Chicago is a city that celebrates the arts, filled with interesting architecture and a lot of good food and friendly people. It is also where many of our students have gone, and will continue to go, through the Overseas Immersion Programme that SOTA has with the Chicago Arts School. During the March holiday I was there and in the few days that I had, I managed to walk about downtown to Millennium Park to see "The Cloud", which I REALLY wanted to see, and the other artistic installations of the city. It was nice to just enjoy Chicago for what it was and soak up the sun that I had brought with me from Singapore;the week before I arrived it had been snowing. The grid-like streets made for easy navigation and the generous dottings of Starbucks Coffee shops became my landmarks (and free Wi-Fi stops!).
The architecture evoked some sense of the past as well as movement to the future and made me wonder what it was like in the 1930's, because the Year 3's would be studying "Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck, in the coming term 2. (See, the curse of a teacher is that we always think about our students even when we are on a 'break"…that's how much we care!) But one very memorable part of the trip was a moment where the Arts and Academia came together. I attended a "Healing Art Therapy" session at the hospital with my sister. I was in Chicago primarily for my nephew's memorial service and this was a session my sister signed us both up for-and I am glad that she did. Not just from a personal aspect, but also from a professional one. The artist running the session, Lisa Goesling, was introducing us to a "Scratchboard", a board made of Kaolin Clay covered in a layer of India Ink. The artist uses a tool to scratch the ink away and this reveals the white clay underneath. Variation in pressure and stroke will produce different values, (depths) of exposure and images can be created and color added if desired.
She discovered it as a way to deal with her 2006 cancer diagnosis. On her website she says: "Choosing something beautiful to become absorbed in and concentrating on the details, proved to be the perfect way to deal with her cancer. The idea that adversity teaches us to turn the negative into a positive is a great analogy for transforming these black boards into thriving works of art."
She let us jump straight in and try using the medium. I must admit, I was am not an artist in the most plain sense of the word and while the experience was interesting, it frustrated me a little that I couldn't really do anything close to the works she had there. I stopped after a while because I felt it just wasn't working.
One of the pieces Lisa had created is featured on her business card. Queen Ann's Lace-a weed. This was the same flower mentioned in the poem, "Cut Grass" by Philip Larkin that the Year 3 students could choose to do for their Poem Book IDU this year. I readily piped in about what the students had researched into the weed; it's short life, the Queen that it was named after who had lost all but one of her fifteen children and how people thought of it to have contraceptive properties. My sister had also been reading a book about Queen Anne from a historical point as well. Lisa had done such a delicate scratchboard of it and I was looking at it from a literary perspective.
It was a real "Ah-ha!" moment where study of a poem, students' discussion of imagery, history and art all melted into one interesting point. And this point I made an effort to tell my classes once I returned. I told them about the experience, showed them the pictures and let them see that Art and their academics are very relevant together.
From my seven days in Chicago, what I would want to share with our SOTA students, is that the experience of traveling is one that enriches the pool from which you can draw inspiration, express your idea, meet new people, find exhilaration from learning new things and experience excitement when points of commonality are found.
I really encourage students to travel when you can, even locally, and to realize that much of what a writer does is to paint these experiences and sensory encounters in words. Use your art in ways that intersect with your studies and your life outside of SOTA. But most of all, use your art and talents to become better people and help those around you-to give back to the community and help other people. Perhaps this is what makes art valuable and what is truly the "Heart of the Arts".
Mrs. Dorcas Tirhas