your PTA to use on social media to help you promote your event. Plan your event now to celebrate PTA Take Your Family to School Week.