May 01, 2009

Slideshow: Student draws connections between art and education

An accomplished artist and world traveler, Ross Christy ’09 did not always picture himself becoming a teacher.
  • Ross Christy '09 has shown his work at various exhibitions in Oregon and Pennsylvania.
  • Or his inspiration, Christy said, "I am drawn to hands and the things they create."
  • His murals have appeared in Portland at Sunnyside Environmental School, Rocket restaurant, and Maplewood Elementary.
  • Christy received his undergraduate art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2003.
  • Of his artwork, Christy said, "I draw pictures about connections: connections between people, connections between humans and other animals, connections between the past and the future. I daydream about what's next. There was never nothing...there will always be something."

An accomplished artist and world traveler, Ross Christy ’09 did not always picture himself becoming a teacher. After receiving honors for academic and artistic excellence and earning a degree in art from Carnegie Mellon University in 2003, Christy moved to Portland and heard his calling.

For the past year, he has worked as a student teacher at Arleta Elementary School, fusing his love of art and his desire to inspire and empower students.

With commencement just around the corner, Christy shares his thoughts about art and education and his hopes for the future.

How did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in education at Lewis & Clark?

I moved to Portland nearly 5 years ago after finishing my undergraduate degree in art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and then traversing the country for a year, seeking a new place to nest. After landing in Portland with a few folks from Pennsylvania, I looked to make money as an artist and found a job teaching art with an after-school art program. Working with kids was foreign to me, and I focused on the art that was being produced more than I focused on the actual children. As you can imagine, this became problematic.  One day it just clicked:  What we needed was community, respect, and communication. The kids needed to feel safe and supported.  It would be necessary to open myself to them and allow them to open up to me. This was teaching.

How do you think having a background in art will affect your teaching style?

Children have wonderful, glittery thoughts zooming around their brains. The space reserved for impossibility in the heads of most adults is uncluttered and airy in the brain of a child. It sparks and sparkles and waits. As an artist, I feel that I can capitalize on these wide-open spaces. I don’t want to fill them with useless trivia. I want to show them the wonder in reality without erasing the fantasy. I want them to learn how to use their brains. I want the students to know themselves as learners, activists, and artists. Because everyone’s brain works a bit differently, it is important to pave multiple roads to understanding. Visual art is just one of these roads. We learn through movement, sound, text, experience, and more.

How do you feel about the art scene in Portland?

I feel most connected to art when I am creating in my studio, arched over a new drawing. Portland is full of artists, holed up in their studios, their rooms, their kitchens, creating for themselves or the people they care about. I don’t mind the commercial gallery scene, but I don’t go chasing it.

What messages do you try to convey through your work?

My work conveys multiple messages.  I draw pictures about connections:  connections between people, connections between humans and other animals, connections between the past and the future. I daydream about what’s next. There was never nothing…there will always be something.

What inspires you?

I find inspiration in supportive parents, the secret lives of animals, and light. I am drawn to hands and the things they create. Two colors, side by side and just so, can make my heart beat a little bit faster. I find great inspiration in the possibilities bundled within each of us…especially children. I am truly inspired by people helping people. Imagine that feeling that happens in your chest right be fore you smile…

Where else have you studied and traveled?

I have studied and worked in Rome, Italy. Living in a place where I knew only some of the language was intense, challenging, and at times, rewarding. I try to remember those feelings when I work with my students who are learning English. I also traveled to Monduli Juu in Tanzania, Africa a few years ago and gained a great deal of perspective on life on this planet: we are all the same, we are all different. This was a breakthrough.

My travels through the U.S. also taught me so much about myself and my relationship to the world around me. I felt a part of so many communities as I traveled, whether in a crowded room full of strangers, sleeping in a parking lot, or drawing alone beside a herd of buffalo, staring into giant, knowing eyes.

What are your thoughts on graduation and searching for a job in this economy?

This year has flown by and I’m saturated with new knowledge and experience. I can’t say exactly what the future holds, but I tend to take it all as it comes. I have not found a job yet, but I’m optimistic to the core. The light in the job market is dim, but it’s on nonetheless. With this degree and this experience I am not limited only to teaching. Whether I have my own classroom, write a book, or live in a cave, I am enriched and enlightened by the people, the information, and the experiences provided by my time at Lewis & Clark and Arleta Elementary School.

*Junior Emily Stevens contributed to this story.