Here are a few more reasons that have come to me lately - enjoy numbers seven through ten in my continuing series.
7) All the important people wear smiles.
I love my audience and it's so rarely a tough crowd. When children come to me for art, they're always primed and ready. They're sometimes a little jiggly but that's a good thing. High energy translates to some amazing artwork. I'm really spoiled by the constant stream of beamy faces. If I'm out of context (like the grocery store or on the playground in the middle of the day) children holler their greetings: "Hey, art teacher - it's ME!" My sweetie always knows when we've encountered one of my ducklings in our wanderings. There is nothing like that smile of recognition and it's fun to introduce myself to families.
8) Amazing discoveries happen every day.
"That cool shade of mud by the leaky faucet by the corral - you can make it by mixing green and red and blue." Imagine! "Dried paint from the stamp bucket makes amazing texture for my picture. I got it in my hair and some in my ear, too. Do you think it'll come out? Ever?" "Did you know that this much glue takes a long, long, long time to dry?" (I always try to look surprised for this one...)
9) The complexities of the Universe are explained to me by short people who know everything about everything.
"My dad likes sharks so I made him a red one because that's his favorite color." "I looked at this dinosaur in a book when I drew it but I think it changed since last week." "My paper weaving was broken but Cassidy oppositted it." "Dragons just take longer to draw now that I'm seven. I draw the fancy ones now."
10) Anticipation is delicious.
We're getting ready for the first ever whole-school art show. I've picked the brains (and the old posts) from the wise people on a couple of art teachery lists I read regularly for survival hints. I've found everything from mounting ideas to logistical methods for hanging that much artwork to checklists that experienced art show mavens use for their efforts. I'm in real danger of overdosing on child art but that's nothing new. The goosebumpy cleverness of kids' offerings has me grinning like a loon but I've made some decisions about how to gather art next year. I'll do portfolio collections differently and start a little bit earlier. It's sixteen days until "hanging day" and I have about three quarters of the art in, mounted, artist statmented (gotta love poetic license...) and ready to go.
Life in the fast lane of art is a good thing.
"You cannot use up creativity. The more you use the more you have. " -Maya Angelou
Go outside and play. -Mom
Are these the eating spoons or the digging spoons? -Janine
Do you want extra chile in your burrito? (a question from the depths of the backyard mud pit, July 1983) -Ariana
Mom, we need clothespins, a ladder, and a long piece of rope. It's a secret. -Lisa
With few exceptions, children are innately creative. When we listen to them as they play we hear about complex worlds, (starring their designers, of course) intricate plot lines, and ever changing themes. When one isn't burdened by years of experience it may be a little easier to imagine all things - or maybe it's just more fun. We know that children develop and mature through the vehicles of play and invention and the lucky among us can remember long hours spent in acting out rich fantasies. Ropes were snakes with magical powers, kitchen spoons were wands for casting spells (and could do double duty for bug funerals) and shrubbery between our house and Mrs. Marshall's became enchanted (impenetrable, of course) briar. An old sheet served as a cowboy's tent, a movie screen (flashlights and shadows) or the queen's long brocade train. Dusty tree wells (my childhood was staged in southern New Mexico) could be transformed into intricate houses if the dirt was pressed into service as walls or valleys in danger of horrible floods (yep - garden hoses in the summertime.) If you'll promise not to laugh, we also made fabulous "forts" with carefully stacked dry tumbleweeds. One man's invasive weed is another man's castle or dragon cave. The only limits to our play were time and freedom to create.
Children's art play is often intertwined with their dramatic games. Humans make tools they can use and decorate their lives and our smaller artists craft brilliant examples. With a little thought and some time to apply it a piece of yellow cellophane can be a sparkly kite cover or the visor of a space helmet. In the hands of a creative child, different colors of plain construction paper change to a fancy house and clay tools are pressed into service as rays of the sun. Tissue might be used as an insert of a greeting card or be attached to an outrageously jaunty party hat.
Where do these clever short people get their ideas from? Everywhere. Sometimes they come to art and try to sit quietly in our meeting area but I can almost feel the hum of ideas that have come in, fully formed but just looking for the right materials before they can be seen by the rest of us. Sometimes an artist will stand at a studio, passing materials from hand to hand and looking vacantly into space. They're building something in their heads and making materials lists just as complete as any professional architect's. Children thumb through collections of photographs or "idea" books and sometimes wander to see what peers are doing before settling into the work of creating a piece of art.
We see the same quiet patience with the creative process in painting. Curiosity about what specific colors will do after their mixed leads to careful additions of color, brushes stroke in silence, and suddenly the artist crows at the result on the paper, "Look what I just invented!"
Warning: Soapbox Alert!
No electronic methodology was injured in the creation of these memories. Electricity, in the form of TV, MP3, video game, computer, or other mechanical tools is antithetical to the ancient concept of "Go outside and play." Research premises: dirt is good for you, and when mixed with sunshine is magical; mudpies are far better for fine muscle practice than are cell phone text pads or joy sticks; coloring books and coloring sheets have some interesting purposes, but they're unrelated to art.
Mom is always right.
Sometimes art is an individual sport. We spend much time quietly inside our own space, planning and thinking and following our ideas to a solitary conclusion. Other times, the synergy that's generated by working side by side simply carries us away. Meet two talented groups of artists: One, kindergarten collaborators at the drawing center on a recent sunny afternoon. It was one of those days where students practically flew to their studios, ideas screaming to get out of their imaginations and onto paper. I like to have a happy buzz of engaged kid noise going in the classroom, and that day's decibel level was close to perfect. Voices were soft enough that the walls didn't vibrate and loud enough that I could follow conversations if I practiced a little selective hearing. When I looked over at the drawing center, all four heads were excitedly bent over paper and pencils. The thread of the conversation was a little too fast for my translation abilities, but I could see the reason for the thrill. A tiny Spiderman was replicating himself on three separate sheets of paper. By the time I moved closer to see, it was no longer possible to tell the difference between the teacher and the disciples. Wide smiles looked up from nearly identical drawings and the joy in their production was almost palpable. We acquire skills in so many ways. One of the best ways is at the elbow of a friend. Today the Spiderman drawings are identical, but soon they'll begin to show signs of individuality soon. It's also the perfect time for me to share some ways to depict tall buildings, since Spidey is so fond of swinging between them. We'll see if the boys are still in full spider mode when they come back to me in a few days.
Exhibit #2 in the collaboration realm is a little different. The large set of unit blocks gets a fair amount of attention from children who love to create all sorts of buildings. When this crew of four third graders (the maximum for the blocks center, since it has to be rolled on and off the carpet between center choosing and cleanup) began to build, nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary. This class gets along together well, yields few behavior issues, and is usually a pleasure in the art studios. Each child has an idea of what he or she wants to do in art each day and it's their "norm" to get right to work. Even though they're my last group of the day, they bring quiet energy and a steady, focused interest to their work.
As our architects began to build, they quietly planned their structures as they chose blocks. Instead of the large, group-built structure we see often, each member of the team began putting together his or her own part of the "city." As they worked, classmates in other studios started to notice how the builders were creating something a little different. With quiet voices and encouragement to the other three, each of the group helped to distribute specific blocks that were needed around the carpet. Passageways were built to connect four separate structures. Excitement built even further as the students realized that by working as a team they'd used every block on the cart. Surveying their city, pride shone on four faces. "Don't you have any more blocks, Ms. J? We're not really finished yet." I offered them a collection of green foam blocks that I'd cut out of upholstery foam and they happily went back to work. As they completed a city wall that nearly encircled their work, one student noticed wistfully, "But there aren't enough to go all the way around." I asked, "What could be the reason it's unfinished?" and another student said, "That's where the ocean meets the city!" The rest of the class applauded the city and recognized the unabashed glee that was being telegraphed by the team. We spent a moment smiling at each other (and taking more pictures, of course) and then it was time for clean up. True to form, the whole class did a great job at that, too.
Collaboration - one essential element of a comprehensive art program.