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Surviving the school year

Arts | October 7th, 2020

By Paul Noot

Artwork by Paul Noot

bismarckartist@yahoo.com

It was in the middle of March when Bismarck teachers were notified that school would not be going back and within a week schools would need a plan to do distance learning. I would have never imagined that I would be at home, teaching art through distance learning. I not only had to learn Google Classroom, but I also had an art exhibit to prepare for and to adjust to changes.

Teaching face-to-face is not even comparable to distance learning. In my early years of teaching, I did teach an Interactive television art class so there were some similarities. This entire experience has been very surreal, especially when I came back to school to gather items and think about if we would be back by the end of the year or everything would be completely online. There were so many questions unclear and would my art exhibit even take place? Surviving the school year would be a challenge, dealing with students not engaging, and designing new lessons that benefitted the students.

In March I had to adapt my lessons and think about how my students and I would get through this pandemic together. My art lessons quickly changed on what supplies the students had at home or what could be readily for them. My art production at home had to take a backseat to this new learning environment. My purpose in my body of artwork had to change; it became a body of work that needed to evolve into something new due to the circumstances. I began to create small sketches of this new direction and it became expressive to depict my moods or emotions I was feeling. Being at home was a new learning curve and I often spent hours in the evening answering emails and reflecting on my art and dealing with all the logistics of technology and teaching remotely.

Teaching became very impersonal and was done asynchronous in the spring of 2020. When the school year ended, I knew my summer was going to be full of uncertainties and challenges. Once the weather warmed up, I needed to be outside and focus on gardening and to recover mentally from an exhausting spring semester. My art became vivid descriptions of animals and their ever-changing surroundings. My work is usually representational but became expressive, colorful surreal and minimal too.

Summer had finally arrived with precautions. Summers were made for relaxing, planning and making more art! Of course I wanted to relax and work on the curriculum for the new school year and my art had to be finished too; the struggle was very real. My son teaches art at a few colleges out in the Los Angeles area and he too was teaching distance learning.

California had more strict quarantine guidelines than ND, so he became very prolific in his art making. Our work had similarities in that both of us were painting animals but uniquely contrasting. His work was more fantasy and had a pop art edge to it. My exhibit was scheduled to open at the Spirit Room in August, and I thought it would be great if we could exhibit together because both of us were dealing with distance learning and trying to create art at the same time.

The struggle has been real, making art under these circumstances can be a daunting task. Our show is entitled, “Father & Son – The Beast Within Us” This is our first art exhibit together and it will tour North Dakota in 2021. We both are currently adding more pieces and collaborating on a few.

I have been teaching a hybrid schedule since August 31 and it has been an unbelievable amount of challenges from engagement with students, lesson planning, time management and maintaining a meaningful Google Classroom with synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Today, my artmaking has become more about making videos, and demonstrations in class. Sketching and gardening after school has been happening to keep my mind and body healthy in these uncertain times. There is a beast that lives within all of us.

[Editor’s note: Paul Noot is an artist and educator in Bismarck North Daktota.]

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