Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Teacher Reflects on Collaboration

Dr. Joyce Trafton, Art Educator, Bitz Intermediate School, Camp Lejeune, NC

Last evening, I had the privilege of attending the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Educator Expo: Collaboration across Subjects at the Jacksonville Country Club.


Using their unique experiences, a panel of speakers including filmmaker Kenny Dalsheimer, retired president of Onslow Chamber of Commerce Mona Padrick, and NCSU Assistant Professor of Art and Design Mark Russo and moderator Michelle Burrows, A+ Schools Program Director, added many insights into the essential role that collaboration plays in the workplace and must play in our schools.  The four break-out sessions further supported the role of collaboration and art integration. Besides just solving problems, collaborative efforts can be made to find problems that need solving. All panelists agreed that for art integration and collaboration to be successful in schools, it has to be a collaborative effort by administrators and teachers to establish such an environment.

There was additional discussion about whether it was essential to arrive at a successful product using the collaborative process or whether the process was more important than the product. In education and in business, I have found that ultimately, a product must be created through process revisitation and adjustment or an individual or team will become frustrated. Furthermore, the business world needs both hard and soft product results in order to create economic success for themselves and our country. The Engineering Design Process (EDP)…ask, imagine, plan, and create…has at its core product realization however circuitous the process.  Transforming the imagined into reality is seldom a straight shot.

The collaborative process is sometimes a “slow lane” said Mark Russo, particularly if individuals have seldom been involved in collaboration. First, participants must develop effective communication and interpersonal skills for the process to be successful.  In America’s culture of independence and self-reliance, it is sometimes difficult to get diverse individuals to be tolerant of one another’s ideas and their approaches to problem resolution. Thus, collaboration often requires training so that, ultimately, everyone’s “story” is respected.


Recently, as my students and I constructed a concrete alligator bench outdoors, it was evident that many disciplines overlapped, that art was a connection among the disciplines, and that collaboration was essential. Especially shocking to students were the significant roles of mathematics and science for enabling the success of the sculpture.  As we continue to design and build our STEAM focused project–a 9-hole putt-putt golf course–we are actually creating a relief sculpture laid out on the ground with each hole offering additional opportunities for creative sculptural ideas. The golf course will require collaboration not only among teachers and students, but also with our military community and professionals, who have the expertise we need to construct a successful course. We will indeed be in the slow lane as we find and resolve endless problems throughout the EDP process. However, we will create a product based on multiple disciplines for our students to enjoy.

As I continue to watch students participate in the STEAM/EDP process, I cannot help but wonder about the roles of work and play.  Westerners often create a dichotomy of seemingly opposite words, when in fact, they are complimentary terms. How many times have you heard: “Quit playing and get to work” as though they are opposites? The Okinawan language, Uchinaguchi, has a word, agi-ryu, which means the land of the sea. The land and the sea are not separate–they complement one another; they become one another.  Play can be defined as engagement in enjoyable activities just for the sake of amusement or competition. On the other hand, work is an activity requiring strength and ability to do or perform something suggesting foundational knowledge. Consider that when work and play merge, creative possibilities are endless because the process is challenging and enjoyable empowering and motivating individuals and teams to be highly productive. Metaphorically speaking, work-play is the land of the sea—flexible and stabile, divergent and convergent, creative and analytical, as well as challenging and enjoyable.

The collaborative process with integration of the arts blends nicely with STEAM and the Engineering Design Process and is a dynamic way to impact America’s economic well-being.

Timecapsule #2: Vera Lutter, “Frankfurt Airport, V: April 19, 2001”

By Camille Tewell, Teacher Programs Manager, The Big Picture

Patience. Do you have it–for yourself, for your students? Is it something with which you struggle?

Artist Vera Lutter knows about patience and its rewards. Take a look at her massive, three-part photograph, Frankfurt Airport, V: April 19, 2001:

Lutter, Frankfurt Airport V, April 19, 2001, 2004_5

How massive? It’s nearly 7 feet tall and 14 feet wide altogether. Blow it up on your screen. Imagine what it might be like to stand in front of this work in the galleries.

The size and format of this photograph are difficult to ignore. Why is it so large, and why is it tripartite?

Perhaps the artist took a picture with a digital camera, blew it up, and cut it into three sections? Perhaps, if you really like this picture (and if you have a budget for purchasing works of art), you could contact Lutter and have her make a copy of Frankfurt Airport, V: April 19, 2001 for your home?

No and no. Our Lutter photograph is one of a kind, not enlarged, and made not with a digital camera but with the oldest and simplest type of camera out there—a pinhole camera, also known as a camera obscura. We have one at the Museum, nestled in the Park woods:

Drury, Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, CP23184B-04

In essence, a camera obscura is a darkened space with a hole to admit light. Through the hole comes the image, projected onto whatever is opposite the hole. It’s really that simple.

Artist Chris Drury calls his camera obscura in our Park a Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky. The trees and sky above the structure are channeled through a simple opening at the top and projected upside-down upon its floor:

Drury, Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky (SL23176-01), in

Place a large piece of photographic paper on the floor of this structure on a sunny day. Be patient—leave it there for several hours. In doing so you would mimic, in part, Vera Lutter’s process for creating the photograph Frankfurt Airport, V: April 19, 2001. Areas of light would show up in degrees of gray and black; dark portions such as the shadows of trees and leaves would develop in lighter tones. The movement of branches in the wind would show up in your photograph as passages of blurry mystery.

Lutter transformed a basic shipping container at Frankfurt Airport into a camera obscura to create an image of a single day—April 19, 2001. Not a snapshot of a moment, not an image caught in an instant—but a layering of the movement and stability of humans and objects in the airport terminal over several hours. Her quiet, watchful camera missed nothing happening within its line of sight on April 19, 2001 (how could it?), yet the resulting image reveals less than it obscures. You might say the picture seems more fantasy than fact, despite bearing a record of all that her camera “saw” and despite being unedited.

Consider how different this picture would be if it were taken with a 35-mm film camera, a digital SLR, or a cell phone camera. What does Lutter’s technique and resulting photograph reveal to us that these other means of photography may or may not (about ourselves, the world around us, and the passage of time)? Why do you think she chose this particular method of capturing an image? How might you connect her subject of the airplane/airport to the passage of time?

Quick subject-area notes related to Frankfurt Airport, V: April 19, 2001 and Time:

ELA – literary vs. visual means of showing the passage of time; predicting what happened before or what happens next; telling a story through images or time-lapse video

Social Studies –technological advances in transportation and its global impact

Visual Arts – history of photography; impact of technology on creative processes

This is the second installment of Timecapsules, a micro-post series on the Big Picture concept of Time. Don’t miss our upcoming special exhibition exploring this theme through a variety of media, 0 to 60: The Experience of Time through Contemporary Art.

Workshop Reflection

By Michaela Hafley, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC

On February 23, I attended the “Visual Literacy and the Common Core” workshop at the NCMA.  I’m an art teacher and I was able to convince my High School English teacher husband to go.  We are always discussing ways to incorporate each other’s subject into our own classroom so we thought it would be a good “educational date”…and it was!

I’ve participated in Art of Collaboration workshops before so I was familiar with Visual Thinking Strategies but I really enjoyed seeing other techniques put into practice.  Seeing an English teacher compare/contrast Thomas Hart Benton’s Spring on the Missouri to Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God helped me see how I can show the Language Arts teachers at my school how to integrate art into their curriculum.  This really does help the student all-around.  I think it makes the work more meaningful when they have lots of different ways in which to learn about it.

I feel the best part of the workshop was seeing the Common Core broken down into its simplest form.  It really made me understand what the teachers are working toward and it helped me see how the “text” of the artwork relates.

My husband and I then got to have lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon in Raleigh.  We had SO many new ideas to try. It was a great “educational date” .

Timecapsule #1: Jennifer Steinkamp, “Mike Kelley”

By Camille Tewell, Teacher Program Manager, The Big Picture

First—can we talk about the title of this piece? Usually I don’t like to start with the title when I discuss works of art with teachers (or with anyone, actually), but maybe let’s go ahead and deal with it. It’s a little confusing, right? I mean, who is the artist here?

This is an awesome work for teachers to be interested in because it is a work of art made by artist Jennifer Steinkamp in honor of her former teacher (also an artist), Mike Kelley. What do you think about the way in which she has honored him?

Steinkamp, Mike Kelley, 2009_14

It might be difficult to answer that question if you haven’t seen this work of art at the Museum. Why? The image above is but a fragment of the actual work of art. Mike Kelley is an eight-minute video loop, projected in large scale on the wall in West Building. The “tree” branches sway and change in response to wind we can’t feel and two-minute pseudo-seasons that take it from the fullness of bloom (as seen above), to fall color, to bare arms, and then to bud and bloom again.

The thing is—the “tree” doesn’t move like any tree you’ve ever seen before. It moves like a sentient being. It writhes. Its tiniest branches expand and contract like tentacles reaching out to feel its surroundings. In the next moment, the entire form spirals tight into a ball of limbs then unwinds in the most unnatural (but beautiful) way. This “tree” is alive but make no mistake—it is not a thing of nature. Check out this video loop (of a different Mike Kelley) from Steinkamp’s website to get a sense of its movement.

Our outdoor sculpture Askew, by artist Roxy Paine—of a “dendroid,” not a tree—draws similar comparisons between manmade and natural things. I guess you could say that we like our artificial tree-like forms here at the Museum.

Paine, Askew, 2009_10

You could easily use either of these works to start a conversation about technology and art, man vs. nature, etc. (all important teaching threads)—but let’s go back to the title, Mike Kelley. By giving her work of art this title, Jennifer Steinkamp asks us to redirect our thinking.

Mike Kelley, as work of art, plows through “seasons” and “years” in record time through a digital form that can never die. Unlike our paintings on canvas, Steinkamp’s medium will not disintegrate or fade over time. The influence of her teacher, and his memory (he died in 2012), can live forever in the digital code of her animation. Yet to absorb her work of art in full, as viewers we are forced to sit or stand for eight minutes, which seems rather like a long time in comparison with the pace of today’s world. What does it mean to last forever? How long is “long”? What happens when we (as viewers, as people) slow down and pay close attention to the world around us?

Quick subject-area notes related to Mike Kelley and Time:

Science – lifecycles; nature vs. technology (then vs. now)

ELA – predicting what happens next; telling a story through images or time-lapse video

Dance – using movement and body forms to suggest natural cycles, personalities, or mood




This is the first installment of Timecapsules, a micro-post series on the Big Picture concept of Time. Don’t miss our upcoming special exhibition exploring this theme through a variety of media, 0 to 60: The Experience of Time through Contemporary Art.