Precursor to "Doorways and Openings"

This body of work represents a dialog between myself and the intangible: lost hope, wonder, uncertainty, and things beyond our understanding. They were created from a visceral place of knowing and unknowing. The finished pieces were mounted on plexiglass, fabricated with special mounts on the back to make them float off the walls. Without any barrier of frame or matt or glass between viewer and art, they are meant to engage the viewer in the immediacy of the unfolding visual dialog.

From this body, "Doorways and Openings" emerged. From torn and organic edges to straight edges and sepia, I am not sure at this point where it is headed.

I will keep wandering...






Doorways and Openings

This body of work is still in progress. An evolution of the body of 54 pieces I created in 2007 following a Peter London Workshop (Drawing Closer to Nature), it has been on indefinite hold as life took some crazy twists and turns. The grounding elements are present here, however, and I will add more as they arise...

Wanderings: On Teaching

I am a wanderer, bringing with me the artistic inspirations and colorful cultural influences of the numerous places I have lived. From Fargo, North Dakota, my birth state and home for half my life, to Seoul, Korea, where I learned the language and culture of my heritage, to many years of art-making in the hot summers and edgy diversity of Atlanta, and throughout various cities in the northeast, I find myself now immersed in the quirky charm of Baltimore, where the Center for Art Education has become home.

In the Master of Arts in Teaching program and the Young People’s Studios at MICA, I have found a beautifully reciprocal setting in which my work with young artists helps inform what I share with teachers-in-training, and I, in turn, am inspired by new practices and philosophies that can be tried immediately in the classroom. The art classroom is a wonderful vehicle through which meaningful connections are made, not just in dialog with art, but with life in general. As a sustaining ingredient for life, art offers a venue for expression and creativity unlike any other. And over time, I have discovered that teaching offers the same sort of essential venue, one in which personal experiences, in conjunction with new ideas on meaningful teaching practice, are the source from which new revelations and teaching styles emerge. Teaching is taking a journey while concurrently guiding others, our students, along their personal paths. That journey, for each individual, can be inspiring, beautiful, extraordinary, innovative, full of endless possibilities, but also difficult, challenging, and unpredictable. Most importantly, each journey is unique.

Art educators have the beautiful yet daunting task of encouraging students, through art, to find and articulate their own voices.

With emerging teachers who are learning the ‘art of teaching’, I try to achieve an analogous goal, by helping them find their own voices, and by doing so, teach passionately to who they are. By upholding a firm philosophy of living, with joy and passion, and by espousing a firm integrity in teaching, we, as artist-educators, can create a bit of magic in the classroom.

My teaching is, of course, deeply informed and influenced by personal explorations in art. In 1993, while still an undergraduate on the arboretum campus of Haverford College, I started exploring the immense beauty and complexity of trees using pen & ink as an intricate mark-making tool. I found trees to be such singular and beautiful living things, changing always, with the seasons, with the light, filtered though one’s eyes. They convey so much in their silent beauty. Rather than creating whole trees, I explored sections of trees, creating a vast array of panels that, together, made a cohesive whole. The trees that have evolved and grown out of my own life journey have become metaphors for what I, as an art educator, encounter each day in the classroom. Since then, my work has evolved into something much more spare, elemental, and spontaneous (see Doorways and Openings). That work, and the manifestation of seeking, finding, wondering, continues. What the tree panels and new panels have in common is a sense of cohesion as a body, while each panel upholds a presence of its own.

Like my art panels, each retaining a compositional integrity of their own while contributing to a much larger whole, students are singular creatures, having unique traits and passions, while existing also in ever-changing combination with others. That intangible mix of energies and passions helps create that magical environment—the art classroom. I strive to reconcile those ‘intangibles’ in teaching with authentic and meaningful teaching practice.

I am still meandering through this artistic journey of creating and teaching, as both rejuvenate and inspire me at every turn.

Nan has been a faculty member with MICA's Master of Arts in Teaching program since 2004. As Coordinator of Student Teaching, she develops partnerships with a diverse array of educational agencies, oversees the placement of art education students in their internships, and mentors students as they enter the professional world of teaching. In her MAT undergraduate and graduate courses, she has been exploring ways to use visual and metaphorical thinking to deepen inquiry and build community within the classroom.

Now in her 20th year of teaching, Nan has been an art educator in a diverse array of settings, from museums to public classrooms, and from early childhood art through adult. She has taught high school and middle school art in upstate New York and Baltimore, and a variety of studio courses, K-12, for the Young Peoples Studios at MICA. As Director of the YPS program from 2005-2013, she oversaw the growth of a large summer studio program, hired a growing staff of interns and instructors, and restructured YPS's curricular offerings, budget, and logistics.

Nan received a BA in Fine Arts from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and graduated summa cum laude with an MS in Art Education from Syracuse University. In addition to being an artist and art educator, Nan has been a curriculum writer, a presenter at state and national conferences, a distance running coach, a computer technology teacher/graphics teacher, a runner/marathoner, and writer.

Noticing (2013)

Three years ago, I wrote a chapter of my life in a little story ("What the Wind Told Me").

Jonah was two.

Now he is five.

Where did the years go.

He is away for the longest he has ever been away from me. I have not heard the words "Umma, Umma" (Mommy, Mommy in Korean) for what feels like much too long.

For me, time for mental space plus the absence of Jonah's huge presence have been utterly disorienting.  My perception and reality (which inevitably go hand in hand) are unfocused, hazy, confused.  And yet, with patience, this time is slowly bringing focus to things that have happened so gradually, I have failed to notice them.

This summer therefore has been about taking time to notice.  Or rather, NOTICE (an epiphany of this magnitude deserves caps and italics)!

The first thing I NOTICED: The silence is LOUD.  Within it, there are potential doors to anger, bitterness, regret, heartache, yearning.

There are also potential doors to joy, gratitude, freedom, acceptance, and sometimes the hardest of all, forgiveness.  The latter are always open, yet sometimes hard to keep open.  The concurrence of Jonah's absence with having real summer-time for the first time in over a decade has provided the catalyst for a shift in my vision.  During this unfettered time, I have been stepping my foot into each of these doorways.  It is necessary, in order to close some and re-open others.

I believe we all, humans, have these choices before us, always.  I think what matters is not so much that we find the right path or doorway, but that we are seeking.  The process of seeking is where and how we grow.  I believe both beautiful and not-so-beautiful doors must exist, in order to give credence to the ones we actually step through, same as one must know suffering or lack, in order to truly enjoy abundance.  The beautiful and the difficult exist together and present countless choices and ways of being.  And yet....our ambient environments become invisible in the rush of life, and it takes effort to really see it. 

The simple act of noticing takes intention and time.  Here are more things I've noticed:

Since the last time I wrote, Jonah has grown immensely in language, empathy, curiosity.  His eyelashes are impossibly long, and his sweetness is incredibly deep.  The endless I-feel-like-a-broken-record teachings that felt so exhausting are paying off:  My child is sweetly earnest, he makes eye contact with sincerity, he greets people when he arrives and when he leaves (meaning, he acknowledges and respects those around him), he says please, thank you, and excuse me and means it, he understands the importance of being truthful, he feels true remorse when he hurts someone and sadness when he sees someone being hurt, he shares his toys and treats and food generously without prompting because he delights in seeing how the other person reacts.  While being typically self-focused and lost-in-the-moment as 5-year-olds are, his circle of influence and his circle of awareness are growing ever outward.  It is a beautiful thing to notice.


His actions reflect his tender heart:  he filled my bed with hearts and ribbons and tucked his favorite orange bear under my chin when I was sick (imagine waking to that),

he asks regularly why we can't be together all the time when I go to work and he goes to school, he is indignant when he witnesses a child hurting another child.  He frowns when he witnesses injustice and asks why it is happening.  And he is hilarious:  he is incapable of walking without skips and jumps, he can eat a whole adult-sized Chipotle burrito despite being 40 lbs, he wants to wear a batman shirt with a velcro cape every. single. day.

While simply being Jonah, he takes up a huge amount of space, time, and energy in my world.  I didn't realize to what extent until he was gone.  What I realized today is that slowly, those concrete signs of a vast shifting of priorities and energies that occurred when I became a mother--the signs of aging in everything around the house, the tangle of weeds in the yard, the absent garden, the makeshift spaces--are disappearing.  In their place, my house is becoming a home again.  In making that happen, I am becoming a person again, outside of being a mother.  It is a step.  It only takes one step to begin.

I have been thinking endlessly about Jonah and all that he is/is becoming, in relation to all that I am/am becoming.  And here is something I have learned lately: It is very easy to feel, when there is actually time to think and BE, that one is not doing enough.  That something should be moved forward, that projects should be created or completed, that lists should be tackled, that 'something of consequence' should be accomplished, that hours and days should be filled with productivity.  The question that has been bubbling up lately is simply this:  But why?  Why should those things be accomplished?  Why is it so easy to feel some strange external pressure to be doing something that one is not doing?  And why is 'something of consequence' defined somewhere outside of me?  

My accomplishment the other day was to sleep in.

Another day it was to dust off some art and get out some journals.

I have decided those are absolutely 'something of consequence'.

Woah!  WOAH!  

I can define my own something(s) of consequence.

Here are other things I have figured out (and have been doing) so far:

For a time, read only other-worldly stories like Murakami and Vonnegut and the Graceling series and dystopian stories with female heroines and leave the teetering pile of professional texts untouched, without guilt.  Let your mind imagine things it would not have imagined on its own.

Picture those crazy scenarios, and then dream of faraway places and the vastness of choices allowed to us, if only we give ourselves permission to entertain them as choices.

Once established as choices, commit to something.  Then do it.

Wander around flower-filled places first thing in the morning and remove the finished blossoms to make space for new ones.  Or do the equivalent of this in a different venue. 

Cut flowers you would normally pass by without seeing, and put them in vases indoors.  Moving life around brings life to spaces and fresh focus to all that is ephemeral.  Things that are ephemeral bring to attention all that is precious.  And the things that are precious are ephemeral.  Knowing all of this feeds a deep sense of gratitude.

Exert daily to the point of exhaustion and least for a small amount of time.  Running connects me to the earth, to breath, to air, to sun, to rain, and to the life of my body.  It forces me to feel the importance of breath, to rely on strength, to love life and the act of living, to cherish my health.  What connects you?

Shed tears.  Crying is not a sign of weakness or vulnerability, but of strength.  It takes courage to release real tears and fortitude to understand them.

Something you are, or said, or did, has influenced me profoundly.  We are often the sum of the people we surround ourselves with, all of whom have something to teach.  Above all, lately I have NOTICED the true meaning of selflessness and unconditional love, both by living these the best I can, and by being the recipient of these by amazing souls.

Today I am choosing to be full of gratitude, for life, for motherhood, for Jonah, and YOU.

What have you noticed lately?

What the Wind Told Me (2010)

It was one of those days when, like me, the wind didn't know which way it was blowing. Directionless, wandering, meandering here and there, not settling anywhere, not feeling grounded, not knowing where to go next. In these moments of uncertainty, I have learned to abide by a rule a dear friend once told me, and which has been strangely useful many times since then: When you don't know what to do, do nothing. The spirit of this sentiment is that instead of acting on emotion or on impulse, doing nothing in a period of uncertainty simply allows one to be, to ponder, to reflect, to think. From that process of slowing down, an answer that resonates usually emerges. "Doing nothing" is a euphemism for 'listening deeply" which can look like doing nothing, but can mean everything.

So I simply stopped and watched the wind. I have always loved that you can't actually see the wind itself because it is invisible, yet it is so present and real because we can feel it and see what it does to the world around us. That notion seems true of many things; that we become aware of intangible things only because of that thing's palpable influence on something else. On these directionless days, the wind shifts this way, then that way, and the trees look like they are dancing. In my mind, therefore, I danced with the trees. What the wind told me this beautiful, blustery day, is that it takes mindfulness to notice such things. And once noticed, an intention is needed to align it with my present frame of mind and direction, and in doing so, move with more purpose through the world.

I realized today that I have been carrying a load that, though invisible, is weighing me down. I've been carrying a blanket of sorrow wrapped around me, and it colors everything I see. I keep trying to shed it, and it is so damn stubborn. For nearly 3 years now, I have been on my own. Strange, that. Seamlessly from home to college to roommates to grad school to over a decade of marriage, I have never lived alone as an adult. Until now. Add to living on my own a young child, for whom I feel an enormous sense of love and protectiveness, and the result is a feeling of great responsibility and immense vulnerability.

I looked at Jonah the other day, really looked at him, and felt deeply the fleeting nature of time because (gasp) he is about to be two. Two! When did that happen? While coping through legal battles and the newness of motherhood, single-motherhood, then motherhood as a full-time educator, the days became a continuous succession of things-to-do, with the next day leading to the next, and an urgency to the days that left little time for pondering the future much. I have learned that this is not a bad thing; out of necessity almost, I have lived the present fully--it is impossible not to do that with a young child around, discovering everything for the first time.

Today I looked around me, and while for months I only saw Jonah--his spirit, his toys, his books, his joyfulness--in this moment, my vision shifted. The wind today blew the immediacy of Jonah away, momentarily, and other things came into focus: peeling paint, empty garden, absent violets, sagging gutters. I saw these things not as signs of neglect, but rather, as a reminder that I am one person in this world, focusing on, thinking about, and pouring energy into different things than I once did. What happened to the multiple books left face-down on the last page read? The art supplies in mid-use? The concurrent journals? My once blooming crowd of African violets, propagated over so many years from single leaves of endless varieties, now just a memory, though I like the idea that they still live on in the homes of special people. The absence of things that were once such an integral part of my daily life makes me wonder who I am now. I look at myself now and see: a mother, a joyful one. And within 'mother' I am looking for myself, not the person I used to be, but the person I am becoming.

The wind and our ability to know its existence only through how it changes, affects, and moves the things it interacts with seem an apt metaphor for individuals and how we are, all, products of the human interactions that make up our daily living. We begin to know our own existence and purpose through engaging with the collective. Wind does not exist in a vacuum; neither do we. As I age, things and the nurturing or acquiring of things become less and less important, and people, more and more precious. The wind today therefore reminded me to take notice of how and why I have arrived where I am today. I felt ever more aware of the palpable existence of invisible forces, arising from the collective energy of good people--like the wind, powerful.

So here is my humble effort to express an intention I am setting forth:
When I look at all that has transpired in the past three years, I feel more than ever, that I (and Jonah) are products of the people we surround ourselves with. I wish to express my gratitude to the people who have given of themselves in ways they might not even realize. Both Jonah and I have been sustained and buoyed up by a network of people who have, unlike the directionless wind blowing today, given guidance during what felt like an enormously directionless time. During the past few years, therefore, while mothering and teaching, I have also been creating my next body of work, all currently in my head. A combination of gesture, elemental marks, and text, this work will be a continuation of my most recent series, "Doorways and Openings". I have long thought that I want to more fully express my thankfulness to those around me. And that to do so, with authenticity and invested time, will be a way to truly open a door to a new beginning.

In my mind, I have been writing letters of gratitude to you.