– By Elyx Martinez, 2022 Summer Arrowmont Visions Intern
This summer Arrowmont partnered with East Tennessee Freedom Schools, a summer learning program in Knoxville where K-5 students learn reading and writing skills and develop wellness, music, and art practices. The program encourages a love of reading, increases student self-esteem, and reduces summer learning loss.
Kelly Hider, Arrowmont’s youth education programs manager, found the perfect teacher to facilitate this partnership: Lauren Farkas. For five weeks, Farkas taught a special form of printmaking using Gelli plates at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet School, one of East Tennessee Freedom School’s three program sites.
Inspired by her approach to this program, we asked for an interview with Farkas to discuss her teaching process and art practice.
Ellyx Martinez (EM): What inspires you to teach?
Lauren Farkas (LF): I am inspired to teach by my own life-animating questions, my desire to know and be known by others, and my desire to facilitate someone’s budding creative journey.
I want to celebrate the “Aha!” moments, work with students through creative blocks, and selfishly, I want to be inspired by what they create.
EM: What do you hope this experience brings to the students in the Freedom Schools program?
LF: What I really want is for this experience to build the students’ confidence in their own ability to have fun while making great artwork. Gelli printing is an exciting process, where students get to experiment with reductive monotype printing techniques by layering different patterns and colors. There are so many ways to be successful in this project–students can work fast or slow, be intentional about planning or totally wing it, and make single-layer prints or 10-layer prints. I picked this project because while it can be extremely technical and challenging if you make it that way, it can also be extremely accessible. Sustaining the project by introducing new tools and techniques over several weeks allows students lots of chances to make mistakes, take risks, and follow their own lines of inquiry in the printmaking process. Without knowing these kiddos prior to teaching them, I felt great about a wide range of students being able to make something they are proud of through this project.
EM: When, if ever, do you find yourself surprised in this process?
LF: What an excellent question! I find myself surprised all the time. I think teaching well is finding the balance between reducing the chance for surprises in some areas (this is where classroom routines and expectations are critical), and really trying to facilitate surprises in other areas (in actual artistic work). In this project I have found myself surprised by some of the approaches that students have taken. For example, a few students made prints that operate together as a diptych, and some used tools in unexpected ways to make mesmerizing patterns. Going back to your question about what inspires me to teach, the surprises are life-giving for me.
EM: Can you tell us a little about your own studio practice? How has your art practice affected your life, and/or your teaching practice?
LF: My personal making practice follows processes of witnessing, mapping, and identifying to relate to and understand the internal logic of botanical lives, spatial relationships, and the stories of often taken-for-granted materials. I often harvest invasive plants for use as material in order to be fully and sustainably involved in the whole story of my artwork. Parts of a plant might land in ephemeral e-collages, or bast and pigment might process into paper and ink, or vines might weave into new forms.
Many of the questions that animate my personal work animate my teaching as well, but the basic posture is always the same: curiosity.
I know that the things I am most curious about will not be the same as my students, so I try to facilitate all kinds of exploration for them to find things that really kindle their creative fire.
A Nashville native, Lauren Farkas is an artist and educator living in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her work focuses on relating to and understanding the internal logic of botanical lives, and takes the form of drawing, collage, and earth art installation. Farkas recently graduated from the University of Tennessee with her Master’s of Art Education and is excited to start her first full-time teaching appointment as an art teacher at Holston Middle School this fall.
Originally from the West Coast, Ellyx Martinez moved to Knoxville, TN at 12 and feels a cultural connection to the Southwest and to Appalachia. Martinez considers craft an endlessly important practice — a way for people to connect with and experience their ancestral and familial histories, as well as ensuring means for a hand-made future. Martinez is completing a BFA in printmaking and painting at Virginia Commonwealth University, with minors in craft and material studies, and art history. She served as counselor and teacher’s assistant at the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts at MTSU in 2021. She completed an internship at Studio Two Three, a community arts space in Richmond, VA. She designed and painted several murals in Knoxville, and at VCU.