It's not our art, but our heart that's on display. - Gary Holland
Things I've learned about elementary art shows:
- Start early. No - earlier than that.
- Keep a rich collection in children's portfolios. Don't depend on fabulous work to return once it's escaped to the refrigerator or Grandma's house.
- Estimate the amount of time you'll need to mount the artwork. Now, double it. That's about half the time you'll need to make sure everything is perfect.
- Invite everyone you know. Celebrate the people who came and don't worry about those who couldn't make it. Offer art-related door prizes, drawn from the names of students who attended with their families. Celebrate the class with the most visitors with a colorful ice cream party.
- Take good care of your friends, lovers, and volunteers. You'll need all of their help setting up and tearing down the show.
- Write thank you notes to everyone - the facility manager of the venue you used, the webmaster of the radio outlet who added your show to the community calendar, the newspaper staffer who added your press release to the weekly paper, every volunteer who helped, and every colleague who attended.
- Take lots of pictures.
- Don't get the flu. If you DO decide to get the flu, don't stage it during a swine flu pandemic. (See #4 - double and triple your be good to everyone close habits. All those sweet people will come in handy when Public Health and the school district nurse forbid anyone with flu symptoms from contact with normal [non-art show stagers] until further notice.)
Enjoy. Children's art is glorious, but the collective effect of 500 pieces of kid art will give you goosebumps. Or tears. Or both.
For all grand and glorious efforts, there must be a "this is the first time I've tried this" time. I decided to stage a whole-school show to showcase our kids' art about when started enjoying the collective impact of our hallway displays last year. I started a file with ideas and suggestions before that school year ended and added to it through the summer. The challenge of a venue is tough. Encumbering our gym/cafeteria for two or three days isn't a good choice. My PE partner already has lots of interruptions that take his classroom away and April weather in western Washington is usually too rainy for him to teach comfortably outside. Commandeering the hallways in my school is problematic, too. An important part of instruction at my school is a program called, GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Development.) Bulletin boards in the hallways are filled with colorful examples of children's writings and drawings about their lessons. The school is fairly new so the halls aren't wide enough to accommodate vertical displays and the three "pods" that cap the three hallways, while roomy, are always in use with small groups of children in special interest or intervention groups.
Hmmmm. On the other hand, there's a great space at our small town's city hall. It's an easy walk from our school - about 4 1/2 blocks. I reserved the main room the second week at school and began "talking up" the show to the kids. An art show like this one is a great chance for students to choose a favorite piece of artwork from all the work they've completed throughout the year. The stage was set - if you'll forgive the cliche - and the artmaking continued throughout the year.
The impact of all that child art in one place was amazing. I'd spent a year and a half researching display methods and settled on a combo approach. Some of the work was mounted on the walls, some laid out on long tables, and some was hung on livestock panels that we hooked together in sets of three to stand like vertical kiosks of sorts. It was an crazymaking amount of work and probably contributed to how hard the flu hit me that week. It was interesting in another way, too. We'd rented the whole room but found, when we came to set up, that one wall was covered with Arts Council pieces from professionals and that black curtains carved out a 20 foot, entire width of the room section for the Peninsula Art Association's annual spring show and sale. As it turned out, there was plenty of room for all of us, and the adults were interesting. We had everything from sniffing, look down my nose at children's paltry offerings to smiles on quiet faces that looked at every single piece, reading the artists' statements as the artwork was savored. We didn't have enough attendance from the school but I'll figure out another way to make a run at it next year. The people who did come loved it and the kids who were there were proud to see their work on display. I put together a guest book for people to share comments and left it on the entry table. The written comments were fun to read and supportive, but my favorite adult comment was from my principal, who said, "I loved the artwork, of course, but I lost myself in the artist statements that were attached to each piece. I read those for a solid hour - they're windows into those kids' souls."
My favorite child response was from a brother and sister (K and 4th grade, respectively) who brought every relative in town - totaling 14 people - to stake out their claim to the ice cream party prize for most guests. They didn't win that contest but the special art supplies they won pleased them even more.
As grand first efforts go, I think all of us did a great job.
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.