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

Collette visits Fort Hunt 3rd Grade

Adventures continued at Fort Hunt with Collette's visit to 3rd grade classes.

Lacking enough brown scraps, this group came up with an inventive use of a rolled paper towel for their forest scene.

An underwater scene.

Soccer - Collette is the goalie!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Celebration of Intention - A Post from Robin

Our sharing time at the end of classes is a key feature of studio work at Art at the Center.  With students working on a variety of projects, it brings us back together to wind-up and reflect on process. This post by Robin offers more details and reflection on of the Celebration of Intention in her sewing classes.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Collette Visits Fort Hunt Second Grade

I had a great morning yesterday with Fort Hunt Elementary second graders.  They worked in small groups to create a setting and characters with collage.  Collette had some great adventures and I loved all the story telling I heard as the groups planned a setting for their work.   A few examples are below along with captions that tell a bit about the setting and story.
I unfortunately don't remember all the details but invite any comments from artists who want to add more of their stories...
Collette at the beach with her dream house.
Collette is in a rocket ship in space.
A school with an office building next to it.
In a house

What I remember best about this one is the dragon and the characters that begin the story.
Interesting use of pieces to make a table and flowers.
Here Collette is in an enchanted forest next to an enchanted tree.  She is the fairy godmother bringing a new ice cream to the baby (on the right) because the baby dropped hers.
An adventure in the rain.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Reflections from Robin (Continued...)

Here is the promised Part 2 of Robin's reflections on her process as a teacher during her time teaching with Art at the Center.  This post is also a great opportunity to see some of the in-process student work from her sewing classes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sharing Reflections from Robin

I share here some reflections from Robin, about her evolution as a teacher in her time with Art at the Center.  I am thankful for how much I have learned by sharing this journey with Robin.  I look forward to hearing the second part of her story too.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Art in Community

Art at the Center is in a time of transition; to a new space and new ways of working.
Part of this process has been to look closely at what is at the center of our practice.  When we chose the name, the idea was that art was central to community, connection, and sharing. While a physical location provided a space to gather, what made the art central was the people and the connections formed around gathering, making and sharing.
During this time of transition, I have had the great opportunity to work in a variety of settings and to reflect on what is unique about artistic practice in community.
Recently, I have been reflecting on some of the stories and experiences in this blog.  
What I find over and over is a theme of how community supports creative practice.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Exploring Creativity and Contemplation

I have been leading a book group for the last few months based on The Artist's Rule: nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom.  
We meet once a week gathered in a circle around a candle and a selection of art materials.  We discuss a chapter and reflect on practices suggested for creativity and contemplation.  Our gathering begins with some quiet time of creative contemplation exploring materials.  The photos below show some of our explorations of natural materials from the chapter on finding inspiration in nature.
What has been interesting to me in this group has been the way our time of exploration and play with materials sets us up for discussion.  The play with materials and the energy of making together really feels to be a part of our interaction.  This is true whether or not participants choose to share what they make.  I enjoy the quiet of making and rustling of materials as much as I enjoy the insights and stories others share about their practices.
We completed the book last week and will break for the summer.  As I reflect on the experience I am thankful for the community that formed around this gathering and this practice.  I am also thankful for having had this space to explore my own creative practice in a time of transition to a new space and way of working in the world.
Maybe because we meet in a church, I have been reflecting more on the connections between artistic practice and spiritual practice.  Both are intensely personal and yet are nurtured in community.  Just as attending church or a regular prayer practice or meditation class can ground a spiritual practice, having a group to meet and share can ground and enrich creative practice.  Creative people need community.  And creative community itself is a spiritual practice.  It requires a safe space to show up, to reflect and to share, to witness and to be witnessed by others on the journey.

One of our final mornings in the group, we explored the idea of names and identity.  We adapted an exercise from chapter 11, creating clay stones with words of inspiration or names inscribed and imprinted in the clay.  This exploration of identity, inspiration and call seemed especially poignant as we discussed the names and expectations that come from outside and those that may seem quieter coming from within.  I was reminded again how we need spaces that see and nurture our sense of our creative identities.  These touch stones are a good reminder of a personal sense of creative identity and inspiration; this transcends the particularities of the roles and jobs we find ourselves in as we bring our creative vision into the world.

Art Day at Roslyn Retreat Center

On April 18 I attended a full day art retreat led by Bishop Goff at the Roslyn Retreat Center in Richmond.  We met in the picnic pavilion pictured below - a great open space, perfect for a mild spring day.

Here's a view of the inside of our studio for the day.

Tables were set with all sorts of materials - scraps of wood and wooden objects...
...many different kinds of paper including different designs, textures and images...
...and a table full of recycled containers and other bits and pieces (imagine a huge junk drawer)...
there were also many kinds of glue, hand-held power tools, books for inspiration, wire, metal, paint, a rich selection of open-ended found materials. 
For the morning I enjoyed the invitation to walk around and find something that spoke to me and then just to play with putting materials together.  In the photo below the lower piece of wood was the first one I picked up.  I liked how it sort of suggested a screen and buttons but in a very low tech way.  I made the screen part into a colorful collage and added additional buttons and collage elements.  
The second round piece of wood was a sort of decorative plate.  Here I returned to a familiar theme and created a color wheel using buttons I brought along for the day. 
The introduction to the retreat included an invitation to bring an object to work with - something from an attic or basement or thrift store.  I brought along a wooden wine box, thinking it doubled as a nice carrying container for materials and might be fun to decorate.
For the afternoon, I worked with the box, adding decorations and a door to create an Art Box.  My neighborhood had two Little Free Libraries within walking distance and a nearby neighborhood plans to install additional sites.  I have been thinking for a while about something similar for an art exchange.  That was the inspiration for the Art Box.

I added one of the pieces I began in the morning to the side for decoration.  The door was the most difficult part.  My initial thought was to wait and make it at home but that felt a bit like procrastination.  Finding hinges seemed to be a good sign I could improvise something so I decided to challenge myself to fashion a door out of what was available.

The sheet of plastic had been rolling around the back of my car for about 6 months, the wood scraps were almost the right size and the metal rulers proved just stiff enough to offer horizontal support while light enough to not add bulk.  In the end it was a good exercise in sticking with a problem and working with what was available.
The inside of the box is still empty.  I plan to add the color wheel mounted in the back along with some small shelves and a note encouraging people to participate in an art exchange.   
It needs a bit of work to be ready for mounting and will live under the covered portico at St Aidan's for starters.  As I tell people about the idea, I get different questions - Does it have to be finished art? What about bags of supplies for kids to take home and make something?  What if someone takes everything?  How will you know who got what you put in?  How will people know they can participate?  
Clearly I have some details to think through but I look forward to trying it and will share some of the stories of what I learn in a future post. 

It was lovely to be in a space as a maker with other makers.  Our reflection at the end focused on the nurturing energy of sharing time, space and materials for this creative work.  I was honored to hear the stories others shared about their creations and to get to share my process as well.