Hunter Park Kindergarten

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Professional Development Inspiration day -The Arts

Here are some of my thoughts as a result of attending this course, they do not represent those of the presenters who would probably disagree on some points they inspired me to reflect on.

My thoughts on art education following inspiration day 8.5.10 Napier
With Wendy Lee and Julie Killick
Art is an expression of our perception, thoughts and emotions. It is often creative, combining ideas and feelings and showing not just what is seen but what is perceived behind and beyond the limits of a moment’s mere sight alone. When you view art it can communicate to you a message over and above the subject pictured. Art can tell a story of love, beauty, hate, ugliness, innocence, worldliness and more, opening your mind to new ways to see, different perceptions and understandings through the lenses its’ maker has placed consciously or subconsciously on its’ form.
Artistic ability like any skill develops with practice, as we train the muscles in the mind and body to see, create and express what is inspired. Coaching in art can sharpen technical fitness, direct growth and challenge an artist to achieve more than they could on their own. But it should come from their inner artist not another persons, much as a technique that suits one athlete may hinder another with a differing physique. In encouraging the artist we have a number of roles and a number of cautions.
We must encourage them to realise what they see, and not impose or own vision. We are not training them to become a conduit for our own expression but listening to and drawing out their own sight. If we tell them “no you are wrong”,” yours is not as good”, “that is wonderful”, or” this is how you do”, they will believe us and be content they now know what is so, but they will be uninspired and will cease to create. Oh they may photocopy various beautiful reproductions but watch them, they will not grow until the opportunity to express themselves is reopened.
When looking at a child’s art do you demand “show me that” as if you own it, or ask “may I place this on our wall” as if you judge what is fit for your wall. Instead do you offer and empower “here is a space on our wall, you choose what goes here.” They might not even choose their own work, how many writers have vast libraries of other author’s books they value. You have the power, can you give it away, if you do like love it will return to in kind.
And love and passion are fine to share, if they are inspired by the expression of your vision to find new vision of their own, all the better.
So encourage them to examine and describe what they see, but more to tell how they feel about it and listen to the stories it evokes from them. Obviously not just any subject will do, you must use your knowledge and intuitions of them to provide provocations then look out for the subjects that inspire them, refining your understanding in the process.
Do not limit yourself too merely that you appreciate. If you cannot see the merit in hulk smash, or a movie of a dramatised fight, maybe they cannot see the merit in plant gonads entombed in a painted coffin. Console yourself with the thought that one of you probably lacks experience in the genre, and like find wine a palette will develop in time.
Even if you don’t understand all the nuances in what they are saying listen and seek clarification on what you see. Remember whether it is a child drawing a picture for their mother or an artist for a gallery, it is not just a picture, it is a gift, a sharing and as with any communication, and it is a seeking for and expectation of, attention in return, even if the artist is only talking to themselves. Whakarongo mai, turn your senses in my direction.
Do not expect perfection, perfection is in the eye of the beholder of the vision, not yours, it is our imperfections that give a work its’ timbre and tone, the rich story beneath the note. A violin does not just play a note, it remembers and it and passes it along, alongside all the voices of all its’ previous fiddlers. Perfection is something the artist strives for in the moment but their goal changes with each moment past. To reach perfection is to die.
Beware to understand that the background provides the context and can be as if not more important than the object fore-grounded. Don’t just focus on the object of your study but its environment the meaning, around it, when modeling.
“But I can’t draw.” Observation is a part of your brain that must be exercised, we found our vision blurred after we worked hard without much recent practice, the hand learns to follow the eye and we must overcome our hesitancies and perceived inabilities because they will be the lens our hand draws from if that’s what our brain sees, as adults we often have to train our brain to see what else is there, when we look at a picture do we see dolphins or lovers of something else, two faces or a vase, an old lady or a young lady, dogs or leaves. Our brain as adults must be taught to shift a gear and we must remember to be patient as young mental muscles take time to develop.
When Picasso said he spent a life time learning to draw like a child I draw two meaning from his words. First it takes 15,000 hours to train the mind and body in the techniques, mindsets and skills to approach mastery, but don’t despair you will catch plenty of moments of brilliant revelation along the way. But I believe he also meant to learn to draw symbolically. A child draws representationally, a few powerful lines and symbols that state the meaning of what they see   and leaves the mind to fill in the blanks. What happens then is our written language shapes us to break down the image into lines and pieces. In the end I believe Picasso failed, he drew symbols but his symbols were still the shattered pieces our language imposes on our thinking not the whole itself as some languages express ¥. Children illiterate as they are, don’t draw pieces they draw wholes, their egocentric selves, their self and their whole dependent family unit part of its’ self concept. They know their ability to use suggestion is better than their ability to use pure pictorial accuracy. Suggestion lets the mind fill in the picture. Before the symbolic stage there is the stage of scribble, movement, colour, sensation, feel as the toddler literally paints themselves. So when I say he failed, I mean the answer he came up with for his question, his passion doesn’t match the one I think he should have found if he wanted to draw like a child. However children’s photography often captures their passion, it is friends, faces and strangely enough parts of faces and bodies, shoes and feet, a person’s necklace, the inside of their mouth, so maybe I am wrong, but then again a camera is as much a tool for seeing as it is for capturing images.
Should we be wary of symbols, the stick man, the m shaped bird? Wendy shared the story of the child whose stick man birds changed to m shaped birds after their mother told them this is how you draw birds and would not change back to what their teacher thought was better. M is a powerful symbol m, m is for mum, two birds with you between them, or to the image reversing mind of a child who hasn’t yet learnt to flip the optic message, two breasts and a bottom with a womb in between. I believe it is the message we must be careful of not the symbol. If your chief patron tells you to use one simple symbol in preference to a group of symbols to represent a bird, of course you will, while it could be seen as a step back it could also be a step forward, but it could also be a different avenue of exploration, a way of representing a distant large winged bird in flight not a close up small winged bird on the ground which to the child’s mind may be two different things. We may feel passionate about their original birds but we must ask does the child have a new passion for us to support and explore with them.
If you say “I can’t draw” it probably means you have never found anything you feel passionate enough about drawing to persist with to gain the experience. As a young man learning about art nothing sparked my interest until I found I had a passion for drawing and painting the beauty of women. Typically enough my school art programme hadn’t catered to such esoteric interests but was convinced I would be much more fascinated by drawing houses, flowers, rocks or my hand. Perhaps they thought teenage boys weren’t interested in such things? Even the creatures of fantasy from my passion for reading Tolkien and his ilk were out , we had to draw what was real. Yet when in my twenties I drew the woman modelling in front of me I didn’t draw the reality of the recovering accident scarred body of our model I drew what I was passionate about the beauty and potential I saw behind her scars and wasted body. When we changed to a male model I soon lost interest and stopped going, it was not my passion. A passion is both a question we are trying to answer and an appeal.

What of colouring books and templates? Are they demon or saint? Many are the stories of young artists overcome by their lines, are people telling us what we want to hear so we reinforce our own prejudices? If we asked for stories of how colouring books and paint by numbers, study of other artists works have inspired, would we receive them? Colourist is an actual profession, many comic book artists employ trained colourists to colour their drawings, is colouring just another form of artistic expression?
As with all things I think the answer is in how we use colouring pictures and templates. The journeys you engage in to make a card of love for your mother, to make a mother’s day card for your mother, to buy a card for your mother on mother’s day, to sign a card chosen for you for your mother , and to be given a card with your name written in to give to your mother are all different. They will give you different experiences depending on your level of engagement in the task, it is not the colouring template itself but the voices around it that will shape your learning.
Do you hear “use this because you can’t”, “you needn’t bother because,” “this is what is (unlike yours) good?” Or perhaps you hear “see how this artist used a heart, a lot of people use a shape drawn like this to symbolise love, they call it a heart but see it doesn’t even look like a heart,” (this is where having a supply of internal organs to hand comes in useful,) “ I wonder who first came up with the idea? Why do so many people like it? Why are they nearly always pink and red? What else does it look like?” Perhaps you will hear a shared vision (after a slow count to twenty), “I can see two people kissing, for pursed lips, like a lipstick kiss, or two people holding hands as they go to play in the park (as your guide remembers to put it in contexts you as a child are familiar with.) Perhaps they will finish with “tell me about you and your mum’s love, I wonder how you could symbolise it?”
Being given a line drawing of a horse to colour won’t turn you off your own drawing style, after all I’m sure you can find blank space in it if not on the back, it may even inspire you to draw some of your horses with new insights you recognise in another artist’s work, but that said the words, expectations and instructions that accompany the colouring picyure and appear on its’ completion might do so.
Another example would be my son, he showed me a rocket, “but I didn’t make it right.” He was giving himself an accurate self criticism based on the sample picture of a block rocket I found he was trying to reproduce, he wasn’t interested in creating, he wanted to reproduce, it’s something I’ve done in my own art, copying a picture I like. I agreed with his criticism, discussed it, he then went on to achieve his goal, then I challenged him, “what’s on the other side of the rocket in the part of the picture we can’t see?” Perhaps it was more mathematical than artistic, and exercise in sequence and prediction rather than creation, but he responded to both the attention and the challenge.
What about painting your own pictures, what if a child asks you “can you make me a” or worse still “can I use your paints?”(because ours is crap and yours work really well.) Well how many of us ask the children for a painting, because it works both ways. Do you not feel some desire to have, some ownership of, a painting you see created by another (be they child or other art talent.) How many of us have brought as a gift a picture we thought one we love would value? I say it’s okay to make it for them, but take ownership of it, sign your name, or even “to x’s mum with love your teacher Y”. You might also say “no, sorry I want this one for,” or “I can’t this morning but I can try this afternoon.” How about “what would you like it for,” or “do you like my painting, what do you like about it?” Give them the language to deal with other people’s requests for and about their work. Maybe you need to recognise they may not have a passion for creating art, but might still have an appreciation and passion for sharing it, they may be a budding art collector.
In summary encourage children to notice and share different perspectives, encourage sensitivity to feelings in expression and observation, give time for absorption, seek what is already well absorbed, provide space, time and media for children to store, display and create their art. Be a model and express your own passions. Model and discuss study, studies, experiments, successes, failures, techniques and use of media and symbols. Model and discuss what you feel, what you see, model differing views with your colleagues.
Actions to undertake as a result of attending the course
Challenge colleagues and be challenged when weappear to be imposing their own vision and limits on children.
Look at how circles, triangles and shapes can be worked into playground redesign.
Look how squares in environment don’t have to be so.
Consider visits to art galleries
Consider putting more furniture in art galleries so paintings are in a live context.
Put out some ducks by art area or art area by ducks for duck shooting season.
Pictures of space ships, castles, farms and houses in block area.
Relook at routines use of space and how we have lunch, mat, inside kindergarten
Stand up (not sit) to your art.
Challenges like can you combine two artists work, in creation or after.
Consider a suspension bridge of sellotape, not a waste of tape.
Look for inspiration in this in the children, but don’t expect inspiration without provocation.
Look at how we store unfinished art and how we display it. Velcro frames, named child spaces on enrolment.
Be prepared to model and discuss the process, sensitivity and appreciation of art.
To consider art supply purchases as if I was purchasing for my own use.
Understand an artist’s mind if often not tidy and a tidy art space can be more intimidating than an untidy one full of memories of inspiration.
Pastels on canvas.
Pva glue printing.
Share some ideas at transition meeting
To be prepared to consider children covering themselves head to toe in paint as not just a mess, but an expression.
To maybe one day strip off and dive onto a tarpaulin covered in finger paint, possibly as part of a group activity, prepared to be hosed off a the end, as Wendy described children as doing regularly at kindy once upon a time.
Interesting references links
Carol Dweck “mindsets”
Hundertwasser kindergarten
Ukraninian sand artist Kseniya Simonova on youtube.

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