Finding My “Element”

When I was in college I was a painter and also an art ed major.  I felt like I did a pretty good job of balancing both; in fact, at that time I felt more like an artist and much less like a teacher.  I only took one education class at a time versus the 4 studio and art history classes I was taking each semester.  The creativity and the ideas of the people surrounding me was constant motivation and inspiration for new work.  Little did I know that when I got out into the teaching world things would change.

I was surprised by the demands of the teaching world, especially as a first and second year teacher.  I stayed late every night and planned lessons all weekend.  There wasn’t time for much of anything other than teaching, planning and grading.  Now entering my seventh year of teaching things have gotten noticeably “easier” and I’m finding that I’ve got more time in my day.  The extra time, however, leaves me wanting.  I still feel as though I’m missing something.  For the longest time I just haven’t been able to quite put my finger on it.  I thought that teaching art (which is an extremely rewarding and exciting job) was my thing and that it would be enough to get my art “fix”.

 I’m currently reading The Element, by Ken Robinson for a class I’m taking through The Art of Education.  Robinson’s conversational style invites you to begin questioning whether or not you have found your “Element” or even know what it is.  Through numerous stories of successful and talented people, including dancers, artists, and mathematicians who’ve found their own “Element” despite diversity, Robinson inspires you to look deeper and reflect on your own talents and how they are being used in the work you do.  The book has truly proved to be thought provoking, motivating and revealing.  In working towards discovering my own”Element” I have found that although I’m working in a field where I’m immersed in art and art making, I’m only focused on the work of others.


For 6 years, these paintings have sat untouched in their plastic wrap traveling only from one basement to another.  I haven’t touched my easel, oil paints and canvases since I left college.  Part of it was due to the loss of my “tribe”, what Ken Robinson uses to describe the people who share your “Element” and give you validation and inspiration.  Another reason for my reluctance was simply the amount of time that had passed since I’d last painted and the excuses I’d made for myself not to get started.

So, with inspiration from Ken Robinson and support from my new “tribe” on AOE, I’ve made the commitment to get going, follow my heart, and find my “Element”.  I pulled out my easel, rummaged around and found all of my paints and got to work.  I chose to create a portrait of my dog (yes, cheesy I know, but it seemed less intimidating and I needed that!) as my first leap into becoming a painter again.

As I painted I felt the familiar feeling of getting into “the zone” or what I usually call my Right Brain.  I relished the smell of the oil paints and recalled memories of working in the studio.  Robinson stated, “activities we love fill us with energy even when we are physically exhausted”.  Surprisingly, I painted until 3 in the morning and felt as though I could have stayed up till 6!  The painting is not finished yet and neither is my journey.  I hope to continue to find balance in being both teacher and artist.


Posted on July 16, 2011, in Creativity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I haven’t read The Element yet but hope to…at least before summer ends! It reminds me that it may be a little bit on the order of the author Matthew Kelly, a spiritual writer. Much of his writing tends to be focusing on “the best version of ourselves”. That “best version of ourself is found not only in our talents, work, relationships, etc. but all working and balancing together. I find balance outside of the classroom by spending time cooking, reading (and more reading!), my own personal art and my spiritual life.

    I also use the same “best version of yourself” philosophy when I teach. I strive to have my students want to achieve that goal.

    • Cathy-
      If you ever get the chance, you really should read this book! It really set me on fire! I’ve never heard of Matthew Kelly but would be interested in learning more – I like the idea of the “best version of yourself” and can see how that could be used in the classroom with students. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Dear Cathy,
    Its very nice book…the element boost my iconoclascic attitude…..finding ourself is really important…..if u get a time watch movie called IN TO THE WILD…….u will like it….

  3. Hello,
    I’m a syndicated cartoonist, creating “Slylock Fox and Comics for Kids” strips for over 25 years, I’ve been including a child’s drawing in the feature every week for nearly the entire run of the comic. I enjoy giving youngsters a place to shine, be inspired and instill enthusiasm for drawing. I recently launched a site that allows me to display and comment on many more of the submissions I receive. I’m trying to provide an online gallery where kids can be proud to share their creations. Hope you’ll take a peek —

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