Thursday, April 7, 2011

Exploring the World Through the Arts

“Books impart knowledge; only travel imparts wisdom.”
Turkish Proverb

If you heard about an opportunity for teachers to travel abroad in the summer, would you follow up on it? When I learned that the Turkish Cultural Foundation and the World Affairs Council were sponsoring a trip, I knew I wanted to go. Applying for a competitive position is daunting, but the chance to visit Turkey, a place I had always wanted to see, to meet people and speak with artists and educators was too great an opportunity to pass up. I was inspired by the realization that in our classrooms we encourage students to try something new and challenging every day. 

As twenty-first century teachers, a critical aspect of our job is to help students form an unbiased understanding of people around the globe. To do this well, we try to bring accurate information and meaningful learning experiences into our classrooms. One great way to make this happen is to spend some time during the summer months traveling and exploring a different region of the world.  First hand experiences and the broader perspective they provide help us interpret what we read in the media. We can pass along the benefits of considering issues from a variety of points of view, giving our students a chance to make up their own minds about complex questions. Topics such as the freedom of women and girls to wear headscarves in schools, or water issues throughout the Middle East become personally meaningful when we can sympathize with the interests of the real people who are affected by them. A better understanding of the history of modern day Turkey, for example, its geography, and the contributions of the Ottoman Empire can all enrich one’s experience of interpreting the headlines and creating classroom activities to encourage students to dig a little deeper into the significance behind the sound bites.

While teaching in a small K-12 school I was always looking for projects with which students at all levels would connect.  Ebru, the Turkish art of paper marbling, has become one of those projects. I had made marbled paper with students of all ages and was fascinated to learn more about the art form on the study tour in Turkey. In Istanbul we had the opportunity to visit Ebristan, the atelier of Hikmet Barutcugil, where we were able to see the tradition at work.  
Garden Courtyard at Ebristan, Istanbul,Turkey
Contemporary Turkey is experiencing a revival of many of the traditional arts, with the help of supportive foundations.  The Iznik Foundation is an organization reviving the tradition of Turkish tile-making.  In Bursa the famous traditional Turkish shadow puppet theater, Karagoz and Hacivat works to preserve the arts of puppetry. Weaving and rug making are practiced throughout Anatolia, primarily by women, who pass the art down from mother to daughter.    As with paper marbling at Ebristan, each of these art forms continues the traditional master- apprentice relationship.  At Master Barutcugil’s atelier it was possible to feel the connection between the art and nature, the physical and spiritual balance that combines skill and             creativity.

A comb is used to make a more complex pattern.
Using an awl to combine the paints with a
"come & go" motion.
Traditional flower design created at a
demonstration at Ebristan.
In Turkey there is a distinction between decorated paper and classical marbling.  There is a pure form which follows rules and makes repetition possible, which gave rise to the classical standards of form, such as the “Marbling of Tide”, which involves combed Marbling, both fine and wide, and the swirling “Nightingale Nest Marbling”. The craft is practiced for years before one can achieve “master” status.

That said, even beginners can experience the magic and joy of paper marbling right from their first encounter with the medium. With just a little effort on the part of the teacher the students will all be eager to build on their successes.  The positive, first hand experience makes knowing more about another culture very appealing. Just as Turkey sits as the bridge between the East and West, the arts can act as the doorway through which students learn about a different culture. 
I purchase paper marbling supplies in the US through Galen Berry's Marble Art.    How do you bring art into your classroom?

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