NAEA, Moore College, inspiring and being inspired

This has been an intense couple of weeks with visits, travels, and presentations. I write this from New Orleans, where I am presenting papers at NAEA, the National Art Education Association Convention. Last weekend I was in Philadelphia at the Moore College of Art and Design, attending the opening reception for their student-teachers' exhibition. I was a guest-speaker at Moore College a few months ago, where I got to teach a group of enthusiastic and talented young students; and it was great to be back and see where they are taking the artistic explorations we worked on together. Not only that, but I got to see how my friend and colleague Amanda Newman-Godfrey coached her student-teachers in using QR codes in their exhibition, in a somewhat similar way to the way I did in last year's RGC art exhibition.

NAEA is a big convention, very well attended by many art educators. It's where I get to see many friends who fly in from all over the country, and it is always exciting to hear what everyone is working on. There's many sessions to attend, and much catching up to do over drinks, dinners, and music - it is NOLA after all! It's also an opportunity to attend presentations and learn what other art educators are thinking about and working on, be inspired, get new ideas, and run my own thoughts by my peers. And sometimes it happens that I hear presentations reflecting work that was inspired by conversations that I was a part of during prior NAEA conventions, and get introduced as "the one who inspired me to use QR codes in this way," just like Amanda did last week at Moore College.

This makes me think back to what it means to inspire and be inspired. Not that long ago, in a seminar class where I was presenting my curatorial work in the RGC art exhibition, I was asked that question myself: where do I find inspiration to work each art exhibition differently, to work with my young students the open-ended yet focused way I do, to do my own work? Like my kids, I'm inspired by my experiences of the world and my explorations with materials. But when designing this art exhibition, I mostly inspired by what I hear from my young student-artists. What they tell me in their artworks, their words, their actions, and in so many other ways makes me stop and think how I can portray that in an exhibit that is true to them as a group and individually. Listening helps me understand, learn, and create.

As usual, these wonderings take me back to my students. My toddlers and preschoolers often talk about what inspires them to make art.  More often than not inspiration seems to come out of the materials themselves, of their own lives experienced, and their families and loved ones. Many times, inspiration is drawn from artworks we see and talk about in the many exhibitions we visit together in our on-campus art gallery. And many times too, kids are inspired by their peers and their explorations. Like 5yo P. explains in his artist statement, "I was so inspired by U.'s work, I wanted to work with glass too." I think about the last day of our art exhibition, the last visits and guided tours, and 8yo H.'s take on it. "The best thing is that I inspired another artist to draw his own comics,"  she says as we walk out of the gallery, where her first comic book was exhibited. She had just had a lengthy conversation with 4yo L. who showed her his own artwork. They talked for a bit, exchanged ideas and autographs, and when H. and I left L. was working on his first comic strip on our guest book, right under and over H.'s encouraging comments on his artworks. 

But all the listening eventually leads to making - and I know what D. means when he gets antsy to get to work with materials during gallery visits and says "I'm  very inspired, now let's go down to our studio and make some art." And so I make stuff, and put exhibitions together, and I talk about it in classes, conferences, or with friends over a glass of wine. And just like it happens with my students, sometimes my stuff may even inspire other artists and educators to do their own thing and push ideas a little further. So when I get introduced as "Marta is the one who inspired me to use QR codes with my students in this way" I think H. is right - inspiring others feels just as good as being inspired.