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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Space for Shared Practice - A Reflection on Art in Community

When I first became interested in art with children there seemed to be a split between process-based art and product-based art.  Typically, process-based art is more open-ended, more child driven and the outcomes have a much greater variety.  Product-based art is characterized by children’s creations all looking the same or very similar, is often more craft than art and involves a similarity of materials and method - to the point where it is often more a following directions and fine motor activity rather than a creative act.

For a long time I have been firmly on the side of process-based art.  With art in general, but particularly with art for young children the process is really where the richness is to be found.  I feel honored to witness the unfolding of the work and of the story as children immerse themselves in their process.  

The past few months I have moved out of my studio into working in the community and so I think more about what defines my work.  Yes, it is about the process but it is not just process for the sake of process.  We focus on the process as a way to develop shared habits and routines to support artistic practice.

What do I mean by artistic practice?  What conditions help to support artistic practice? What is the role of community in nurturing and supporting this practice?

Artistic practice is about making as a part of routine experience.  Materials are available, routines are established for set up and clean-up and planning focuses on ways to optimize creative control for participants.  This practice is grounded in a belief in the capability of participants and a desire to build on their sense of agency.  The goal of the facilitator of such a practice is to set up a place for things to occur but not to control the outcome.  A successful facilitator of artistic practice will feel most successful when most surprised.  In general the goal is also to build the habits of practice in participants to the point where they too can serve as facilitators for peers and for newcomers.

Time, space and materials are the beginning ingredients to support artistic practice.  Along with these, it helps to have mentors and fellow travelers.  Shared spaces support creativity by making greater resources available than might be available to an individual. Shared spaces also create a center for creative energy so that makers working in the same space might benefit from the energy and influence of others working side by side, as well as other groups who  gather there at different times.  Makers leave traces and these in turn inspire new work.  

This also leads me to the role of community in supporting and nurturing artistic practice.  A very natural response to a new discovery is the desire to share it.  We need spaces and people to share our discoveries, our observations, and our questions.  Creating requires a safe space to be vulnerable.  Having a gathering of other makers to check in with at regular intervals serves to support and sustain creative work.  As we begin programs again this fall, I look forward to continuing to explore practice in community.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Attentive in the Way of a Conversation

I spent the morning as a guest at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church on the occasion of their Ode to the Earth Service.  It was lovely to enjoy the music of the service, the readings and especially the time for quiet writing and reflection that led to beautiful sharing by the congregation.  In the quiet, members were invited to write an ode to the earth.  During the sermon time there was time to come forward and read.  It was a lovely celebration of creativity all around.

After the service I led an arts workshop exploring the connection between making and mindfulness.
As I prepared for the workshop, a quote from a book I have been reading really jumped out at me.

"Getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration."
-Matthew B. Crawford in Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work

His quote really spoke to the kind of invitation I hope to offer people in working with materials.  It is an invitation to conversation with materials, with mark making and with color, shape form and texture.  It is also an invitation to conversation with others through the shared experience of making.

The best part of this workshop was the intergenerational gathering of makers and the way the sun room quickly took on a quiet meditative studio quality.  The dining room and buffet table were home to more energetic making by some of the younger kids and to more of the conversations about making.  It served as an entry way and introduction, allowing the sun room to be quieter and more focused.  I loved watching people making in ways that were personal and meditative but also happened in the setting of a group.  See below for some of our makers working on their creations.



The last person to finish was very immersed in her process and expressed an interest to continue at home as well.  Before she left, she shared more details of her process with me, sharing how the image she created changed during her making.  She began with an intent to complete a center spiral connected to a heart button she found.  When the felt for the top pieces would not cooperate, she adapted to an image she found in the remaining pieces.  The image of the chalice emerged from this process.  Her story was a lovely example of a conversation with materials where things happened she never imagined or intended and she was open and willing to welcome them and let them speak to her.





Art Workshops and Dinner Parties

"I don't think of working with art materials as"messy," although it is very possible that it can be so.  When you sit down to a beautifully set meal table, it is impossible to eat without creating some disorder.  Forks and knives are rearranged, plates and glasses will need washing, and crumbs may fall on the floor.  Likewise, as you paint, cut, paste or use clay, things will get redistributed.  But they need not get out of hand if you plan and set up the workspace carefully."
- from Doing Art Together by Muriel Silberstein-Storfer

The dining room of the Hollin Hall at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church provided a great setting for art making.  It reminded me that one of my favorite ways of thinking about setting a table for art is to compare it to setting a table for a dinner party.

Things need to be accessible and ready for guests and a sign of a good dinner party is that food is eaten and there is a bit of a mess at the end of the meal.  Similarly, supplies are used and the table shows traces of workers process at the end of an art-making session.  For this group the cluster of tables in the dining room offered our materials buffet while the attached sun room offered additional seating to gather in small groups for making.  We were flexile enough to make room for makers at the materials table as well. Intergenerational art making like intergenerational meals involve some improvisation and flexibility.















Different meals require different utensils and part of the job of the host is to orient guests.  If I serve steamed crabs and a guest has never picked a crab, it would be wrong to not teach this person how to pick a crab. On the other hand seasoned crab pickers are ready to begin and don't need to sit through a demonstration from me.  In group art making I try to strike a balance between giving enough direction to get started and getting out of the way to let people enjoy making at their own pace.  Similar to hosting a meal, I am also on hand for unexpected spills or to see if someone needs more of something - in this case paper or glue or a different kind of drawing tool.

A difference between art workshops and dinner parties is that in a dinner party most of the creating happens before the event and the guests consume what you make.  In an art workshop, the creating happens during the time together and consuming and sharing supplies results in these wonderful creations that offer traces and reflections on our time together.  Thanks to all who were open today to sharing their creations through these photos.






Thursday, July 2, 2015

Space for Slowness

I drew this doodle inspired by a logo I saw from the slow food movement.  They have a "snail of approval" award.


I've been thinking a lot about spaces for slowness since reading this quote in Ursula Kolbe's wonderful book on drawing with children, It's Not a Bird Yet.

She writes,
"As anyone who has watched young pattern-makers knows, they build their configurations slowly, contemplating each step almost meditatively.  'She goes into another world,' aid one mother of her five-year-old pattern-making daughter." 

In another instance Kolbe writes,

"...when children make things, they also create spaces for themselves to be in.  A special place where they can pursue their own interests, where they feel free to be who the are, where their presence is somehow magnified.” 
- Ursula Kolbe in Children's Imagination: Creativity Under Our Noses

The more I observe young makers and indulge my own creative process to allow for slowness, the more I see where spaces for slowness are such a gift to both adults and children.  

I love how the slow food movement has embraced this celebration of slowness and am curious where other educators and makers see connections as well.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Thanks to the Fort Hunt Community

The posts that follow will highlight some of the great collage work from my author visit to Fort Hunt Elementary.  I also want to thank the Fort Hunt community for purchasing books as part of the "Buy One, Give One" program to support sending home books with families in the Care and Share Program.  We sent home 24 books along with the 24 Carry Out Art Kits pictured below.




Monday, June 15, 2015

Collette Visits Fort Hunt Kindergarten

Collette finished her school visit on Thursday with the kindergarten.  Here are some of the new settings and characters we met.
A mermaid in the water


Another undersea scene, with a sea horse 


The beginning of a jungle scene...


The same jungle at the end of the session


Collette meets new characters in a garden

A rocket blasting into space
and a space monster

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Collette Visits Fort Hunt 1st Grade

Collette meets a stick man 
She visits a castle



On a desk in the library

Collette visits a movie theater.


out in the rain

Princess Collette at Disneyland - it then becomes confetti land.

Collette in a house