Friday, January 15, 2010

The Queen Shares A Day With King

My friend Jennifer made me this fabulous crown, which I am planning to don for much of the day today...because once in awhile a girl deserves to be Queen! And today's my day.

But after forty-plus years of celebrating this day, I prefer to celebrate someone else. Someone who actually DESERVES a crown. Martin Luther King.

Aside from the fact that sharing my birthday with King gives me an automatic 3-day weekend every year, I am in awe of the vision, courage and power of this great man. I spent some time poring over his famous I Have A Dream speech this week, and realize we have come such a long way...yet we still have a long way to go.

My students created this portrait of Dr. King in December. And tonight they won first place in an exhibit honoring the civil rights movement. I love the way it turned out, and I love the meaning hidden within the constraints of the assignment. It's called Judge My Value, Not My Color.

Each student was given a 2” square grayscale image and assigned to create a stand-alone abstract painting. They were given total freedom of expression in terms of style, technique and color. The only constraints were size (the final image had to be an 8” square) and value (the final piece had to match the values of the supplied image).

The students were not told that these pieces were part of a single image, let alone a portrait of a historical figure. To them, the squares appeared to be small, abstract value studies.

Many students struggled with the abstraction. They didn’t know how to handle so much freedom. They wanted something tangible, concrete. But with some introspection they began to realize that the concepts they’d been taught throughout the semester (color relationships, value, contrast, rhythm, luminosity) applied without having to represent anything recognizable.

This is our result. Upon assembling the finished squares, we discovered that -- despite all the differing styles, colors, and approaches -- there was a strong sense of unity. The result is a visual “symphony of brotherhood” and visual proof that when our focus is on VALUE rather than COLOR, the image comes through with even greater vibrancy.

We learned that the greater the diversity, the freer the individual expression...the stronger and more dynamic the whole. Most important, we learned, as Dr. King so eloquently stated, that we were “able to work struggle together...that we will [succeed] one day.”

I also included one of my portraits, begun as a class demonstration and finished later in the studio:

This is a portrait of Ruth Gooden. We were roommates at an art workshop several years ago. Although she was learning to paint for the first time, she seemed perfectly comfortable painting in a roomful of professionals! She is one of the most authentic, inspiring and radiant people I have ever met. She has hiked the 2000-mile Appalachian Trail not once, but TWICE, and says the best part of the trail was all the people she met. She dresses impeccably, tells wonderful stories, is joyful and engaging, and makes a friend of everyone who surrounds her.

In this portrait the hat casts a shadow on her face, symbolizing the darkness of segregation and injustice that was likely a part of her growing-up years. But this portrait is not about that shadow. It is about the light that reaches her smile, about the way a human soul has triumphed and flourished and outshone the injustice in its path.

I have chosen to include this portrait because Ruth embodies the realization of Martin Luther King’s dream. She is respected, loved, admired. She is judged by the content of her character rather than the color of her skin. Her sense of self is unshakable. In every sense of the word, I believe Ruth is free. And I hope to be that free myself someday.


Happy Mom said...

LOVE the MLK work!! Absolutely should have won the award!!

I also love teachers who are good at their craft and can teach it to my children along with some life lessons.

You go girl!

Luann said...

That mosaic is amazing, and made even better by the metaphor that your students learned along the way to it's completion.

And your portrait of Ruth...
I am sitting her moved to tears by the light on (and from) her smile. Wonderful!

Luisa Perkins said...


I love the MLK piece. LOVE. Is it for sale?

Both portraits of Ruth--the painting and the paragraphs--are lovely and inspiring. Thanks for giving me a gift on your day!

MommyJ said...

Happy Birthday to you!

I love to read Martin Luther King's speech... it never fails to move me.

The art work is beautiful... what an amazing process and such an incredible result!

Heather of the EO said...

This is all so amazing, lady! I love the portraits. So much. I love the thoughts behind them too.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! I'm so very glad you were born.

Kazzy said...

I am soooo glad to know you. I should call your dad today and thank him!

And congrats to your students, and to you, for the great artistic tribute to MLK Jr. So cool!

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

You ARE a queen!

Both of the portraits are so beautiful, and their stories, too.

Naomi Pugmire said...

Again a master at work in the classroom! Incredible. Should we celebrate your birthday at Gepettos tonight? !!!

Kimberly said...

I'm in awe. Truly. But I feel content to be lacking in words, as your own have so well articulated my thoughts (as you so often do!).

Love you so much and hope your day is a wonderful one!

Kristina P. said...

Love that crown. Happy birthday!

I called a car repair place to see if they are open Monday. The guy said, "Oh, yeah. It's a nothing day as far as I'm concerned."

That made me a little sad.

Jenny P. said...

How awesome is that?! You're so cool. Happy Birthday! Hey, the Illustrators Utah show opens at the Bountiful Davis Art Center tonight. In talking to the organizers last week they're hoping to get more involvement from UVU in 2011 so hopefully the word will get out sooner next time. It's a great opportunity to get to see some original work from great illustrators. Don Weller, Robert Barrett, Greg Newbold. So pass the word along to your students. Awesome crown!

L.T. Elliot said...

Bravo, Charrette! This is a beautiful post filled with not only beautiful paintings but beautiful words.

Justin said...

Beautiful work--and Happy birthday!

Jennifer said...

You look so dang adorable. Happy Birthday. I remember one of your B-days in CA when we went hiking with a really fun group. Nat and I just love you and have so many great memories with you and Jeff and hope to make many more. As always, your gift of words to us amazes me.

deb said...

Happy Birthday, fellow January baby!!

and that was so inspiring, as are all your words.
The student's portrait is phenomenal. You must be so proud.

Love the painting of Ruth , and the way you added light to her with your story.

Whatever you share, is so worth waiting for.

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Sandy M. said...

Hi Jana! And Happy (Belated) Birthday! I hope it really was a good one for you. You've made me think that I really do need to read a biography about M.L.King. I know an outline of his life and activities, but should learn more.
I find the topic of racism interesting, but confusing too sometimes, and often frustrating. I think it may partly be because of the cultural differences between Australia and America. I don't understand enough about the American experiences to comment too much on the issues that the States' deal with, but you do seem to have a different 'take' on it there.
At the risk of being mis-understood myself, this is partly my own attitude toward racism:
My own definition of racism is that one believes that an individual is better, or worse, as a person, by virtue of their colour or culture. By that definition I consider myself not in the least bit racist.
But I have no problem with noting the difference between colours and cultures. Indeed, it annoys me when people try to ignore the differences, as if they don't exist, or as if there is a problem with there being differences. Number one - because they do exist. And number two, because: what is so horrible about people being different that we have to pretend it isn't so? What is wrong with noting that some people have skin that is black, with hair that is wooly, while mine is white(ish) and my hair is straighter(ish)? Pretending that it isn't so seems to indicate that acknowledging such things is offensive on some level.. to someone.. for some reason? And I don't acknowledge that. Why can't you say 'negro' any more but you can say 'caucasian'. Because one is more acceptable than the other? Why should it be? To me that is just crazy, and I resist it, as a belief and as a practice.
It done seem passing strange...