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r j sullivan
Visual Artist
Florida
Paintings, Drawings and Lithos, Commentary
 

For now, most of my writing is a reaction or comment on the readings from the classes I took over the last two years while in the MA Art Education program at the University of Florida. These writings comment on art, culture, education and other topical things of interest to me and hopefully to others. I hope you'll take the time to read some of it.

Congratulations!

| 08 December, 2013 09:28

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Playfully disorienting

| 05 August, 2013 19:02

Play has objectives that are not often clearly laid out though at its crux is exploration and experiment, and even joy. Play does not necessarily become a game that has a set of rules and most likely a “game” was pure play before the rules were firmly set in place. Psychogeography, if I understand it at all, has some of these same elements. It is the influence that the geographical environment has on an individual whether the person is mindful of the influence or not. Play is the same thing, one is not always aware of the way our mind “drifts” as with locative/ psychogeography, but it is important to any creative pursuit that the mind is able to remain, at the very least, open, whether according to Debord, the goal is to study a terrain or to emotionally disorient oneself.

Limited Access and a Revisionists Past

| 05 August, 2013 17:38

The Interstate

I never realized until reading Stilgoe's book Outside Lies Magic, that the Interstate's real (or legal) name is the Military and  Interstate Highway System (p. 91)  and was built (or at least an ulterior motive for its construction) to move our military around without wires and buildings and slow moving vehicles getting in the way. Oh yes, and no vehicles could enter the highway from a corner store or bar, in other words, limited access. All of this was inspired, according to Stilgoe, by the Third Reich.  I never knew this either; “The Constitution forbids Congress from building  roads because the framers…understood road building  as the first step toward creating a tyrannical, centralizing, national government…” (pp. 93,94). He did a great job of explaining how many cities used the excuse of an Interstate system as a way to destroy parts of towns thought to be undesirous. A lot of history was torn down during the Interstate boom. Nonetheless, the structures are visually quite amazing, especially the cloverleaves and ramps.

Enclosures

Keeping things in and delineating what is yours can result in the construction of some beautiful walls perhaps. But  the idea of encapsulating and separating can  be  destructive and is what western culture has propagated and it seems even lives and dies by. I think Stilgoe’s questions on page 117 are going to the heart of the matter; “Do Americans fence themselves in to keep their images from being stolen? Do all fences scream loudest about gaze that steals? Or do they indicate something about trespasses not forgiven?”

Mainstreet

We have gone backwards in terms of architectural styles that are  being built today as oppose to the modern era. Modern architecture has taken a back seat to the neo-traditional/Victorian inspired homes and new Mainstreet-like areas  we see being built in the last 20-30 years. They are also referred to as "eclectic" in the architectural/appraising world. It’s funny that modern or "form follows function" style architecture looks dated today, modern looks old and the neo-old stuff looks "new". The fact the traditional style architecture has become the dominate style may have a lot to do with the dollification or Disneyfication  of our collective sensibilities as Stilgoe suggests. I think TV has a lot to do with it, people want to live in "Leave it to Beaver" kind of neighborhoods rather than the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired modular looking structures that you see a lot in Florida block homes built in the 50s and 60s. But our past, as Stilgoe points out, is seen through a distorted lens. For example,  there used to be fewer trees growing near curbs because of fire hazards etc. so maybe what we’re trying to create is a past that never existed. I think we often recreate the past in the present better than what it was, it's like trying to get it right the second time around, sort of like what the 90s was to the 60s...

Science is catching up to art

| 05 August, 2013 17:32

Stigoe makes the point on page 13 of his book Outside Lies Magic that “visual education suffered from the burgeoning of newspapers and magazines and dime-novels”. Every kind of technology changes our culture and obviously in very big ways. He might as well made the point that the Guttenberg press eradicated beautiful handmade books and bibles, or that handmade books and bibles eliminated the memorization of those very things as a somewhat common practice. Technology is change.  People pine for simple more 'analog' (if you will) times but we are no doubt being re-informed all the time by our technology and always have been. How many of us have grown up looking at our environment through the television and now the Internet, which is just a smarter more intelligent television (thankfully so). Its (technology's) effects are everywhere from the neo-individualism we profess to the lack of reading skills that has resulted from its proliferation. Therefore, I’d have to say that our natural environment today is most often perceived through peering out of a window in a car or through a flat screen TV or computer monitor. The car is one step less removed than having feet on the ground, but nonetheless, it has removed us from the ground and sent us careening into the wilderness to a certain point then we watch the rest on TV or a website, OK, some of us camp out, not many in the true wilds though. Finally, the artist observes and reacts, replicates and recreates and unlike the scientist, is not utilitarian, unless she wants to be. Therein is probably the only difference; the scientist, through ideas and experiment, develops utilities; while the artist develops ideas through experiment and utilities. The implications are as they have always been, art can go beyond science because it does not have to adhere as much to the physical world, though without a doubt, science is catching up.

Map maker make me a map...

| 05 August, 2013 17:27

The last map I made was when I was  teaching  at Tomoka Corrections a few years ago.  A couple of my students told me they didn’t know where they were. Well, they knew they were in prison in Volusia County but had no idea the prison's physical location relative to major landmarks like the Atlantic Ocean, or Interstate 95, or US 92. They didn’t know where the road would take them if they were to drive down the road the prison was on  or which way to turn to go to Daytona or Deland, or even where those cities actually were relative to where they were.  You see prisoners are moved around a lot in the system and are transported many times in the evening after sunset. Most are miles from their families or home towns and, because we’re talking about  Florida, many are not even from here so their sense of place is really limited to begin with. Add to that a ban on being able to read maps and you get some pretty disoriented people. It made me realize how something as simple as a map (conceptually speaking) is so taken for granted. Of course one should know while prisoners are allowed certain things it’s up to the sole discretion of the warden what a prisoner is allowed to read, and I was told that maps were off limits, especially detailed local maps. Anyway, I guess I could have gotten in trouble doing so but was never told I couldn’t; I mean I never signed an “I promise not to draw any maps” waiver. So the guys asked me to draw them a  map and I drew a simple map of where the prison was located, the road it was on, and how it lead out to another road which if you take a left you go to a park and to the right you go out to US 92 which runs east and west. The guys were really pleased to know how close they were to the beach, which is about five miles  due east on US 92 from the prison. They were also stoked to know that to the north of them was a county reserve/park that went on for miles and miles.  As simple and visually staid as it was I think the map helped them travel in their minds to some place other than where they were...a park or a beach I suppose.

Attracted to shiny objects

| 02 June, 2013 11:38

Playful-Constructive Behavior

| 02 June, 2013 11:33

 

The Afghan Millenia Mall

| 02 June, 2013 11:19

I had Google Earth fly over to the mountains of Afghanistan and then back to the Mall at  Millenia in Orlando, and then I  super-imposed the mall onto the Afghan landscape. Is this what is really happening in the world of late, are we (the USA) not trying to ultimately force  this part of the east to come out of the stone age and into the present and become one with the west and its love affair with consumer culture?   Or am I simplifying too much here? Anyway, nice spot for a mall. 

 

Hallowed Ground and the Confederate Flag

| 02 June, 2013 11:05

I was inspired to rekindle my curiosity and interest in a building about a half mile south from my house on A1A. It’s now a concession stand for the Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park, but in the fifties and early sixties  this is where people of African heritage came to enjoy the beach, or should I say, where they were “allowed” to go to the beach...and the building was a sort of night club/restaurant.

Prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act people of African heritage would be arrested or at least escorted from the beaches of Volusia County by sheriffs or  by the Daytona Beach police. Around the late 1940s Mary McLeod Bethune, who is one of the founders of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona, purchased the land where the park is and created a sanctuary for people that were bearing the brunt of the pre-civil rights era segregation brutalities and narrow-mindedness. At that time this part of the Volusia County beach was very remote and far from much of anything. I have read and heard that back in the day  that this concession stand was one of the partying-est places on the planet. No one bothered anyone way down here. Houses started to spring up around the park and the beach became known as Bethune Beach, of which it still is. The home owners were mostly all of African American ancestry, and it was truly a refuge for people that sorely need one.  

Bethune Beach was pretty remote in the 60s and 70s and then in the late seventies developers came in and started buying the land for a song. My father bought a place here in the mid-eighties (where I now live)  and by that time there were no longer for the most part any original families left. Now it’s pretty much an all white place, and some pretty pricey places too. The park is there and while there is a sign that reads "Mary McCleod Bethune Beach Park," there is no plaque that commemorates the reason it came to be. There is no mention of all the great things Mary McLeod Bethune did as she was an incredible woman, civil rights activist and educator.

After I walked around the park trying to find something that mentioned the important history of this spot I decided to go across the street to the famous JB’s Fish Camp. Now JB’s is the place everyone goes to that comes down this way. It’s where the bikers ride to when they come to town, the go-to place to have the heightened Florida cracker experience. When I came back to this area in 2001, after years of living in other parts of Florida, the country and the world, I was writing some freelance articles for a local rag and decided to write about the irony of JB’s flying a confederate flag across from the hallowed ground that is now Mary Mcleod Bethune Beach Park. The article actually inspired  or shamed ol' JB to take the flag down. Even though I only live a short bicycle ride from the place, I really never go there. I did today and when I looked around much to my dismay the confederate flag is once again displayed as an emblem on a license plate tacked to the front of their stage...tacky to say the least. 

Paying attention

| 02 June, 2013 10:58

Stigloe discusses seeing things most don’t see or if they do they don’t consider what they see in any meaningful way.  If contemporary art training has contributed or given anything to the individual or the world it has, in its most basic sense, encouraged the “seeing” of everything. The irony is we (most of us anyway)  have eyes but we don’t really use them as well as we could, as Stigloe so well points out at every turn of the page.  Stigloe  also references  seeing results of changes that occur  that are brought on by mostly economic shifts or inventions like the train or the interstate highway system.  Sometimes, (maybe most times)  the changes are so slow we don’t realize them  or know they were ever any different. These kinds of changes are important because  if we forget why things “change”, or never even consider why things are the way they are (good or bad), we’re likely to repeat serious mistakes...of which we always seem to  do.

When I was a kid and at the age where I was allowed to go far from the immediate neighborhood and travel by bike or by long hikes down roads I only rode down as a passenger in a car, I remember being truly amazed at what I missed when riding in a car. I still do that though I don’t go on long bike rides as much anymore. What I love are simple visuals that occur from dark shadows on crisp sunlight days, or silhouettes of my hand held up to light.  On a larger scale, I notice too how so many little towns in Florida have more nicely groomed  palm trees and shrubs than they did when I was a kid before all the urban beatification projects were spawned from federal monies in the 1990s.  I notice (the last 10 years maybe) all the big pick up trucks with the little Calivin stickers peeing on whatever it is and wonder why it’s so popular...(maybe there should be a Calvin peeing on a smaller Calvin). Mostly I notice free thought and expression being taken over by crude and belligerent people that seem to want the freedom to just be crude and belligerent…you know  “rebels without a clue”…or if there is a cause, it’s inevitably favoring the powers that  be (conspicuous wealth mongers)  when rebels used to be for the little guys getting a piece of the pie.   

Paying attention is really what Stigloe’s “magic” is about and that is what I try to convey to any student I am asked to teach… I stand in front of them and I say “pay attention to the magic”! Not really those exact words, but maybe I’ll start.

 

Hard to believe

| 02 June, 2013 09:44

Probation offenses are one of the biggest reasons we have the largest prison population in the world. My student aide, who recently got out of prison, did about 15 years for a crime he commited when he was about 18 that involved the use of a fire-arm. Initially, he got out after 15 years. He told me he was 5 minutes late to his probation meeting and they put him in for another 7 years. I know... I tell people this and hardly anyone believes me, but I was working with him for a year and I don't think he was telling me a story because my research has lead me to believe this kind of stuff is true.  These tactics have been recently reviewed here in Florida and they are scaling back throwing people back in prison for non-violent  probation violations  as a way to cut back on tax payer expense.  Another thing at the root of keeping all these people in prison is that once they have been in for so long many fear they are no longer capable of making it on the outside. It's hard enough without a prison record for someone to make a living etc., that is one reason I am leaning toward advocating the establishment of technology based graphics and desktop publishing  education in a vocational curriculum.  

This is Shawn Griffith's (my former student aid at Tomoka Corrections) self published book...http://crimemagazine.com/category/authors/shawn-griffith

What needs to be investigated & revealed

| 02 June, 2013 09:40

I had read The Pedagogy of the Oppressed years ago and recently stumbled upon it again and re-reading it, I realized its significance to what I am trying to do in regard to advocating for art education in prison. Friere,  in many ways,  is a descendent of Dewey in terms of advocating education reform.  This book covers  many of the ideas we’ve touch on in the various classes I have taken in this program in regard to  multicultural education, teaching for social justice, and learning theories that include using what the student knows. These are all ideas that Friere stresses in  this very influential and seminal work on pedagogy. These are areas too that I would like to address with my  research as the prisoner is perhaps the most oppressed and marginalized in our society today. Friere’s concern for the poor is at the root of his work and at the root of the prison incarceration epidemic is an education deficit which more time than not is also an issue of economics. It is scholars like Friere that I find vindicating in that they dare say what needs to be said and revealed and they  compel me to do the same or at least try.

Freire, P.  (1968). The pedagogy of the oppressed. NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Breaking Into Prison

| 02 June, 2013 01:26

The process has lead me to actually change my objective slightly. What I keep coming back to is the fact that there seems to be some to a good amount of resistance to art education in the prison systems, especially if it is coming through any type of state funding. Therefore, my research literature review is called; Breaking Into Prison: Overcoming the Barriers to Art Curriculum in Prisons. 

There are barriers; mostly financial and philosophical,  and they need to be broken. Financial barriers are pretty obvious, no one wants to spend the money or channel what money they have into art programs. My research tells me that vocational training is big in prison and education administrators are more prone to course work along these lines, so I am thinking about vocational oriented graphics programs like Photoshop training etc. Philosophically speaking,  the other barrier is many feel prison is for punishment so why should we let the prisoners have the respite of making art or even educating themselves?    
 
I still have not given up on the idea of creating a video one act performance of a conversation I had with one of my students. Upon discussion with Dr. Delacruz, I need to soften the approach and not have it come off as too much of an indictment of the prison administrators, as the bottom line is they are all just trying to do a job…but one cannot deny that very horrendous things happen there (prison).
 
Here is a vdeo I made based on a converstaion I had with one of my students, it's called Life.
 
This past weekend I also met a person I went to middle through high school with  who I haven't seen in years that has a successful networking/hardware configuration company. We discussed creating an intranet (an Intranet is like a mini Internet whereby the administrator has control over all the content that is accessed) system that will hold coursework. My findings and my experience are telling me too that prisoners with Internet access is something that will probably not happen, too many potential breaches.
 
 

No one is "one" thing

| 02 June, 2013 01:10

Maybe it's not the labeling as much as it's the "label". My contention (and many others) is that all children/people have been given gifts so how can we use the word  for some and not others? It seems labeling some learners as "gifted" is exclusionary, or at the very least, risks having an exclusionary connotation.
 
There is a lot of study of late about how intelligence and IQ can change, so maybe some people get the "gift" later. Why too do we have to use a wordlike "gift" which we associate mostly with hings like  preferential treatment and material wealth? Frankly, I am surprised it's still used. I am glad it makes some learners and their parents feel better, I think that's really important and really why I question its use as I see too many kids that are not given any label other than perhaps negative ones. These children more often than not  feel marginalized because they get ignored. Often this is the reason many so-called non-gifted students end up dropping out of school. I've also read where more gifted kids come from affluent homes...now I need to back that up with a citation, I'll get back to you.
 
(I wrote this late in another post in A term but I think expresses some ideas too about labels)
 
Also,  I know there does need to be a way to define certain things/traits/proclivities or ailments individuals posess, however, I think labels can many times be self-fulfilling prophecies that can back-fire in so many ways. Even psychological labels can be destructive. Someone very close to me was diagnosed at a very young age as schizophrenic and I know for a fact it made them worse. I had a good friend too who had the label put on them at an early age, and the same thing, it freaked them out and had a negative affect on their persona. What I think people  saddled with problems attributed to schizophrenia actualy are suffering from is really hyper sensitivity,  which sounds so less threatening. I would remind her when she became anxious about her "label" that she was just a very sensitive person, so sensitive in fact that she picked up on audio that few people do and that's why she heard voices.  I know it made her feel a lot better. Anyway, I digress, but labels are too confining, too closed...no one is one thing. 

Looks like another brainstorm alright...

| 02 June, 2013 01:05

In his essay,  We Are What We Ask (1996), Bolin cites Alan Gowans, author of The Unchanging Arts (1971) when Gowan asks, “What kinds of things have been done by that activity traditionally called Art?” (Bolin, p. 8). This alone frees one up to consider so many things.

Prisons are microcosms of an inhumanity still taking place today that arguably harks back to medieval times and I am inclined (having worked in prison as a teacher), to try revealing this to the public and education peers through research. One cannot help but know (I think)  that people needing to express themselves, especially when they have been refused so much, e.g. prisoners, can find art liberating and an incredible release. I would like to document that notion as art being able help people in adverse circumstances, especially people in prison. More research like this is most likely something  that we need more of in our profession as according to Kerry Freedman, art education is   "remarkably under-theorized” (Freedman, 99). 

Kerry Freedman also states; “it is important to remember that research in art education is about both art and social science” (Freedman, p. 99). I agree with this statement and wonder if art education is to survive that it becomes more of a social study or maybe art needs to be included in the language arts. Freedman tells us “research is a type of social service” (Freedman, p. 100) so hopefully my questions will lead to answers, or more considerations, that could possibly help someone somewhere. She also talks about needing to question things like “standards” “institutional programming” “student assessment” and “technology” (Freedman, p. 100) all things my questions are concerned with.

Which brings me to the fact that I taught in the Adult Education College at Daytona State College as an adjunct, (I still have a substitute status there). The adult education area of our education system is really curious to me as there is absolutely no art education in the adult education colleges even considered in Florida as far as I know, and I wonder why.  Adult education is also rife with the labeling of students, as is K-12, and I wonder how much damage or good the labeling of students as learning disabled, gifted, or with mental disabilities, is  doing? There are also "standard" ways of testing and timing them I wonder about, who sets the length of time a student gets to have to take a test? I’d like to know more.

Finally, bias in questioning is what Blythe (2001) has us consider, and that’s a hard one for me. I reread my questions and feel comfortable that they are ones I have had for along tim about art, education, and art education, and not loaded or too bias. The fact that I would ask a question about art in prisons to some might mean I think prisoners are deserving of things that aren’t punitive, and that alone I guess could be interpreted as bias on my part. Nonetheless,  I will still try to ask questions in such a way that requires a lucid answer. If the answer is that prisoners don’t deserve anything good or inspiring, then there are still questions that should be be asked in a Socratic way to get to the core. Ultimately we need to require answers that are backed with empirical data if they are to support, in this case, the punitive and degradation of fellow humans over treating people with dignity and respect.

In order to find answers to my questions I would go right to the source, e.g. prison, adult colleges, and education policy makers to begin my research. As far as researching the efficacy of art as a social study, I think that would probably entail more conventional research of studies and findings on the subject that have already been done, but more brainstorming may come up with an "observational" study I may be able to do.

Simple answers to what are perceived as complex questions are hard to come up with. So in the end maybe keeping the questions simple is important. Maybe we can never find or come up with an answer, only more questions and at the end of the day I have to agree with Paul Bolin when he says "we are what we ask" (1996), wouldn't you agree?

References
 
Blythe, S. (2001). On asking productive research questions. Retrieved from http://users.ipfw.edu/blythes/teach/quest.htm
 
Bolin, P. (1996). We are what we ask. Art Education, 49(5), 6-10. 
 
Freedman, K. J. (2004). Becoming a researcher in art education: Forming research questions. Studies in Art Education, 45(2), 99-101. 

 

 

 
 

 
 
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