Right Brain, by Don Stewart

Sometimes, this time of year, I get the winter blahs. I feel dull, like my IQ has gone down about 50 points, and my first period students all seem to shuffle into the classroom as if the very light has gone out inside. Suddenly, school feels tiresome, and it seems there is nothing I can do to stop this insidious gray cloud from settling down around all of us, inciting yawns, blank faces, and heavy eyelids all over the room. 

Enter our guest artist, Dr. Don Stewart...."the weirdest guy you'll ever meet...." swinging in on a vine to rescue 187 middle schoolers and this art teacher from the boredom of sameness! 

Dr. Don is an artist, comedian, entrepreneur, author, and medical doctor (yes, he has a medical license!), and he is one of the most generous people I have ever met. It is rare that an established artist chooses to spend time talking to school children, and even more so that he enjoys it! He is a brilliant scientist-artist, a champion for visual art, and extremely adept at using visual communication.  

7th grade student examining "Fast Food," by Don Stewart

Dr. Don Stewart builds big pictures out of little pictures, sometimes taking up to a year to complete a drawing. His art is done with a ballpoint pen, and features brilliant visual puns. He calls himself a "visual humorist," and believes his purpose in life is to make people smile.  

Here is "Cell Phone," which was a big hit with the 7th graders. They have to create a model of cell mitosis in science class. The last phase of mitosis is "telephase." Ha. 

Cell Phone, dsart.com

"I was an artist the whole time and didn't know it, I was an artist at the age of five," he told us. He knew he would not be happy as a doctor; he had the courage to follow his heart. He even wrote a book about it, Past Medical History, which is now required reading for pre-med students at his alma mater, Birmingham Southern College. "(This book is) ... a compilation of short stories chronicling the life of a young man who grew up with the singular goal of becoming a doctor, then quit the day he earned his medical license to make a living as an artist."

In the process of talking non-stop for five hours, Don achieved every teacher's dream; he got 100% engagement from the kids.  He told us stories from his childhood and from medical school. He taught the kids about business, science, and math. At one point that day, he was drawing the chemical arrangement of snowflake atoms on the board. During another class, he was demonstrating the technique of cross-hatching or how a circle changes into an oval depending upon your point of view. 

One of the most poignant lessons Dr. Don taught my students was to value their work:

"If you make a picture that made you smile, you won!" 

"Never throw away your artwork," he told them. "Keep it, because then you can see how much you have learned. If you look at it again in a month, or a year, you can see what you did RIGHT, too." He shared two drawings, one from early in his career and one from later, and talked about how his skills grew. "Do you see this glass test tube in the building? There's no light there, I just didn't know how to draw glass then. But look at this one - see how much better it is!" 

We were sent home early that day due to snowy weather, and the last class missed our guest artist. They begged me to ask him to return and I was delighted that he agreed to visit for one more hour. It was a magical hour that following week. All the kids wanted him to sign their sketchbooks and one precious student gifted Dr. Don with a portrait she had covertly drawn during his presentation. They loved him! 

Portrait of Don Stewart 

The kids quoted him for days, saying, "Never throw away your artwork!," and, "If you made a picture that made you smile, you won!" 

Now I am inspired, too. Next month I will have two more guest artists come to speak to my students. There is nothing like bringing the "real world" home, especially when you are blessed to have a Dr. Donald Stewart swoop in to scatter the clouds of tedium! 

"Remember, your standards for excellence are already unreasonably high, or you wouldn't be trying to achieve the impossible - trying to make art. After all, art, to most people, is simply another form of magic. 
Like everything else, being a good magician takes practice. Fortunately the best part about practicing drawing is...you get to draw while you're doing it." Don Stewart

If you would like to see more of Don's work, check out his website: dsart.com

Dragon Fly, by Don Stewart

"The artist has a triple responsibility to the non-artists: (1) He must repay the talent which he has; (2) his deeds, feelings, and thoughts, as those of every man, create a spiritual atmosphere which is either pure or poisonous. (3) These deeds and thoughts are materials for his creations, which themselves exercise influence on the spiritual atmosphere." 
Wassily Kandinsky

next week, interview with Dr. Don Stewart.............

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

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