I was recently selected to design one of the art guitars for the Tennessee Arts Academy Auction. One of the steps in the selection process was to design and submit a plan for the guitar. The general idea of that plan was used for my final design, but as my work developed, I made some changes along the way. My idea was to create a roadmap of Tennessee on the face of the guitar with caricatures of Tennessee celebrities from various parts of the state. However, in doing my research, I decided instead to only focus on famous musicians, singers and songwriters from Tennessee or who found their fame in Tennessee.
I also wanted to focus on the state song, “Tennessee Waltz,” by placing a 45 vinyl of it over the sound hole of the guitar. After a couple of hours searching for it in a local record shop, the owner finally found a copy of it by Sam Cooke! Perfect! (You should listen to that version on YouTube sometime). I also recently learned about the history of the song that was ironically written during a road trip on a matchbox.
I could not include all of the famous musicians from Tennessee on the montage, so I looked at several lists and then made choices based on who really stood out to me. I had my reasons. Having been in the music business a little myself during my teens and through acquaintances, I have been blessed to meet several of the personalities included, so there is intent to my choices as well as how they are pictured.
Quite possibly the easiest part for me was Tennessee’s state flower (Iris) on the head of the guitar. However, I also learned about several new processes while completing the guitar. The back of the guitar and the area around the strap knob are engraved. This is my first solid attempt at engraving. I practiced on a scrap piece of wood until I learned which Dremel tips to use to get the desired effect. I scoured the Internet for techniques and tips. Finally, I “invented” processes by experimenting with some new materials.
While I was working on the guitar, I wanted to bring unity to the front and back of the guitar, so I repeated the color of the Iris to the engraved area on the back of the guitar which represented wings of Tennesseans who have passed on but whose music remains.
Working on this guitar was good preparation for me as I plan my lessons for the coming year. I always like to look over last year’s lessons, reflect, and see how I can change them. But, in the process of creating this guitar, I am reminded of the importance of the artist’s (student’s) planning, choices and experimentation. The teacher’s objective is important, but we must remain flexible enough to allow our student artists to take this project places where they find personal meaning. We must allow them time and space for practice, experimentation and risk. If our students’ work looks strangely similar to our own, we must consider that we might possibly be “spoon-feeding” our ideas, techniques and personal voice a little too often. Most of the iconic musical artists on this guitar are notable because they broke conventional molds. They exploded stereotypes. They bent the “rules” in half. Imagine if any of them settled for becoming a copy one another or of their teacher. Forgive the idiom, but their music would sound like a “broken record.” Nothing is wrong with making “suggestions,” to our students. But perhaps we need to learn to ask them questions instead of giving them answers. Or better yet, allow them ask their own questions. We need to let them find their own solutions. We need to step back if we want our students find their own visual voice and make their own wonderful visual “music.”