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Cleansing the Palette - June 2009

 Message from Deborah B. Reeve, EdD, Executive Director

Tell me if you recall this: a father and his son are driving in the mountains on a stormy summer day and, skidding on the rain-slicked surface, their car runs off the road. The father is only shaken up, but the son is badly hurt, and an ambulance rushes them to a local emergency room. In the ER, the boy is prepped with great urgency. But after a quick look at the patient, the doctor who had just come in says, “I can’t treat this boy; he’s my son.”

If you recognize this story, you may remember that it was making the rounds 30-40 years ago as a gender-sensitivity exercise for men; the storyteller would end the story with the question, “Who is the doctor?” and many were flummoxed by the question because they had a hard time imagining that the doctor was a woman and thus the mother of the boy.

Preconceptions are often an intellectual trap—blinders that can be hard to take off, even for people working in a creative profession with a mandate to “see dangerously.” We all have our very own ways of thinking, our firmly held opinions … our comfort zones and perhaps a rut or two.

That said, I’d like you to consider the title of this book: The Everyday Work of Art. What does that title mean to you? Take a moment and think about it. I can wait…

Most people seeing that title for the first time might think it’s about lay artists or art for the masses: artworks from IKEA, not MoMA. But the author, Eric Booth, had much bigger fish to fry and he consciously chose that title for its double entendre. You see, “everyday” isn’t modifying the compound noun “work of art”; it’s modifying the simple noun “work.”

And that, in a roundabout way, is the subject of this issue’s Palette: what IS the “everyday work” of art? As observers and creators of “capital A” art, we may be inspired or enlightened or awed … or angered or bored or perplexed. But Eric Booth’s intent—and mine—is to propose that art plays a multi-faceted role in our own lives and those of our students that goes far beyond helping to develop our aesthetic.

The book’s subtitle gives you Eric Booth’s spin. He sees the everyday work of art as “awakening the extraordinary in your daily life.” In the context of art education, the value of an artistic perspective is the ability it gives people to look at everyday life through different eyes. To see beyond the literal. To find the uncommon in the commonplace. And pragmatically, to approach problem-solving—and even the mundaneness of errand-running and meeting-participation and conversations in the check-out line—with a more nuanced and creative sensibility.

I could, of course, go on at length about the lessons we can draw from this book— just the very thought that our lives are, in themselves, works of art that we create afresh each day is a lovely and joyful concept. But there’s a nice little juxtaposition I’d like to hone in on here: as art educators, we usually think of art as something that we and our students work on or work with.

But what if we flip that thought on its head. What if, instead, we looked at how art works on us, outside of that creative aesthetic-building? To some degree, this gets at the whole “studio thinking” concept, but I want to dig even deeper than how our brains work. The “everyday work” of art is not just its influence on how we think, but on how we see. How do we think our perspective on life, and our daily path through it, has been changed by our life in art? What do we see in a child’s smile, for instance? Is it merely the innate joy of being a child? Was there a proximate cause for that smile? Or does that smile say something more to us—the role of a smile in nature, perhaps, or in human society?

There is no right or wrong answer here, obviously. My point is that how we perceive that child’s smile could be influenced by our study of anthropology or social psychology—but it is absolutely influenced by our life in art. Art becomes a framing device for how we experience life, for how life appears to us, for how we respond to the stimuli in our life.

At least, that’s the way I see it. But as I alluded in the April NAEA News, I want to know how you see it. I want to know how art influences the way you see your life—as an individual, as a professional art educator. How do you see art “working” on you? How does art influence the way you take in, and respond to, the experiences in your life?

My engaging you is, in part, my desire to explore another channel for the free exchange of ideas. Another part of it is my desire to continue our transformation of the NAEA culture to one of catalyst and enabler for your hopes and dreams and agendas—and to do that well, I need to hear from each of you and drink in the full scope of the opportunities that lie before us.

As part of the ongoing development of our NAEA virtual community of practice, we’re creating the mechanism for transforming thoughts, ideas, and conversations. I invite you to post your own responses to the questions at

And then, as long as we’re looking at outside influences, and since our Annual Convention is now behind us—I want to know how the Convention, arguably one of NAEA’s greatest works of art, has worked on you. I am a HUGE believer in the power of community, of cross-pollination, of bumping up against the boundaries of our disciplines and philosophies and biases when we mingle among a diversity of disciplines and philosophies and biases—and we had record participation across all our divisions, regions, and issue groups. Besides, speakers like Eric Jensen—who presented a neuroscientific perspective on how the arts broadly configure and optimize our human “operating system,” thus doing more than any core subject to enhance a student’s ability to learn all subjects—directly supported the eloquent arguments of Eric Booth. And artists Kay WalkingStick, Judy Chicago, and Mark Duncan told their own unique stories of how art influences the way they see their lives. Visit the Resource Library in the Research & Knowledge section of for multi-mediahighlights and speaker videos.

Yes, we are living at a moment of great change and transformation across all dimensions of our society. It is a time for us to find new ways to communicate and advocate and educate—both ourselves and our students—and the nation at-large. It is a time for us to fully manifest the “everyday work of art” in all that we do.

P.S. And while we are on the subject of creating new channels for communication, please check out the “Leadership Lens” on the website: Click “View complete message from NAEA Executive Director Deborah Reeve” at Toward ever greater transparency, it is a recent feature we’ve added to provide you more insight into the work of your professional association and the opportunities we are creating for you to work more productively and advocate more effectively in your schools and communities.

Deborah B. Reeve, EdD, NAEA Executive Director
NAEA, 1916 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1590

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"Arts Education for the Whole Child"