Friday, January 25, 2013

Art With Kids: Learning By Heart

For more stories about my talented and adorable art students, read:

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As an art teacher and an artist, I have some strong opinions about the nature and value of art as a field of study. Interestingly, most of the time, I contradict myself. See what I mean?
Some people are born with a distinctive and well-developed artistic aesthetic, yet the ability to make art is a trained skill, not an inborn gift. 
Art engages the right, creative side of the brain, but it also primes the left side for highly precise and rational work like mathematics.
Making art should be a playful, uninhibited, instinctive exploration, but it's also a serious discipline of study.
I've learned to accept that art has a split personality, and I do my best to embrace all of its dimensions.

So, when I am making art with young children, one of my goals is to create open-ended activities that allow them to follow their own instincts without any big concepts of 'right' or 'wrong' hanging over their heads. But at the same time, I watch their work for signs of growth and deepening skills, and share my observations with them to help them see their own progress.

Today, as we were making heart-shaped collages for Valentine's Day, I was struck by several of the projects I saw:

Look at the red rectangles inside this heart. Notice the clean, straight lines of the hand-cut pieces, the interesting way the pieces are layered one over the next, and the subtle variation in tones, from pink to orange to red.

Now check out the even more carefully trimmed skinny rectangles of pinky purple that were used by this eleven-year-old to outline the heart. While the delicate width of the band allows the red heart to steal the show, the contrast between the two colors delivers a strong pow! of excitement and drama to this composition. When a child creates a piece of art that delivers a little bolt of electricity to my eyes, I am very impressed.

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Young children are often fascinated with the process of using smaller elements to outline a basic shape. This nine-year-old artist has definitely used this strategy for several years, and continues to experiment by plopping these sequins and other bits down in the shape of a heart. But notice how her level of sophistication has increased. These three elements - the pink heart, the big gold sequins and the smaller purple circles - create a pleasing variety of shapes, colors and sizes, and the craftsmanship in lining them up so carefully and precisely is to be admired.

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This free-form eclectic collage is a study in interesting textures, colors, and carefully constructed balance. Notice the three big red hearts, positioned in the top two corners and lower center part of the heart. With the smaller red elements, they create a sturdy symmetrical balance that is enhanced by the ripped yellow paper. The negative space is beautifully uniform; the craftsmanship required to squeeze so many items into such a small space with about the same amount of white paper showing from behind...well, that's not so easy to do.  While this may look random and unplanned, this sort of all-over design is often the most difficult to execute.  Kudos to the eleven-year-old hands that made it happen.

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And this? Well, this precious series of collages made by my four-year-old student reflects her growing sense of symbolism - "the hearts have faces!" - as well as her understanding of balance and contrasting textures. She's also become quite a whiz with a bottle of glue, and when she inadvertently squirted a bit more glue than necessary, she announced, "Don't worry, it'll be fine." And she was right.

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I'm happy to say that all of my students had fun making heart collages today, and there were many other interesting projects created.  And while I value the fun experience that everyone shared, I also celebrate the advances that I saw in these particular creations. 

Bravo to my clever art students - you are learning so much about making art, and you make me very proud.

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More sweet whisperings of Valentine love:

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