I’ve been thinking

As I said last night much here to talk about, right now it is raining ferociously, and I am happily listening and thinking of my pages dissolving away and plotting gleeful things for their reincarnated remains, this was a truly inspirational project to change our hearts towards the weather’s capriciousness! Seth you are a genius as well as being an incredible inspiration and a conduit for our creativity, again, many thanks…

Even though I haven’t had much time to blog lately, I have still been reading, they will have to pry a book from my cold dead hands no doubt! Not as prolifically as usual, but this book, Distracted by Maggie Jackson has really turned those rusty cogs. I have been thinking a lot about attention and how it relates to art. This was the serious post I have been trying to formulate for a while now. What I am thinking is that I see a restlessness in many of my students, they can’t focus through a whole studio class. I tell them that I envy them 3 hrs of drawing time, a chance to bliss-out, and they look at me like I’m crazy (well I am a little, but…) with a few exceptions they can’t concentrate that long. After reading the book I wondered if the media driven culture we live in has something to do with their attention span? I don’t want to beat up on a generation following behind, after all that generation includes my own children, but I don’t think that the kind of divided attention that is normal to them is conducive to the depth that art making requires. At the same time I was also reading a collection of  essays by Robert Hughes, (Nothing if not critical) and I felt the same reverberations of attention and time. It made me wonder if I should just stop making art altogether, because when you spend hundreds of hours colouring a monolith of paper by hand, you at least hope for a few minutes of undivided attention for its message. I took my students to a gallery, because now I was curious to see them look at art, most raced around the room then stood looking bored in a cluster by the door.  Now I don’t know about any of you but a whole room full of art is often overwhelming for me, I can’t really take in all those pieces at once, maybe 3 or 4 before I get overloaded, but then again, I can’t read the ticker and listen to the newscaster at the same time either, so maybe the deficit lies in me! So now I am wondering about our divided attention, about this age of distraction, and what it means for art making and art seeing. Just wondering, what do you think? …

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8 thoughts on “I’ve been thinking

  1. interesting post…i guess i’m wondering how old are the students for one. and two…i think it is easier to concentrate when you aren’t with others, so maybe asking people to concentrate in an environment with (i assume) fluorescent lights and not maybe on each of their own individual ‘on’ times (like expecting everyone to be hungry for dinner at the same time is silly) varies…you have the morning person and the night person etc. i think a classroom is an exceedingly challenging place to expect concentration.

    i personally cannot concentrate long on art. i dash in and out of my art room and i’ve come to accept that there is nothing wrong with that. and when looking at art, to stand there and think you are supposed to just BE with it for minutes or hours is not practical. if you owned it you would have it on the wall and hopefully enjoy blips of it over and over and that is when those 100’s of hours you put into something will be assimilated. if something takes forever to make and we dont feel like it is appreciated then we are doing it for the wrong reasons. we do it because we want to, not for how others will respond. right? you make me think about my puzzle stuff i make. it takes FOREVER to do and yet people usually give it 1 min. or two, like they do any other piece hanging in the gallery. i can’t fault them for it, if they enjoy it thats wonderful, if they dont it doesn’t matter if it took 2 hours or 2 years.

  2. I totally fight all the time to have enough attention (or really, to push distraction out of the way) for making art or working on projects. the internet is totally a huge distraction source for me, I shouldn’t even be looking at it right now! I try to live with the distraction & let myself leave the drawing desk when I need to, follow my instincts when it is time to run out of the room and go outside, take a bike ride… as opposed to being nose-to-the-grindstone. new understandings will come from things I see and think about when I’m distracted…

    in terms of the school environment & the difficulties inherent in its space, this article showed up a couple of months ago in the new york times, about a teacher who had designed desks that the students had the option to stand or sit at:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/us/25desks.html

    (hopefully that link works!)… when the students could wiggle around, shift their weight and posture, and move their legs while working, they could also give a lot more sustained attention to the class material. apparently they are getting the desks mass-manufactured and other school districts have already ordered them!

  3. Yep, my teaching environment is fluorescent and Paula you are absolutely right about “on” times, but I guess I was thinking about how they are always two places at once, texting and drawing or listening to their music and chatting and texting and drawing. I let them take as many breaks as they need, and they are free to work in what ever position (sitting/standing) they prefer, but I still don’t see much focus. I have talked often here about how I work well in short bursts because I have spent years having to work around other people’s schedules, but I can totally zone out for days on a project given the opportunity! I imagine when both of you are working you are really concentrating on what you are doing. I guess the level of distraction I am talking about is maybe more to do with an ability to focus on one thing at a time, you know undivided attention. I talked with one of my classes about texting in particular, to me it seems rude to be talking with one person and texting several others at the same time but its a facet of their lives now, that instantaneous access to everyone all the time, and even though many of them said they thought it was rude, and didn’t like it when others did it, they all admitted that they do it. Its like being always available is addictive, and I see how it cuts into their ability to concentrate on their work… oh maybe I am just old and whiny, moving on….

  4. I don’t actually know anything about your students i.e. ages, intended qualifications etc. but I was just wondering about their commitment and motivation prior to entering art classes, art education with you. I think there’s still a tendency for some students to see art as a ‘soft’ or easy option or choice. One that does not demand the same discipline, for example, as ‘academic’ subjects. Frustrating!

  5. thanks for explaining more…i must not have been paying full attention (hahahaha) . seriously, i guess i’m so far removed from being around people who are doing all that (texting etc) I didn’t stop to think about it. i usually have a lot of ideas going on at once and rarely give anything my full attention. i think it is impossible to know why this is…i wasn’t brought up on video games etc. ~ didn’t even get a computer until 2002. I think genetics plays a big role, i was born anxious and nervous and always had a hard time paying attention, i get so bored so easily and my mind only catches what stands out. I would like to think that people who aren’t ‘paying attention’ are super intelligent either that or we have holes in our brains and can only handle so much.

    i think the important thing to remember is, people have their own ways of learning and of ‘getting’ something. who are we to say they should pay more attention. if someone is interested in something they will certainly follow that vein more so than someone who isn’t. i think a 3 hour class (is it really?) is a long time. No matter how fascinating YOU are 🙂 I can see how you would be annoyed though by students texting etc. is it possible to insist they turn everything off when in your class? do you have music they like playing….something to keep that brain entertained without them disappearing through a phone?

    and i agree with lesley, i remember in high school taking art just to not have to do anything ~ and i didn’t. I skipped that class all the time.

  6. Thought provoking post. I think that growing up in the world today is so very different then it had been and practically requires kids to be unable to focus and sustain concentration. There is so much going on, so many constant changes in the world, and such an infinite and immediately accessible range of options. With all the electronic options available…voice mail has already become an old school dinosaur. Soon enough Twitter will be passe (or is it already)!

    On a lighter note…thanks so much for your generous thoughts and feedback!!

  7. so I teach college level foundation classes for mostly art majors, I do occasionally get a non-major in my drawing class, but only a few… so these should be motivated students. I do think that there is a perception that art is a soft class/major even amongst art majors. Yes Paula they are 3 hour studio classes, so I’m not talking all that time, we’re mostly working on making art, in fact I try not to lecture whenever possible!! I am NOT that interesting!!! Maybe I am the weird one, I can literally forget to eat when I am working in the studio, let alone sleep etc!! As to the phone thing, I tell them no phones but I have no way to enforce that short of docking their grades, which I have thought about doing and I know other lecturers do that. Its about courtesy and most of them don’t seem to be able to break away from being constantly connected to their friends. I guess I am a tad anti social maybe? Thanks everyone for your feedback, now I have even more food for thought. maybe some of you can suggest ways for me to make that 3 hr class more palatable for people qwho aren’t me!!

  8. So many interesting comments, so many truths.

    Yes, I think the younger generations do have a shorter attention span. I also think many, if not most, have different feelings about art.

    Much of today’s art seems so entertainment oriented. A trip to a museum is seen as a couple hours of entertainment. Nothing wrong with that on the surface. Better that than selling crack on the street corner. Art is too often now a “cool” painting, or a “cool” sculpture. Looked at briefly then forgotten. Who goes to a museum anymore to look at art and connect it to the time in which it was created. What connects the work to the culture of the time? Why was it created? There are many more questions that an art major would be able to come up with.

    My point is that, for many, a work is just, well, eye candy. A museum is a candy shop. Let’s gorge, have fun, and move on to the next activity.

    I have spent a great deal of time lately surfing art blogs and viewing art on Etsy and Ebay. While there is fantastic work out there, there has been a deluge of work that has obviously taken little time to create with little thought behind it. And it sells.

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