Monday, December 24, 2012

How To Remain An Artist

It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. ~Pablo Picasso

This is Picasso's money quote about children's art, and while I fully appreciate what he was expressing, as I've written before, I believe, at the most fundamental level, that he failed, at least, to make art like a two-year-old.

In the week before the holiday break we made construction paper snowmen. I know, I know, but I do it as kind of a "gift" for the families, many of whom do enjoy having a few cute things around during the holidays to use as decorations or to show-off to the relatives who are expecting things like this from the hands of their preschool aged niece or grandson. It's certainly easier than having to explain the pedagogy behind all those preschool gray paintings hanging on the fridge door, an outcome that might lead many of the uninitiated into thinking junior's a little slow.

I precut some tag board circles and a few other shapes, broke out the googly eyes, provided the glue sticks, scissors, and extra paper, and then, at least somewhat egregiously, made a sample:

Then, as I usually do when I turn things over to our art parent, I said, "This is what I made, but the kids should use the materials anyway they want." In other words, I did as much as I am comfortable doing insofar as setting kids on a course, but the rest had to be up to them. 

The older kids, our 4 and 5-year-olds more or less adhered to the finished product I'd modeled, stacking circles, making a face, and popping a hat on top.

Of course, none of them were slaves to the pattern, but expressed themselves creatively within the box I'd created. I suppose I could assert that they used my model as inspiration rather than limitation, but the superficial uniformity of the "product" right across the 3-5's and 5's classes, made me feel like many of them were simply making what they were "supposed" to be making.

And that's okay, as far as that goes. Imitating the art of others is foundational, instructional, edifying. Even Picasso tried to imitate Raphael. This is where the eureka moment comes in the form of, Ah hah, so that's how he did it! It's something to build upon, like learning to use a hammer or understanding the results of mixing colors: not making a piece of art exactly, but rather practicing with tools or techniques that will aid our explorations down the road: not art, but artiness.

Still, it's hard not to reflect on another Picasso comment about children as artists:

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artists once he grows up.

You see, our Pre-3 class didn't just make snowmen: they created art.

Where the older kid's art, using the same material, had a cookie cutter aspect to it, the variety in what the 2-year-olds created was nothing short of breathtaking, at least in contrast.

The problem, always, is how to remain an artist.

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woodenspade said...

the one in the middle on the green paper with the writing on it . . . LOVE IT!

This is AUTHENTIC art exploration. Wonderful!

Laurie Dyer

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Although I haven't commented for awhile, I receive "Teacher Tom", in my daily inbox, and read often, especially for inspiration and wisdom.
I love the snowmen, and everything you have said in this post is perfect!
Merry Chrisatmas!

martha brown said...

Love these! My favourite snowman is by a 2 year old -- the one on pink paper, with all of the eyes. It is wonderful. Thanks again for sharing :)

Playmore! said...

Love them all!
I'm an art teacher trying to devolve my traditional teaching tactics for a discovery-based method...
It challengesvmy brain every day and your posts are inspirational.
Thank you

Maria said...

The 3 year old versions make me think of the book, Snowmen at Night. A child wakes ups the next morning to find his snowman all melty and blown over and wonders in rhyming verse, "What do snowmen DO at night?

Anonymous said...

These are just fab!! It reminds me not to interfere in how the end product should look.....thanks