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.