Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Real Story Of Art

Yesterday I wrote a much too long post in which I discussed, ostensibly, the children's 40 minute conversation on fine art, although it was really just as much about what I myself subsequently learned because they so inspired me. Where I was going with the post before running out of time-space was a little show-and-tell about how we tried to build on that discussion.

Now, as I mentioned, I'd hoped the discussion of masterpieces would go well so I'd prepared myself with some options, including Nina Laden's book When Pigasso Met Mootisse, a picture book about the two great modernist painters Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. (I met Nina many years ago when we were both invited to a book signing event here in Seattle.) This brilliantly illustrated book is a wonderful, if not entirely historically accurate, overview of the personal relationship between these two modern art giants, with a nice, child-sized portion of cubism, fauvism, and modern art in general.

As I'd prepared for our afternoon together, I'd been frustrated that while I'd brought a print of a Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" to hang on the easel as I read to them, I didn't have anything by Matisse to hang beside it. I was apologizing to the kids for this omission, when I opened the book and out dropped this folded computer printout of his masterpiece "Le bonheur de vivre" (Joy of Life).

I'd apparently suffered this frustration before and solved it by tucking it into the book, knowing I'd once more find myself in this position. So I thank my younger self for knowing my future self so well.

I like how this book gives personalities to the artists, showing us something of the people behind the art. After "The End" there's a page on which Laden has included additional biographical information for adult readers as well as a pair of illustrations of the artists as humans. I only turned to the page by accident, planning to move our end-of-the-day crew on to what's next, but Archie stopped me by asking, "Is that what the real guys looked like?" Even now, after 2.5 hours, they were still engaged enough in fine art to be asking questions. Very cool.

The following day, as Violet had suggested, we tackled Mondrian at the art table. Elena's mom Amity not long ago scored us a whole bunch of free mat board simply by asking at a framing shop for their scraps. I used a few sheets of that and some black masking tape to set the stage.

Violet had speculated that the artist intended for kids to fill in his white squares and rectangles with color, so that's what we did.

I decided to go with crayons mainly because they're so easy for young children to control and if we were going to be "successful" with this group art project we needed everyone to be able to stay within the lines. I sometimes use liquid watercolor specifically so the kids can't stay within the lines, but in this case we were making art "in the style of" so I wanted to give them their best opportunity for doing that.

It would have been so easy for one child, feeling full of vinegar, to swing by, pick up a crayon and scribble over the whole thing, ignoring the lines entirely.

And there was no one there warning them not to do it. And I was waiting for it.

To be honest, most of the younger children, the ones who were not part of Tuesday's fine art discussion, found other things to do at first, leaving the task primarily to a core group of our Pre-K girls.

I wasn't right on top of things over there, so I don't know if the children were instructing each other or just setting an example . . .

. . . but we completed two of these large pieces, all pretty much within the lines.

I think this is quite an accomplishment in group art. For the third large piece, Sasha's mom Vicki, the parent managing our art station, asked for oil pastels, which I pulled from the storage room.

It may just be that we were running out of gas on filling in squares and rectangles, or maybe this is when the younger children discovered the project, but this is when we began to "free lance" a bit more. As you can see above, a few kids started using the white spaces as individual canvasses.

I'd also pre-prepared a few individual-sized Mondrian templates. Some of the kids really seemed to prefer that.

We were using some very high quality oil pastels; by that I mean quite a bit more oily than the usual preschool fare, meaning softer and more paint-like than the usual crayons. A few of the children started talking about washing their hands when it hit me, "You can't wash your hands with water. You can wipe them on a towel, but you'll need to use oil to wash your hands."

We had a nice discussion about why this would be. I would have got out some oil on the spot to demonstrate the phenomenon, but I knew we were out. So on what I'd earlier boasted of as being the "least messy art project in Woodland Park history," we sent them home with hands requiring linseed oil. Archie showed me his fingers, "Now I'm as messy as that pig in the book!"

And that, in the end, is the real story of art.

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Deborah said...

I love this Tom! Such a masterpiece and masterful work!

Unknown said...

Wow that is an impressive artwork, I love it. Oil pastels are so lovely to draw with... my kids always favour the black which gets smudged all over them :)