Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I have been reading Curious? by Todd Kashdan, Ph.D.

So far my favorite quote is,

"Following directions conserves energy but following one's unique direction expands energy (p. 8)."

Further on, he writes more about the process of curiosity, exploration and discovery:
"By being curious, we explore.
By exploring, we discover.
When this is satisfying, we are more likely to repeat it.
By repeating it, we develop competence and mastery.
By developing competence and mastery, our knowledge and skills grow.
As our knowledge and skills grow, we stretch and expand who we are and what our life is about.
By dealing with novelty, we become more experienced and inteligent and infuse our lives with meaning(p19-20)."

In our studio curiosity, exploration and discovery are actively encouraged through engagement with art materials. The goal is not to learn to follow steps to complete a project the teacher created but rather to engage with materials as a way of expressing and discovering ideas. Sometimes the material leads to the idea and sometimes an idea seems to want to be formed with a particular media. For some students, drawing naturally leads to telling stories and inventing characters, for others, abstract painting allows them to explore color relationships; still others make discoveries about form by sculpting animals and everyday objects in clay. Whatever the media, the idea is to be energized by finding one's unique artistic vision. Working among artist peers in the studio adds to this experience.
The second quote makes me think particularly about our studio practice. What begins as open ended exploration leads to discovery- from the most basic discoveries that glue is sticky to more complex learning about color mixing. Kashdan writes that when the discovery is satisfying, it is more likely to be repeated. What makes a discovery satisfying? Often it is just having someone to share it with; having a witness to her process deepens a young artist's engagement. Other times reflecting on the process through photos, portfolio review, speaking about artwork in a group, and writing artist statements increases the sense of satisfaction.
The idea that satisfaction leads to repetition is interesting too; in the studio our goal is to provide an open-ended environment where young artists can return to and build on individual interests. The focus on the process is important here too. Some students will mix colors for several weeks; their only "product" for those sessions being color swatches with names and recipes for favorite colors invented. Working with clay, one student commented, "I love coming here because you are allowed to smash what you make." We usually begin our clay work with a day (or several weeks) of getting to know clay so we set the idea ahead of time that we will not be saving what we make (except to take pictures). Young artists often find this very freeing, the ability to play, invent and tell stories without the pressure to make something. When they do make a product all the play and exploration knowledge built in their hands adds to the satisfaction of their creation.
The routine of the studio and working with materials lead to development of confidence, skills, and the ability to make meaning through art. It is delightful to be a part of this process. I heard a conductor describe a composer, saying you can hear how he "grew up and lived" as a musician. The conductor was speaking about the adult work of this composer but I thought too of our young artists and the joy in seeing them grow up and live as artists.

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