As glorious and celebratory as it is, staging an elementary art show is TOUGH! Several months have passed since the student artists held their annual exhibition of their favorite pieces. The buildup to a show is intense/glorious/crazymaking/terrifying/joyful but that's always the way it feels at the end of the school year. Short artists did an amazing job on their pieces but had their usual wrenching time choosing their favorite. ("But WHY can't I put all of my cars in, Ms. J. They're ALL my best piece!") With little ones, it's frequently a case of Last In First Chosen. They love the most recent addition to their portfolios best because it's their newest work. For most children, the process of doing artwork is much more satisfying than the final project, so the most recent piece is naturally their favorite.
The incredible impact of over 500 pieces of children's art on display is hard to describe. We had some fabulous volunteers who helped put the display together as well as gathering everything at the end of the night, and it was all worth it. Our children walk the four blocks between our school and the City Hall where the exhibit is staged. The sound we heard when the first group - kindergarten and first grades - walked into the large room was a loud, collective "Woooooah!" Mission accomplished.
We learn so much from collections of children's art. Notice how they experiment with color. Watch for partnerships - when children share ideas or techniques with each other. With student-centered art, every piece represents exploration that matters to the artist. I'm in awe of their creativity and will share a selection of artists' statements, as well.
Questions for this year: Size? Venue? Timing? Invite other schools? Include art from other members of the learning community? Outreach and publicity? Chocolate?
For more pictures of our celebration of short people art, visit the Showtime! gallery.
Here is coverage of our art show in our local paper, the Shelton-Mason County Journal.
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.
Art is essential but kid art is nothing short of magical. The maintenance fairies came with their favorite (and newly repaired) electric cherrypicker and hung last year's first weaving piece high above the hallway in the sunny atrium. As installations go,(and speaking in an absolutely unbiased, professional tone here) I'm in love. I used the same heavy cotton string we warped the loom with to attach it (loosely, crochet-style) to a medium-sized alder trunk that I harvested from the woods down the hill from my house. There was something about the rough texture and irregular lines of the wood that made it the perfect match to our woven panels. All sorts of fibers make up the five panels. We wove with anything we could get our hands on, including strips of recycled denim, glossy satin ribbons, pieces of calico, fat yarn, skinny yarn, rough brown twine, heavy velvet ribbon (think holiday wreaths) and the occasional feather. At the time, we worried a little about how the youngest artists let long tendrils of surplus yarn dangle as they rushed to add another color to successive rows. I even made an attempt at French braiding the "tails" but the gathered multitudes didn't like that look, either. We let them trail.
As is the way for these kinds of long term projects, inter erst waxed and waned with the children. Weaving offers a couple of things that no other medium does - that Zen-like feeling of putting order to patterns and the feel of the fibers as you work them is important. So, too, is the feeling of community that comes from adding your artistic ideas to something that 500 other artists are working on. Some children became weaving "experts" and concentrated on a panel that they considered their own. Others spent time straightening out perceived imperfections before they wove, or organized several peers to try a certain technique they'd invented. Because of the individual attention, each artist can point out which of the strands he or she is responsible for. I enjoyed conference time when children would bring parents by to weave a strand or two and to point out their favorite contributions. All the weavers could remember exactly who worked beside them when they wove, too. Friends intensify memory.
I mentally adjusted my super teacher pedestal down a few notches, though, when I realized that, instead of remembering the exact location of their stitches, several kids claimed the sunset near the center of the largest of the panels on the right side of the piece. I'd added it one morning to show some fifth grade girls that we could weave ta pastry-style with a pattern in mind rather than limiting ourselves to simple lines. I heard no fewer than three of our younger artists proudly claim the sunset as their own and realized that absolute precision, once again, had been trumped by pride in a group effort.
This year's weaving is well underway but won't be complete by the time our April art show comes. The plan is to take it along with all of our art for display and to offer it as a community activity. I envision lots of cool photographic possibilities when families add a little bit of this or that to the work in progress. I'll be certain to leave lots of colorful yarns, strips of material, and ribbons close to the loom and I think I'll hide the scissors, just to be safe.