Posts Tagged ‘painting’

Trajectories of Learning

Posted on: September 13th, 2020 by jmbroekman 2 Comments
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The path to learning

I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with my friend, Julia, about the trajectory of learning. Almost twenty-five years ago Julia founded The Penobscot School, a non-profit language school in Rockland, Maine. During the summer, they invited people from all around the world to come study English in an immersive environment, while during the winter they brought native French, Spanish, Italian speakers to teach Americans.

At one point during an Italian immersion she described the trajectory of learning she had witnessed at the school. It didn’t matter if the class was one day, or three weeks, the pattern was the same. Students began with a high level of enthusiasm and excitement but about mid-way through each class, regardless of duration, the energy waned, and participants began to get discouraged and seemingly unable to absorb anything new. In each case, though, they made it through the lull, came back up the other side, and by the end of the class they were again full of zest and passion for language learning.

Learning to find my joy

I experienced something similar while taking Louise Fletcher’s on-line painting course called “Find Your Joy” (which I wrote a little about in my last post). There were definitely moments early in the course where I was finding joy. But somewhere around week 6 I wasn’t getting anywhere; I wasn’t enjoying myself, and I just couldn’t “get it”. I had hit a wall.

And then, just as quickly as I came up against my familiar blocks and barriers, once we were into the 8th week they melted away, and I was back up and running on the path of learning.

Until.

Yup, just as the course is winding down, I hit another speed bump. Louise released her last video at the end of this week. In it she shared her process reviewing a series paintings. Initially after seeing this video I had one of those light-bulb aha moments. Then that moment morphed into a point of departure down a rabbit hole of despair.

The “trick” that Louise shared was looking at b/w photos of her work. When I turned snapshots of the work I’ve done over the last ten weeks into monochrome versions of themselves … UGH. All I saw was a bunch of grey mush; there was very little of interest in terms of contrast to help move your eye around the painting. I had to ask myself if for all these years of making art I’d been relying too heavily on my love of and facility with color at the expense of all else.

It felt like I was suddenly back at square one and that I’d wasted the past forty years and all those ten plus thousand hours of work in my studio. But here’s the beauty of on-line learning, when I expressed some of these concerns in the “classroom” Louise responded with: Do you see how black and white this thinking is? Good point.

Velocity of learning

I’ve seen one definition of a learning curve as the rate at which a person progresses in gaining experience or new skills.

Maybe I can look at all those mushy grey photos as an exciting discovery – something new to explore and learn. Maybe there is still time for me to sing my song at the top of my lungs. The opera that is my life is not yet over. So now I need to figure out how to embrace the ever changing velocity of my own sometimes steep learning curve.

(At left are images from weeks 2, 5, and 9)

Adopting a Growth Mindset

Posted on: July 10th, 2020 by jmbroekman
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Developing a Growth Mindset

I am recalibrating my vocabulary and learing to turn the word failure into the phrase ‘not yet’. I recently heard a TED Talk by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in which she talked about a school in Chicago, where the grading system was “pass/not yet”. There is no failing grade. The result of this simple change is that the students are developing a growth rather than a fixed mindset. With a growth mindset comes curiosity and the willingness to try again, or explore a different approach. With a fixed mindset, you decide you aren’t good at something and don’t even try to improve. The students at this school are developing a growth mindset, they don’t give up easily and are thus more engaged in their learning.

Dweck (who wrote Mindset about this concept) posits that your mindset actually changes what you strive for and how you define success and failure. Maria Popova of Brainpickings, wrote a great piece about thisif you’d like to learn more.

Not Yet

I have that mindset when I am making books – I make a lot of not-yets along the way to the final successful book. I’m not bothered by the wrong turns, I learn something each time. Somehow with my paintings I have a much harder time. The not yet stages always feel like complete and utter failures; which in turn sends me down a rabbit hole of despair. I am trying to learn to trust all those not yet stages. To that end I’ve enrolled in a ten-week painting course with Louise Fletcher – an artist in the UK. It started this week, and already it’s opening up my mind to a lot of possibilities. She is showing me many ways I need to change my mindset. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m ready to try.

The images above are 3 stages of a painting that is clearly still a not-yet. Initially it was a quick oil sketch of some early spring flowers. It was light and airy, maybe OK. But something inside me said, nah, not yet. The last image is the most recent iteration – and it was a response to an exercise from the class this week. I’m pretty sure it’s still a not-yet painting.

But for the first time in a long time, I’m OK with that.

Interpreting the Silence

Posted on: July 17th, 2019 by jmbroekman
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What We KEep

Save the date: Thursday, September 12, 2019

My solo exhibition, Interpreting the Silence, opens September 12, 2019 at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland, Maine.

I will be showing one-of-a-kind artists books, and mixed media paintings that explore my family’s survival of the Holocaust, their immigration to the United States, and the effects of this legacy on my life. Though neither of my parents was willing to talk about their wartime experiences, that period in their lives obviously left a lasting imprint –– not only on who they became, but also on the children they raised. Who were my parents? Who might they have been had the war not interrupted their lives? This past winter I found myself trying to unravel some of the threads of their history.

The Work

Using facsimiles of writing, photos, and other ephemera, I created a matrix of original monoprints. Prints which were then torn, folded, and bound in myriad ways. The books are meditative –– not your typical turn-one-page-at-a-time kind of books. They are sculptural objects that serve as containers in which to hold these stories. Rather than being specifically illustrative, they are evocative of the journeys we take from one moment to the next.

This body of work also reflects a broader theme that I have been investigating for decades — how each of us is shaped not only by our own experiences and the memories we hold, but also by the experiences and memories of our ancestors.  I am interested in how these narratives are passed from one generation to the next –– not always in obvious, but often significant, ways. Examining these individual formative stories is certainly as relevant today as ever given current mass human migrations across the planet.

Initially the plan for this exhibition was to tell my family’s stories of surviving the Holocaust. That idea, however, evolved into an exploration of the intersection between past and present, and the unintended consequences of keeping secrets. Making these books and paintings cracked a Pandora’s vase spilling out more questions than answers. Perhaps I will always be trying to interpret the silences of my childhood.

Photo Album

Curiosity

Posted on: March 4th, 2018 by jmbroekman 2 Comments
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Curiosity: a strong desire to know or learn something

I had to look up curiosity to figure out how to spell it. I never thought of it as a “strong desire”, but more of well, just being open. My curiosity was peaked recently when this piece (at left), which had been on my painting wall a long time, caught my eye. Why then, and not three weeks ago? Obviously at one time it had interested me enough to put it up there. When I put it on the wall, it was with the intention to do something else to it. This is often the case – something catches my eye, I put it on the wall, and then it waits. At some point I see it with a fresh set of eyes, and figure out what it needs. Either that, or I just go on the attack.

So I am curious about what it is that catches my attention when it does, and why. I don’t know if curiosity killed any cats, but I do know that it continues to drive me forward. Which leads me to the conclusion that I need to keep the curiosity channels wide open. Maybe the world would be a better place in general if we could all do that. Just be curious.

Learning To Loosen My Grip

Posted on: August 21st, 2017 by jmbroekman 4 Comments
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Above and at right are snapshots of the studio painting wall with a few of the small 4″ x 6″ oil sketches done on the note card flat-backs. For more of the sunflowers, click here!.

Learning to loosen my dog-with-a-bone grip on everything.

It is a battle of internal wills. My procrastinator side has been winning these last few weeks, but I’m hopeful that today, finally, the get-it-done side will prevail. The procrastinator within has had some good arguments: why do I need to do this post anyway? do you really think anyone is going to read it and be helped by it? it’s summer, there are so many better ways to spend your time. The list goes on. But in truth, I need to formulate some ideas for the possibility of having to give an artist’s talk on Great Cranberry Island next month. I’d like to be better prepared than I felt I was last year to make a public presentation.

So maybe this will be the start of a few fast and furious posts, on a blog that has been long neglected. Or at least, maybe I will finally get this one posted. Which, if you are actually reading this, will prove to be the case!

Learning to loosen my grip and getting it right – two sides of the same coin

This may very well be a continuation of the “getting it right” post from earlier this year. Learning to loosen my ironclad grip on trying to get it right. Loosen my grip on the pencil, the bow, the neck of the cello. Cello lessons applied in the studio. Trying to relax that illusory hold on controlling the world at large.

In the past few weeks in an effort to loosen my grip, I’ve been making small quick oil sketch paintings on leftover note card flat backs. The waste-not-want-queen is alive and well; as is the Avis girl. It’s the latter that I am attempting to put on a train to elsewhere. She’s the one who can’t give up trying harder. Holding on with all her might. Using leftover scrap materials (the flat-backs that go in the packs of note cards to describe what’s in the pack), is my way of making a stab at caring less. It’s decidedly not-beautiful paper, so who cares if what I put down works or can be called a painting with a capital P? Inevitably this is what I need – an attitude of “so what”. It’s the attitude that frees up space in my head so that courage and curiosity have a void to fill. I take bigger chances; allowing myself to just go for it with abandon––loosen the grip on what I think it should be, what I want it to look like. Finally let it be whatever it wants to be. Using scrap materials, crummy paper, pushes me to be quick, loose and decisive, and most importantly not so labored. It is about letting go of all that tightly held effort.

Now maybe I can go out and enjoy some of the rest of the summer!

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