Arts and Crap

Thursday, September 29, 2011

From the title of this post, I suspect some of you can already sense where I am heading, right?

Yep. You guessed it. Art as Process and Art as Product: and Why "Art Projects Bug the Ever-loving Shit out of Me".

Some of you may recall my "Holiday's aren't Curriculum" Post whereby I broke down why I banned Holiday's in the child care center when I was director. Yes, partly because I am mean and have a tiny, shrivelled heart, but also for sound basic curriculum and anti-bias curriculum reasons. Not to mention socio-economic realities for families.

So here is why I detest Art Projects:

1. They are nearly never done by the child.

What you end up seeing is 15 seconds of "work" by the child and 20 hours of copying, cutting and arranging by the Adult.  I don't need to see an Egg that opens into a Chick. I don't need to see a Turkey Hand Print. I sure as hell don't need to see one of those terrifying Paper Plate Leprechaun masks.

I know. I know what some of you are thinking: "But Dawn, the Parents LOVE these projects".

"Ok Then", I say, "But be honest with them and give it to them from You, the Adult, to THEM, the adult - cause their kid had as little as possible to do with making the damn thing."

We do ourselves no service when we perpetuate these types of "projects" onto children and families. It lies to the adults and is of no benefit to the child.  Stop doing this, I beg you.

2. There is NO developmental skill being utilized

When a child takes a marker and randomly scribbles something on a paper, it isn't Art. Telling them it IS art is a dereliction of teaching duty, in my opinion.  Same with gluing something on a paper so they can get back to what ever they really want them to do. And Please, don't get me started on those useless color and cut worksheet pages. If you are relying on a workbook to assess how children are using scissors,coloring and drawing, then there is something seriously wrong with your teaching.

Yeah, I said it.

Children WANT to create. They WANT to use scissors and glue and markers and crayons. The materials aren't the problem. It's the presentation.

3. You are teaching Nothing about Aesthetics

When children are asked to do one of those aforementioned worksheets, we are stripping something essential from the Art experience. Beauty. Texture. Sensory Input.

You don't need to have an atelier to inspire children, but the space does need to be well organized and well stocked. NOT overstocked, which is a common misconception, but well ordered and well stocked.  If blows are being come to over who gets the One red marker than you need more red markers.

If no one can find one piece of drawing paper, or the paints are all mixed in together, or the brushes are all chewed up, then No. No one is going to attempt to make anything.

One of the best teachers I ever saw work made her art space a thing of beauty. Glass containers for brushes, lovely baskets for crayons, with small trays set out for personalized space. Her space invited children to sit down and think about what they were creating. The space was always incredibly well organized and neat - In fact when I would cover her during nap time, I would often sit and re-sharpen the colored pencils, or sort out the broken crayon pieces, or test markers to make sure they weren't dried up.  Sometimes she would cut paper into different sizes or shapes to present different options to work with, and there was always a basket with collage pieces cut from the larger pieces of paper , salvaged when bigger Art was being designed.

When the materials are presented respectfully, the children will respect the space. Our job as adults is to design and stock the space; to give ample time and opportunity to explore a material.

We should be watching children to make sure their fine motor is coming along and they are learning to work scissors ( even Toddlers), hold pencils, and markers, and paint brushes.

We want to see the glory of glue being tested - Will it hold? Will it Dry? What will it do to tissue paper? What does it taste like since it looks a lot like milk?

We want paint to be applied, to know watercolors and fingerpaint and the variety of textures and colors we can produce. We want to paint with q-tips, and pine branches and cones, and wildflowers and sticks.  Put a bowl of bananas in the middle of the table ( for inspiration and snack) and a variety of yellow paint shades.  See what you get. You might get an intensely interesting conversation on shades and shadows and yellow-ness of yellow. You might get kids who eat bananas while they glue things together.

I've seen children paint to Mambo Music, choosing colors that reflect the sounds they are hearing, I've seen children paint to cuban lullabies, moving their hands to the long notes being sung. I've seen easels with partner brushes that can be held by two children at once, so they must negotiate with their partner as to what to do, what colors to choose and where they want to place the brush strokes.

I've seen children study small posters of van Gogh, or Renoir, or Kandinsky or Klee and try to not replicate, but utilize what those pieces of art are saying to them.

The mind is integrated and firing on all cylinders. It is intensely beautiful to witness.

All of these goals can and should be accomplished with the end result being Art to cherish, made by active and engaged children who are alive within their sensory-rich environment, being guided by sensitive adults who are sharing the beauty the world has to offer.

Which is not located in the construction paper pumpkin produced by every kid in the class.

*Yes, I know some children love using coloring book pictures. No problem, if they CHOOSE it as a self selected activity and not because everyone needs to color the pumpkin because now it is Art Project Time.

*Yes, this takes time to model. You can't expect anyone to use materials properly when the teacher has them locked in the cupboard constantly, only to be whisked back into fort knox once the project is finished.  Deprivation does not teach discipline.

* I have some beef with the Toddler Art Market. All this Oversized stuff is ridiculous. I've seen Toddlers pick up the smallest piece of garbage possible, nearly indiscernible to the human eye. They can handle a regular pencil.

5 Baleful Regards:

Jessica said...

I really wouldn't mind never receiving one of those production line, teacher-cut-out concoctions again.

When the only evidence of my kid's creativity is the scribbles across the middle, the only reason it ever ends up on my fridge is because she gets upset if it doesn't. I TOTALLY wish they'd just sit them down with a variety of materials and let them do whatever they want.

Surely, art projects are the place to let creativity reign?

Dawn said...

You'd think, right? I have know teachers who hold on to those "projects" like I was taking oxygen from them. Telling me "But parents LOVE THEM!!" - then riling up the parents and sending them to yell at me for stripping their child of the right to make the same fucking whatever year after year.

Part is the inability to express (by the professional) what we are seeing when we see a child working with scissors/pencil/paintbrush etc. Partly is an education system for teachers which is spotty to middling at preparing teachers for What they Should be doing and how they should be explaining/defending it when it comes to Art/aesthetics.

Partly, it can be laziness ( or lack of creative freedom) on the teachers part - mistaking an art "project" for the Process of Art.

Jaelithe said...

Well, average kids can handle normal pencils. Kids with dyspraxia, a serious fine motor delay and an incorrect pincer grasp? Not so much. I have personally witnessed the power of fat triangle crayons to transform a frustrated boy who would rather throw a crayon than try to use it into an happy little stick figure artist.

However I entirely agree that cookie cutter worksheet art projects suck.

Dawn said...

True, True, Jaelithe my dear.

Em's Teachers had modified things for her too - That theraputty was a huge hit as it could be formed around the pencil to help her Hold it. And the Handwriting Without Tears Individual Chalkboard is How she learned to Make Letters.

And Obviously for kids with Sensory Defensive issues, fingerpaint is akin to Satan.

I know YOU know that I am talking in general.

But also I should mention that for kiddos with Developmental Delays, their process of Art IS very much different, and needs to be assessed as such. Em didn't really start Drawing until 2nd grade, she was all abstract paint colours and collage glueing until then.

But it comes - all of it comes.
Emily now draws, constantly.

jwg said...

Or, as a friend of mine says, if you change something on a child's artwork you can hang it on your refrigerator.

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