Celebrating Teacher's Day with a look at the life of one local educator exploring the art of creative connection with his students
“Hey, how’s it going guys?” It’s the first thing that you’ll hear when you walk into room 1053 at Chestermere High School – every time, without fail. It’s the familiar greeting of Paul Beseau, the school’s resident artist mastermind. The question is pointed but not intrusive, casual but still calculated; your answer always seems to tell him everything he wanted to know. He asks you because he legitimately cares. You’re in his charge now. This is his playground, his sanctuary. This is the art room.
“When I first started here, the whole room was white, beige, and blue,” he muses. “It looked more like an institution than it looked like an art room.” Now almost nothing remains to tip off newcomers to the cold atmosphere that used to exist here, save for the fading industrial paint on the exterior door leading students back to reality.
Before visitors so much as enter the art room, a concrete support beam greets them, painted with a variety of cartoon characters from the mind of a recent CHS graduate. A fluorescent piano, fondly known to students as “Paul McCartney,” accompanies it. Taking a step over the threshold feels almost like entering a new world entirely – you get the feeling that you aren’t in Chestermere anymore.
Beyond the edge of the rabbit hole, the sight of Beseau’s favourite shades of teal and lime paint take over, the product of a spill he made in December 2011. The floor has since become a myriad of contrasting crazy colours and the painted outlines of student bodies. A digital rainbow decorates the otherwise prison-like cement-block walls – a collaborative effort of students across all classes that was cleverly kept from the eyes of administration until months after its completion. Quotes from the art world’s greatest minds stretch overhead on ceiling beams; Beseau’s favourite, words from McLuhan popularized by Warhol, reads: “Art is what you can get away with.”
The phrase has become something of a motto for Beseau, and not just in inspiring the redecorating process he calls “exploding the art room.” As a student himself, Beseau was always largely unmoved by the teachings of his own instructors – a fact that resulted in his failing Grade 10 art, and questioning his ability to ever teach himself.
“I was a pretty typical kid – lots of energy, super hyperactive, ADD, and for me to just sit there and draw, it was just impossible for me, I just couldn’t do it.” So when Beseau took the plunge and finally became a teacher, he vowed he would make his student’s experience everything that his never was.
Studying glass blowing at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) provided the perfect foundation for Beseau to begin restructuring the old model of teaching art. His chosen medium commanded his focus with its almost overwhelming number of constantly changing variables, and dual demand for precision and innovation. In his classroom, students are similarly bombarded with creative stimuli in an effort to inescapably, ardently immerse them in the process of art, rather than focus them solely on the outcome of it.
He calls himself an imposter – he isn’t trained as you would expect a teacher to be, and he doesn’t share the traditionally minimalist values that so many other art teachers do. But this fact is hardly an imposition to the hundreds of students who’ve walked through his doorway over the course of his past seven years at the school, to whom Beseau has become a regular John Keating.
By turning this once depressing and discouraging room into the most colourful corner of the school, Beseau has carved out an oasis wherein creativity spreads like the common cold. Even students who aren’t registered in one of his four daily art classes or partake in his technical theatre-arts program after school come to join in the joy of his teachings, infected by that enthusiasm.
“I can’t tell you how many times a day I have to kick kids out that are skipping class,” he chuckles, but the fact remains potent. Beseau has created camaraderie and community for this collection of quiet classmates, more a fatherly figure than simply another high school teacher.
“I wanted to create an environment that really supported the creative process,” says Beseau. “When you give the students that room to grow, there’s no telling where they’ll go from there. It’s what I love about the art room – the level of unpredictability is huge! No day is the same! So many news things come up, the possibilities are endless, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
- By MICHAELA RITCHIE