Thursday, May 12, 2016

Something To Make And To Look At

Last week, I took our wheel-less skateboard into the the sandpit row boat and began assembling a piece of art from the found objects at hand.

After a few minutes children began to pause in their play to watch me, then ask, "What are you doing, Teacher Tom?"

"I'm making something."

"What is it?"

I stopped myself from saying "art," and instead answered, "It's something to make and to look at."

The key component, the aspect over which I fussed, was a piece of wood that I had balanced over a fulcrum made from a stick. I said, "This part is very delicate. If it gets bumped, it won't balance any more."

The children gathered round, carefully, so as not to jostle my artwork, tucking their knees and feet carefully under themselves as they sat. This was taking place in the center of our very active playground, our slow, precise movements contrasting with the large motor play going on around us. I was working with stones, leaves, wine corks, bottle caps, florist marbles, sticks, and other bits of wood, the sort of debris that is close at hand on our playground. I moved the elements meticulously, arranging them, then nudging them from one place to another in tiny increments. I muttered to myself as I worked, "This needs to be a little bit more over here . . . Ah, too much . . . There, that's just the way I want it . . ." 

Soon, the children felt the urge to help: "Do you need more jewels, Teacher Tom?"

"Yes, I think I could use one or two more."

The children then began to scavenge for likely additions to the piece. The only ones I rejected were the ones made from plastic, saying that I only wanted to use "natural materials," a category in which I included wine corks, florist marbles, and bottle caps. At first the children would only hand their contributions to me, not wanting to disturb what I'd created so far, demonstrating incredible respect for my work, reading my cues of quiet artistic focus. One of the children stumbled and accidentally bumped the skateboard, causing the pieces to shift a bit. Everyone froze for a moment, then, without prompting, one of them said, "Don't worry, Teacher Tom, I can put everything right back where it was."

I had not instructed them in how to help me. I had only explained what I was doing. I'd not asked them not to touch it. I'd not forbidden them from pitching in. I'd simply sat there, engaged in making my piece of art and, as part of their play, their freely chosen activity, they had decided to join me, to take on my "tone" and my "focus." 

I then moved away from my artwork under some presence, not going far, but making a point of looking away, of turning my back, of moving on to something else. One of the children said, "We'll take care of it, Teacher Tom." Before long, it wasn't mine any longer, but rather ours, as the kids sat together, first discussing the piece, then, consulting together, making small, precise additions, carefully rearranging bits, rejecting pieces that didn't fit their definition of "natural." For a good fifteen minutes, the children both curated and created their piece of art on that skateboard until finally, inevitably, their flow carried them away to something else.

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1 comment:

Nancy Schimmel said...

This makes me happy.