NAEA President's Column: Feb/Mar 2022

NAEA News Feb/Mar 2022

The columns for this issue of NAEA News were written prior to the 2022 National Convention. As such, you may find information about Convention sessions and references to past occurrences in the future tense.

It’s My Birthday, and I’ll Write if I Want To

2021 was a very difficult year — so many losses. But December 28 was my birthday, and I wanted to write. I didn’t have a plan for this new bit of writing, and perhaps that’s the best way to exit 2021 and enter 2022 as another December 28 comes and goes. Without clinging to the usual guide rails. Without aiming.

Instead, I began my next trip around the sun by improvising. Enjoying the ride. After all, I’ve built up some momentum in 59 years and I believe in the path I’ve etched out. After all, where the ride is taking me are places I’ve already been.

I don’t usually write this way, but I’ve already been a writer most of my life—and I’ve learned that when the right words are needed right here, right now, they tend to fall into place from somewhere else. From some prior thought or unanticipated glimpse ahead. From some serendipitous observation, or overheard conversation, or unforeseen collision between contrary ideas that catapults ambiguous language up into the sunlight to pirouette in slow motion, over an attenuated pause, and land imperfectly in place. One turn of a phrase at a time, right here, right now, right into the sentence that needs the next word.

I don’t usually write this way, but I’ve already been an artist most of my life—and I’m used to figuring out the next assembly of meaning when the chaos laid across the table, the colors within my grasp, and the awful blank stretch of the canvas before me all conspire to scream silence. When I don’t know the next mark to make or the next scrap to tear away and discard, until I suddenly do.

I don’t usually write this way, but I’ve already been a teacher most of my life—and I’m familiar with patiently watching and waiting for the best in people to blossom and emerge. I’m used to opening up sandboxes full of good things to play with, and I’m comfortable leaving behind my best ideas for others to deconstruct and take with them as resources for their individual journeys. But I’m also happy when folks arrive at a common destination in their own time, bringing into our community the stuff they’ve gathered along the way as they wandered and learned the landscape for our mutual benefit. I don’t usually write this way, but I’ve already been a singer most of my life, singing in gospel bands, on Sunday praise and worship teams, as a member of Grammy Award–winning choirs — but mostly to myself as I replay original soundtracks and lyrics streaming on demand atop a platform of memories more than half a century old. These are a network of stories to live by that I’ve long been able to cue up with pitch-perfect precision, stories that historically rev up the batteries that tie human beings together in one common voice, proclaiming to the next generation that we were here. We write the songs “that make the whole world sing” one refrain at a time for the same reason I started this new bit of uncharted writing on a cold winter morning. Because it is still human to give and receive.

These are the places I’ve already been to. And these are also the places I’ll be going to once more. Every page that comes next will be an adaptation, and that’s all right with me. Have a productive 2022, fellow art + design educators!! I’ll keep on improvising. You do the same. This is the way.

Column by:

James Haywood Rolling, Jr.

James Haywood Rolling, Jr., NAEA President
Professor of Art Education, College of Visual and Performing Arts,
Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

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