Created to Create

 

 

Ep 8 | Created to Create with Deb Dayhoff

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We sit down with Trinity Christian School Visual Arts Department Chair and Upper School Art Teacher Deb Dayhoff to discuss how students can glorify God through artistic expression. Armed with decades of experience and scriptural truth, Deb challenges her students to see themselves as image-bearers of the ultimate Creator and to use their God-given creativity as a mouthpiece for the gospel.

God is the master Creator, and we are made in his image! Which means that we, inherently, are creators.

     

Deb Dayhoff

Deb Dayhoff serves as Visual Arts Chair and teacher at TCS and is the proud mother of two and grandmother of three boys.  Deb’s art of choice these days is pottery.  A home studio equipped with two kilns and lots of clay provides endless possibilities to be creative and produce work for local art & craft festivals and an Etsy shop.  Along with her husband, Al, favorite activities include living out the gospel, cooking, hanging with their two chocolate labs, camping, and hosting friends from all walks of life.  

Jo Wilbur

Jo Wilbur is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at Trinity Christian School and proud JMU grad who loves writing, shopping, and making new friends. She and her husband live in Paeonian Springs and spend time together cooking plant-based meals, singing worship songs, and volunteering as Young Life leaders in their community.


 

 

 

My favorite passage of scripture is Psalm 19. It says, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.’ So the created world speaks! And it’s not through words. That’s art to me; that it speaks, it screams, and at times it yells God’s glory. Art can really be a mouthpiece for students.

Transcript

 

Disclaimer: This is a direct transcript of the podcast audio and may not be grammatically correct.

 


Jo Wilbur:

Hello and welcome to Mind and Heart, a podcast by Trinity Christian School. I'm your host, Jo Wilbur. And today I'm sitting down with Trinity Visual Arts Department Chair and Upper School Art teacher, Deb Dayhoff. Thank you so much for joining us today, Deb.

Deb Dayhoff:

Oh, it's my pleasure. It's really fun to be able to just share some things with you about what we're doing here at Trinity and what I like to do as an artist.

Jo Wilbur:

That's awesome. I've been wanting to get you in the studio for a while, so this is great. If you could, I would love for you to just share with our listeners a little bit about yourself, both in terms of kind of what you do here at Trinity. You know, what it means that you are the Department Chair and even what you like to do just as Deb in your life.

Deb Dayhoff:

Okay, so currently I'm the Visual Arts Department Chair, as you said. And I also am an Upper School Arts teacher. I've done a lot of different roles here at Trinity over the years. And so in the years that I've been here I've been what Julie Kim does now as Media Director, I've done every job of carpool that you can possibly imagine, but right now, you know, I'm just overseeing the Visual Arts Department and helping to train and guide teachers to, to know what do in the classroom to really feed our program throughout students years here. So K through 12 is all aligned to produce the student as a 12th grader to be ready to go to college to study art and also have an understanding of who God is in the midst of that. As far as my personal life, I'm a grandmother of three boys.

Jo Wilbur:

That's hard to believe, you don’t look like a grandmother!

Deb Dayhoff:

I've got three grandsons, which is wonderful and the joy of my life. I've got two kids who both attended here at Trinity. In my spare to time, if you want to call it that, I have a home studio at my house where I do pottery and make my own work. I've done that for the last seven years and have a full on studio there and enjoy spending weekends and nights just dabbling in my studio. But after you make pottery for a while, it starts to pile up around you. So I have to, I have to do shows and I also have an Etsy shop that I sell things on. It's super fun and I always have a gift to give.

Jo Wilbur:

That's awesome. I love that. I've actually had the pleasure of seeing your studio in your home. I don't know if you remember. It was like Wonderland. I was like, look at all this beautiful art just in your home. It was so amazing. So art is obviously a huge part of your life. Both in terms of obviously your profession, but also just what you're passionate about in your life. I would love to hear kind of how you got your start in that. So what, if you can remember, what was sort of your first experience entering into that art world and exploring your own creativity for the first time?

Deb Dayhoff:

Yeah, so that's a really great question because I feel like I've always been an artist, so I've always had a desire to do art and mostly drawing. Drawing's always been my number one passion even when I was a young child. I've spent a lot of childhood time copying the comics page, you know, on a Sunday afternoon when I was supposed to be taking a nap. My parents and my sister were napping. And I was up drawing.

Jo Wilbur:

Rebellious!

Deb Dayhoff:

I know, right? I always felt a little bit like a fish out of water in my family because they really didn't go to museums or talk about art or anything. And I was always thinking about creativity and art. It was in eighth grade that I took an art class at my school and met my teacher, Terry Chamberlain, that year. And it was during that year, that eighth grade year, that I really felt like I met somebody that really understood who I was. And I had the privilege of going to a Christian school, so he also shared my common faith, and he just began to build in me a love for art and a confidence that I could do it. I took that year with him, and then all the way through 12th grade.

Jo Wilbur:

Wow. So he really mentored you in that and kind of opened your eyes maybe to your own talents.

Deb Dayhoff:

Right, yeah, he did. And he not only taught me art. He also did life with me and I got to know his wife and we went to their home and we shared, had a lot of shared experiences during that high school time.

Jo Wilbur:

That's so cool. That sounds like he was a teacher who had a profound impact on your life as an artist, but also as a person. Do you feel like having that experience as a student has impacted the way that you teach your students now that you're an art teacher?

Deb Dayhoff:

Yeah, I think so, because I think to really know a student that is pursuing art… you know, it can get really personal. If a student is really wanting to express themselves and kind of grapple with those difficult things in their life and seek to somehow express that through the visual arts, then you're gonna get into some touchy territory. And if you don't have that camaraderie with students, they're not willing to go there sometimes, or they don't have the confidence in who they are. And so I think it takes a, it takes a little bit of just working with the students and really helping them feel comfortable with who they are and helping them feel comfortable with own style in their own ways of expressing who they are. And I think that that takes time. I mean, it doesn't happen right away.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. I, you know, it's interesting, you talk about art as like a way for these kids to express themselves and to grapple with the hard and challenging things in their lives. And I had the privilege of being raised a Christian home myself. And I don't know, thinking back, being raised in a Christian home, as much as it was a gift… I think that as a child, I was often under the impression I couldn't admit to struggle, because then it was harming my witness or damaging my ability to share Christ with others or something. So to see that in a Christian space, kids have the opportunity to be honest about whatever struggles they're going through. I think that would be hugely impactful for young people.

Deb Dayhoff:

It is. And, you know, there is a dark side to art because there's depravity in the world. I mean, we live in a fallen world. We live in a broken world, but that's the truth of where we live, right? And so when I talk with them about being able to express something that might be not quote unquote Christian… We have to show or display some vision of hope. Because even in a broken world, we have hope. Having them think about, “How can you show hope in the midst of this piece where it's not three crosses on a hill?” But there are ways to communicate hope because we are not a people without hope. And so talking with students about that, I think is important. And letting them share the things that are obviously on their heart and in their friends' lives that they're living with and communicating with. But also, you know, talking with them about, you know, we can't, we can't stay dark. We're not a, we're not a people without hope.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. Can you tell me about a time and I know I've talked to you about this just in personal conversations. Maybe when you've seen a student sort of realize for the first time that they're an artist, that they're a creative being. I mean, do you experience, have you seen students go through that and what is that like for you as their teacher to help them sort of walk through that journey and explore that side to themselves?

Deb Dayhoff:

Most of those Aha! moments as I like to call them happen in Art Foundations, which is the entry level class for the grades nine through 12. And that class allows the student to experience and experiment with lots of different ways to make art. Art Foundation starts with a drawing unit. And what we do in that drawing unit is we have them draw themselves on the very first day. And then we go through a series of exercises and projects throughout that quarter, and we take a whole quarter (nine weeks usually). At the very end of that unit, they draw themselves again, and often they amaze themselves as well as me. And this happened with one student, to address your question that, you know, when she did her self-portrait, she was just amazed. That ignited in her a thirst to learn more about art and really expressing herself. So, it really changed the trajectory of her life. And she was a junior and not a freshman. So she only had one more year to explore art. And so by the end of that foundation year, I was like, you need to sign up for AP Art, because I think you have some things to say. And she did and actually in a week or so I'm going to be heading to Georgia to go to a graduation show for her at her college. She's doing a show of paintings and I'm going to go down and see that with her.

Jo Wilbur:

How special!

Deb Dayhoff:

Yeah. It'll be, it'll be awesome. I'm excited.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. Wow. That's amazing. So that's perfect segue, because I want to ask you more about this Art Foundation's class. And I will say I've seen the before and after portraits that you're talking about where the students draw themselves, you know, at the beginning of the unit before they've really learned the technique before they've learned much, and then they draw themselves, you know, just a few months down the road. And the difference is, I know this is just a podcast, but if people can see it, the difference is crazy. Just the amount of growth. What do you think? I mean, what are you teaching these kids that is responsible for that growth? When I look at the two portraits, I'm thinking, whoa, what happened in those few months? I don't know if that's too broad of a question.

Deb Dayhoff:

No, no, it's not. I mean, a lot of it has to do with, we use a book by Betty Edwards, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” A lot of people maybe have heard of that method of teaching art or teaching drawing specifically.  Her whole premise of the book is, if you can teach someone to truly see and perceive what they see and be able to break it down, then they can draw it. So basically it's the idea that anybody can draw. What I do is, when I teach it, obviously I infuse biblical truth in that. And so we talk about the idea of seeing versus perceiving and seeing really requires your eyes. Right? You see something, but sometimes you see something, but it doesn't ever make it to your brain where you have to kind of break it down and perceive it and really understand it. And then, you know, then I point out, Hey, I mean, when Adam and Eve were created in the garden, they were perfect in every way. And then sin entered in and-

Jo Wilbur:

Huge bummer.

Deb Dayhoff:

I know, right? And their perceptions of themselves and the world were fallen. And so our perceptions of ourselves are warped and our perceptions of God and who he is and how he interacts with us are warped. It requires of us to trust God to correct that perception. And that is through the study of God's word through daily prayer, through faith in him. I think that the drawing unit helps them, as we talk about this idea of perception, it helps them to be able to see things differently and in doing so they're able to grow.

Jo Wilbur:

Well that's so interesting that concept of being able to draw really starts with being able to see. And that spiritual connection of, oh, I need God to give me eyes to see- both in spirit virtual sense, but I could see how that's a perfect tie in. What would you say to students who maybe struggle to trust their own abilities or who are really self-doubting? I mean, what, how do you talk students through that? Because I would imagine it takes a lot to put themselves out there and create art. It seems like it would be really challenging.

Deb Dayhoff:

Yeah. I mean, it's an interesting thing because I think we as human beings doubt ourselves when we approach anything new. I think, you know, when I talk with students about whether they're going to take the class or not take the class, or whether they're good at art or not good at art, oftentimes I'll just call their theology to the table. I’ll say, well, who's the master Creator? I mean, God is the master Creator, and we are made in his image, you know? Which means that we inherently are creators, right? If you go back to the idea of perception and really understanding how to do things… that no matter what level of artistic talent you believe you have, (which I'm not sure I believe in levels of artistic talent necessarily, I think a lot of it has to do with what we've been taught). But I think if you put yourself in a creative environment, you're going to allow yourself the opportunity to develop that creative part of our image that's been stamped on us. God's image. I think a lot of it has to do with fear.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah, sure.

Deb Dayhoff:

People want to be successful. I think if we're willing to face our fears in some of these areas that are unknown to us, then I think we can grow in them. Can we be like Michelangelo? Well, I'll never be Michelangelo. I can express what I have been created to express. If I don't pursue the purpose that God has given on my life, then there’s a hole. My voice can't be heard.

My favorite passage of scripture is Psalm 19. And I really love this passage because I think it speaks to artists and art making in the image of God. It says, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” So the created world speaks! And it's not through words. “There's no speech, and there's no words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world.” I mean, that's art to me. That it speaks, it screams, it at times yells God's glory and it really can be a mouthpiece for students. And so when students are kind of struggling with, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to make, I'm like be who you are. Because if you're not who you are, then your voice isn't heard and you're not really living your creative purpose and your voice is going to be missing.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. So that's interesting. It's almost like it comes back to a question of identity. It's not, am I good or bad? It's- who are you? Who are you made in the image of?

Deb Dayhoff:

Right. And that's a scary question for a teenager to kind of grapple with a little bit, because I say to them often, what are you meant to say? You know, what are you meant to say? And they kind of do what you just did, their eyes get big as saucers. And they're kind of like I don't know.

Jo Wilbur:

Oh, I have purpose? I have a calling on my life?

Deb Dayhoff:

Right!

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah, you're giving them this huge challenge. You're empowering them with that. But it is all of a sudden they're realizing like, “Oh, I have divine purpose and meaning. I do… I… a little like 14 year old,” or whoever. It's big.

Deb Dayhoff:

It is.

Jo Wilbur:

So that gets into an interesting question, which is what I want to ask you about next. How do you assess? I'm just interested in the assessment process as a teacher because you’re teaching art and there are grades, there is assessment. And I think you would be the first to say that you don't necessarily have a reputation for being an easy teacher. You really hold the kids to high standard, which is a good thing.

Deb Dayhoff:
I do, yeah.

Jo Wilbur:

But can you talk a little bit about that and why you hold them to a high standard and what that looks like in the assessment process?

Deb Dayhoff:

I think part of the reason I hold them to a high standard is probably because I hold myself to a high standard, and I have to back off that sometimes to be honest. But I believe anything that's, that's worth doing, we should do it well. And so, I think that that's a huge part of why I think I push the kids. But also, I think we as human beings are inherently lazy. I think unless someone comes behind us and checks up on us and pushes us to try to get to the next level then we don't do it. You know? And I think that's part of the reason too. But I think probably the core reason is that I just, I love art and I love what I do and I love being an artist and it brings such joy to my life.

And doing things to God’s glory- I mean, I think we just need to rise to really living our life in whatever we do. I think that's probably the motivating factor behind my being a difficult teacher or a hard teacher, challenging teacher. And as far as grading artwork, I think I've learned a lot about creating structure in what you teach and how you teach it. I've come up with a grading system that I think is pretty fair because I communicate to the students exactly what I'm looking for. If you want to go back to the example of the portraits, I don't grade them on whether it looks like them or not. That's not one of the grading points. The grading points are, you know, did you use the grid method for transferring the photo to the drawing paper? Did you incorporate good use of values from dark to light? Did you create the illusion of three dimensional space on a two to dimensional surface? And these are all things that we're talking about in class. And each of those things is an individual grade that makes up the total grade.

Jo Wilbur:

So it's not just, you would say like grading on the final product, does this look like them, but it's grading on- what did you implement throughout the process?

Deb Dayhoff:

Right. So it really calls me to the carpet to be able to say, you know, this is what we taught and this is what I'm going to grade you on.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. To the point of you challenging your students. I think so many of them will look back and be so grateful for that. I know personally I had a coach, an athletics coach in high school who really changed my life because she was tough. She held me to a much higher standard than I held myself. But because of that, I got to develop all these skills that I didn't know I was capable of, but she knew I was capable, you know? And at the time I really would get angry with her for pushing me. But looking back, I'm so grateful because I was able to do so many things that I wouldn't have thought I'd be able to do. And that's what you're doing, you know, with your students. And so many of them I'm sure will look back and be thankful. And on that topic, the topic of creating structure in an art environment where I think a lot of us think there's not a lot of structure, you can talk about that perception. What would you say maybe to someone who's skeptical about art or someone who maybe thinks, “Okay, art might be fun, or maybe you can express yourself… but it's only valuable maybe in the small handful of cases that a student actually pursues art and becomes a full-time artist.” I mean, in other words, can art be beneficial for all students? Or any student, even a student who's an athlete and is pursuing that and isn't necessarily interested in becoming an ‘artist?’

Deb Dayhoff:

So to address that question about why, why art (and I think this is a question that's kind of a universal question that's going on in a lot of education these days, because there's a lot of art programs that are being cut from public school systems). But, you know, I think that the arts really actually help students that are more left-brain function better. I have students come in all the time that have taken classes with me and they walk into the room and they're like, “Ah, I just wish I was here because it just gives me a different way of thinking, you know, gives me more of a restful mindset.” So I think that's part of it. But also I think it goes back to what I was talking about previously. And that is, if we really look at the way we're created in God's image, I mean, I think everybody has in them the ability to create. And so whether it's the most beautiful stick figure you can make-

Jo Wilbur:

-In my case!

Deb Dayhoff:

I mean, do it to the glory of God, you know? And I think art has a way of really helping people gain confidence because they're like, oh wow, I can do this.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. And to recognize that, you know, what we create isn't necessarily good because it's in a museum or good because everybody likes it or looks a certain way. But it's good because it's what we're designed to do in a sense. And it, you know, makes me think of when we're little kids and we scribble something with crayons on a page and give it to our mom and dad…they don't say, “This is terrible!” and crumple it up and throw it in the trash. They hang it up on the fridge and they're proud of you. It's almost like, is that how God sees what we create? Obviously we're not perfect creators like he is, but we're doing what we're designed to do. And because of that, it's a beautiful thing. And it's pleasing to him.

Deb Dayhoff:

It is. Yeah. And he celebrates it. I was thinking of another student while you were talking. At the beginning of the year, I had this big burly blonde-headed rugby player taking my class, you know, as a junior and kind of the class clown a little bit…delightful, delightful young man. He came in and I think he wasn't really thinking he was going to do much in the class. Well, it wasn't but a couple months later he ended up with an injury that put him in a boot.

Jo Wilbur:
So no more rugby.

Deb Dayhoff:

Yeah. Right. So while he was at the beginning of the injury, he was really kind of stuck in bed for like a week. And it was a pretty big, pretty big deal. And he pulled out his visual journal- I'd given out their visual journals, and I give assignments where they can express themselves based on an idea or theme- and he started drawing and painting in his visual journal. And I mean, something ignited in him and he came in… the first time he came into class, after that, after his injury, he was like, “Mrs. Dayhoff, Mrs. Dayhoff, look what I did!”

And he did pages and pages and pages of stuff because he couldn't do anything else. You know, he was stuck there in his, you know, recovery room and getting over this surgery. But it ignited in him a love for art and he's got his own thing going on. He came in with this, not an attitude, but just like doing it for fun, I think and to check a box for graduation. But it's, it's been something really meaningful to him. He was able to lean on that at a time when, you know, he really needed to, and then discovered that it was something that was really therapeutic that was in him that he didn't realize.

Jo Wilbur:

Wow. How cool to watch that sort of transformation throughout the year.

Deb Dayhoff:

Yeah. It's been, it's been great. I mean, I have moments like that every year.

Jo Wilbur:

How encouraging. Last question I'll ask you, because I know time is very valuable. What advice would you give to students who are looking into pursuing art? Obviously we're a Christian school with Christian students who are maybe looking to sort of join that art world, which in my understanding is not always incredibly friendly to a Christian perspective. As students graduate, maybe with the intention to pursue art, what piece of advice would you give to them?

Deb Dayhoff:

Hmm. Yeah, that's a good question. Because when I started teaching at Trinity it was about 10 years into my time of teaching that I realized that I just hadn't been in the college classroom in a very long time. And so I began thinking about a master's degree in a secular university, so that I would have a better perspective on where I was sending students that were interested in studying art, because I felt like I was so out of touch with where things were in the art world at the moment (which was like in 2009, I think I started the degree program). And I had graduated initially from a very conservative Christian college in art. And so those two things combined, and I was, you know, at that point 25 years out of even being in college. It was crazy.

What I decided to do was to just sign up for a master's program. So I entered a master's program in 2009 at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in DC. And that was a really good, in looking back, that was a really good decision for me because I was able to be who I am, which I'm unapologetically a Christian. The themes that I grapple with in my art are primarily Christian. And what I discovered was that there were a lot of Christians in this program. Even in the faculty. But I also realized too, and was able to be better educated to understand, was what the students were going to be facing when they didn't have somebody that was in alliance with them on their faith and their views. And so what I would tell a student is to go in to the program, be who you are, but don't be blind to the fact that you will be different and you will be alone.

And in that differentness, you need to seek out a campus ministry that you can become involved in to find alliance with other believers. But don't enter into learning about art with fear, bathe everything in prayer and discernment of truth and beauty and goodness. Because something can be art and defined as art, but not be in line with God's character. There's a lot of art out there that is offensive to the gospel and does not find itself in alignment with truth, beauty, and goodness, and really having a knowledge of what that means is important before entering an art program at a secular university. Because we need to understand and be able to discern the difference. You know, there's a lot of people that think that art is in the eye of the beholder. And I used to kind of think that myself, but if we look at the truth of scripture and we look at the character of God and who he defines himself to be, I think there is a distinct and an objective truth when it comes to discerning art. And whether it is truly beautiful or not, we have the absolute standard for that. And that's the scripture and our understanding of who God is.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. Well, it's, you know, we've talked about this sort of subject before, and it reminds me of CS Lewis' “Abolition of Man,” and the whole idea of, you know, relativism and, you know, people think of art as completely subjective. But you're making a good point. Is it? You know, art's in the eye of the beholder, well, who's beholding it? I'm a broken human beholding this. But there is an ultimate beholder, God, who knows the truth, truth, beauty, and goodness- I don’t know if I'm making sense, but-

Deb Dayhoff:

You are, yeah.

Jo Wilbur:

Truth transcends our broken world views.

Deb Dayhoff:

It does.

Jo Wilbur:

So that’s, and I think you probably, you're right. You probably don't hear that too much in the art world, but from a Christian perspective that comes into play.

Deb Dayhoff:

Yeah. And I'm sure, I mean, there's probably discussions on both sides of that fence in the Christian camp. But I kind of come down on, if I look at a piece of artwork and I don't understand it, I don't have the authority to discard it. I have to research it. I have to look at the artist and who he is, or she is, I have to look at what they were looking to say in the artwork. And then I have the scripture that I have to align it with.

Mark Rothko is a color field painter. He basically paints colors on large canvases. And you know, it's one of the kind of artworks where people walk up and say, “Oh yeah, I could have done that in my basement.” You know, to which I say, “Well, you didn't do it!” But you know, whatever. But then people are like, what's the point?

Jo Wilbur:

They don't understand it.

Deb Dayhoff:

Right. What's the point? So they just, you know, walk by and not really try to understand it. But it's, you know, he's really experimenting with color and how color interacts with each other. So he puts two colors next to each other or overlaps two colors or has the absence of color. And that's what he does. He shows us what happens when you put orange over red or whatever. And that's, that is a really interesting thing. And it does point to truth because we have the spectrum, we have light, white light created by God contains all the colors, you know, what happens when it goes through a prism is science, but it's also art, right? So it goes through the prism and comes out the other side with all these colors. And we have the discovery of truth. And so to really understand Rothko, I mean, you have to have an understanding of light and color and what he's doing is true. And so I think it really does call us- to understand art it really calls us to a higher understanding of the artist himself, and what he's looking to portray. And I think some things are pretty easy to say, yeah, no, I, I shouldn't look at that.

Jo Wilbur:

It's obviously not good. It's obviously not true.

Deb Dayhoff:

Right. Right. And I think anything that puts a check in your spirit, if you're walking with God we should flee from, right? That's what Paul said. But I do like to challenge Christians to do when they go into a museum, if you don't understand it, then do a little research. Try to understand it! Try to see what the artist is doing, because I think oftentimes things we don't understand, we just discard. And what have we walked by that we could have really benefited from?

Jo Wilbur:

We can have that attitude of being dismissive so easily. Well, that's so interesting. So what I'm hearing for students is to go in with a spirit of discernment, seek out Christian community because we're all made to be in community and have that fellowship, and challenge yourself. So that's very helpful. Thank you so much for sitting down with us today. Every time we talk, I learn something new, and we should hang out more often! But thank you so much for joining us today, Deb.

Deb Dayhoff:

Oh yeah, no problem. Yeah, it was my pleasure. Thanks.

 

 

 

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