Art rooms are busy places. For much of the school year, the heartbeat in our studios is a rapid one. Our schedule is set up to support our colleagues' shared planning time as well as their students' fine arts/library/PE needs. Because of that, an entire grade level is with us, albeit all over the building, for their designated specialist time. The pace is intense for lots of good reasons - kids are naturally curious and the wise adult provides LOTS of choices to keep them focused on learning; our standards and benchmarks are comprehensive and detailed so we have to hit the palette running to have half a chance at meeting expectations, and, as is the case in all schools, there just aren't enough hours in the day.
Still, following the sage's advice, "If you want something done, ask a busy person," there are additional tasks that are done "for the good of the order," to celebrate hard work, or, frankly, just to celebrate. What school improvement committee work can't be improved by siting it at a broad studio table surrounded by brilliantly colored child art and accompanied by an obscenely large tote full of chocolate in the center? Is there any day that's too busy to drop what you had in mind for planning time, pack up your French horn, and introduce her to a couple of classes of Mozart-loving second graders? What better activity for a winter teacher conference day - when people are coming and going and an artist might just need to drop buy and......decorate an edible masterpiece? And what about the care and feeding of the most vertebraically gifted inhabitant of the program? We offer public interaction (with a parent permission slip and snake lover hallway pass, of course, and don't you think those are some interesting conversations over the dinner table?) every month or so at feeding time. Sometimes it's just the art club kiddos and me, but Jezebel has a few slightly taller, adult friends, too. A couple of "cases in point:" Mr. E and Ms. B have worked hard on their snake befriending skills over the past two years. Initial reticence has given way to closer interactions, more and more comfort closer to a goal of actually touching Jezebel, and, finally, full contact snaking. I present to you the latest members of the "I don't like all snakes - just this one" club. One set of pictures proudly made the rounds of family and friends and the second set actually had to be printed out in wallet-sized versions so a certain teacher's mother could share with all of *her* friends. I'll let you guess, fair readers.
In my first visit since the new hip debuted just over a week ago, I found the art classroom in yet another metamorphosis - plant hospital and spa. We did surgery on a waterlogged angel-leaf begonia, re-potted several leggy pot poaching types, and watered the collection that's grown into a lovely jungle. Art and kids and plants and kids and animals and kids and cookies and kids and people who like being around kids and kids. Yep. I'm in the right place.
"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.