Most of the artists in Evergreen's art studio walk (dance/march/pirouette/boogie) into art class with an idea in their heads. I can see it behind their eyes some days - a kind of quiet focus that bespeaks of the pictures and planning that is going on in their heads. Some children trumpet their intentions, "Hey, Ms. J.! I'm gonna make a rainbow rocket today!" Others are less certain, or, because they come later in the choosing rotation that day, prefer to decide when they see what materials are available in the studio where they find themselves.
Collage offers an interesting view of a child artist's planning. Children walk around the table, sampling papers from the bins that are available. At the moment we have tubs of varied size with tissue paper, "beautiful papers" (recycled from the paint or print centers, these are brightly colored - think Eric Carle) a stacked plastic chest of paper drawers, separated by color families, a selection of small paper bags, rolls of wall paper and brightly colored cellophane, some greeting cards (I have them up high because they seem to kill creativity rather than encouraging it...) and one box of special paper - mylar balloon scraps, sparkly paper, fancy greeting paper and paper doilies. There is a tall bin of odd-sized cast off mat scraps from a local art gallery's framing business. Sometimes I have magazines and sometimes they are intentionally scarce. I want my students to balance the tendency to do simple collections ("Look! 35 cars!) with other aspects of color, layout, and balance in collage work.
When magazines are placed in the studio I control fairly tightly - National Geographic, nature magazines, sailing, sports, cars, Smithsonian and always, always "looked" first to cull images that are overtly salacious or that show too honestly the reality of war. Scissors? Yep. Straight, fancy edges, "Mom scissors," (I keep large craft scissors sharpened to serious edges and do LOTS of prep in their safe use) and multiples of kid scissors. For second grade and up, we have a couple of crimpers, too. I've gone through lots of How To Manage Glue Without Going Insane periods, and have hit on an idea I gleaned from a helpful colleague on the TAB Yahoo list. Glue pots are nothing fancier than cheap sponges cut to fit inside plastic containers with lids. I thin white school glue just a little and turn the kids loose with them. We've loved the result - far less mess, glue pot lids are finding their way closed during clean up and they stack neatly.
Back to our wandering artists... Children usually only take one turn through the materials before selecting a project and getting to work. Collage, more than any other medium, lends itself to arranging and rearranging elements before gluing things together. I'm intrigued with the variety of expression and simply love the peculiar personalities of some of the puppets that are born in this studio.
Staging an art show is an interesting exercise. It's one part celebration, one part pulling teeth, one part planning, and one part total surprise. As our choice-based studios have matured at Evergreen Elementary School, we've taken on a bit more with our end of the year exhibition. Year one was an art walk. Our current PTSO president, Donna, contacted area businesses and arranged for display space. She has considerable artistic ability in her own right and the displays were well received in coffee shops, cafes, libraries, and utility companies. Artwork was chosen on the basis of variety and pithy artists' statements and Donna did ALL the legwork involved in hanging and retrieving the displays.
Year two (last year) was our first year staging a big show in a public space. Since our gym/cafeteria is used for so many purposes during the day and is also booked for athletic and dance practices in the evening, it wasn't a good idea to display our artwork there. Our hallways have some bulletin display space, but with active, innovative teachers, they're always full of children's writing and poetry, artwork, and science and math project work. Our experience with staging the show at our local Civic Center was a positive one, so we booked the big main room again this year. Only four blocks from our school, the two story "big room" lends itself well to weddings, big meetings, community events, and elementary art shows! The city offices that are there - police, court, and water payment offices result in lots of foot traffic and their facility manager, Mark, has a crew that is adept at setup and take down.
After I looked at the attendance data from last year I realized that having the show in the evening hours, alone, resulted in fairly modest numbers of visitors. We'd also attempted to gain larger crowds by scheduling the show during our annual Dia de los Niños celebration. Instead of bolstering attendance, that split the crowd. A brainstorming session with my specialist team (PE, music, library) started the planning for walking field trips to see the show. Grade levels would make the trek in pairs (K-1, 2-3, 4-5) with lots of adult walkers to help with safety and behavior choices. Our specialist time provides planning time for teachers but after presenting the proposal to the Leadership Team, people were willing to juggle their schedules for the day so that all children and staff could see the show. To help support the goals of my library partner we scheduled a book fair for the evening of the show in the school library.
Perhaps I'll track the amount of time it takes to mount 540 pieces of artwork on black construction paper and convert oral or written artists' statements from each child someday. This year's effort began last June, when the order for 18"x24" black paper went in. The April, 2009 show taught me that gluing enough 12"x18" paper to mount the number of large paintings we had was seriously time consuming so the larger paper size worked great this year. I talked to the students about the show early in September when we decorated our portfolio covers, promising that they'd enjoy the process of choosing a favorite piece when the show came along in the spring. A few children proudly announced, "This one is for the show!" when they finished a particularly satisfying piece of artwork. Others needed to be nudged a bit. Ours is a methodology that focuses more strongly on process than product, so many children prefer to try to "just do one more picture of X" to choosing a piece from further back in the year. After much shuffling of artwork, deep consideration of everything in the portfolios, and only a little bit of BossyArtTeacherStrongArming, works are chosen.
Artists' statements are amazing things. I watch adults and children alike sink into the fascination of listening to the artist's voice in print while their eyes look at the art. Some are tidy lists that highlight process. Others are rambling stories
that beg for more print space. Still others are almost too private - windows into that artist's mind. Younger students dictate their statements and they're dropped straight into a computer template. Older students do their own first draft and submit the statement when the art is submitted for the show. A few find it difficult to talk about their art (hence the earlier reference to pulling teeth) but I politely insist. You won't be there to discuss your work with your viewers. Share just a little about what you were thinking, please. This year's format was two statements: Share something about why you created this piece. Share something about how you made it.
Thank you notes have gone out to the volunteers who gave us their afternoon to help hang the show, to the maintenance men who transported the livestock panels for my display kiosks, and to the facilitator of the room, for being such a pro in how he deals with our wandering art hordes. Data from the surveys I distributed to staff are being collected to help in next year's planning, and the artwork from the 2009-2010 art show is safely posted on refrigerators all over town. Life is good.
What has 40 whirring blades, 200 sticky appendages, and a fiery love for layers and layers and layers and even more layers of brilliant color? Twenty kindergartners in the throes of a lesson on layering collage are a terrifying force for art good. How did a whole group lesson in collage come about inside a mini-studio territory like ours? There are a couple of answers. First, when a new studio is introduced, we frequently do an in depth orientation into how things work. It's important for everyone to know how the tools work, what kinds of thing are possible with the materials in the studio, and to have a bit of background in related genre. Collage (or "cut paper" in kinderspeak) is a rich place for creative artists. All the layering, textures of different papers, magazine picture cutting, not to mention the fun mask and puppet making that lend themselves to the area, are a trill.
Different from a lesson that points children towards a specific project, a good kindercollage lesson teaches some basics about attachment. A glue stick is a fabulous source of entertainment but works best in collage when it's used carefully. (Translation: one large stick per collage project might be a little much.) Scissors are wonderful tools, but it's a little harder to assemble 3,278 pieces of shredded construction paper if you don't save one bigger piece to use as a base. One last challenge is to gain an understanding about how much time we have in art for short projects. If we have about thirty minutes for cutting and pasting, thirty minutes of cutting (remember the 3,278 pieces of construction paper?) won't leave an artist any time for pasting.
If I more time with my flock of kinderducklings, we could do more of the "discover how to use this tool" exploration on our own. As it is, though, I'd rather install a few short cuts so we can get to full studio use as soon as possible. The payoff? Total joy.