Saturday, January 31, 2004


This is one of my favorite teaching weeks. Eight year old students have been introduced to silk screen. Simple paper stencils are cut and fingerpaint is the pigment. Students print on 12 x 18 construction paper of various colors. Each student who chooses this makes four copies of their first stencil (this so that a number of students may have a turn using the six screens) Each screen has one color. Stencils are thrown away after the first printing of four. The second week students cut another stencil and print another color on their first four prints; some students, now familiar with the process, have time to cut a third stencil and print their third color. Then comes week three. I tell the students that printmakers reflect on what they have done and that printmaking is the art of second chances. The students are invited to lay out their four prints. If one (or more) look great, then they may be finished! That is up to the artist. Some of the four may need another color; that is another choice and students can cut another stencil and add that color, protecting the parts of the print that they like with the new stencil which blocks the paint. But the most fun is the occasional print which looks not too good--or TERRIBLE. With this print the students have nothing to loose. Some use the paper trimmer to change the shape or discard smudgy parts that they do not like. Others "spice" up the print with oil pastels or paint or chalk or ?? Some of the most interesting prints were painted. I noticed that students who had been nervous about painting in the past (with that scary blank piece of paper defying them to begin) were very comfortable painting in to their unsatisfactory print. There were some wonderful images which emerged that day! Reflection on and manipulation of the art work were the big ideas this week. I love to teach silk screen printing.

Monday, January 26, 2004

It is embarassing to have missed a week of posting; my good intentions gave way to other immediate needs. I return to this space with writing far better than mine: a long quote from Peter London's 1989 NO MORE SECONDHAND ART.
Here is a nice long quote from Peter London:

"Of course technique is important; so are principles of design. But you already know this. You also know what it takes to acquire these traits: long, hard work. Do you want to draw like Rembrandt or Degas? Simple! Just draw ten hours a day, six days a week for forty years. That's how they did it. Ready for that? How did Monet paint those densely woven symphonies of strokes of light, weaving that luminescent Japanese bridge over that swarming lily pond? First he excavated a huge hole, then diverted a river to fill the hole, planted it with lily pads, then built a Japanese bridge over the whole thing, all at vast expense. Then he bought a boat, made a floating studio out of it and for twelve hours a day, for over twenty years, he paddled around that pond, and painted and painted until his eyes glazed over. If you want to make stuff that has Monet's charm, have Monet's passion, devotion, largesse, sacrifice.
"The techniques of Monet or Degas can be copied; their principles of design are not obscure, they can be learned. If you want them for yourself, you can have them--for a price. And the price is dearer than you may think. Not only will you have to put in at least as much time as they did in developing these same skills, all your living days, but the real price you will have paid is that you will have succeeded in becoming them, and will have missed becoming you." P. 16

and another:
"Better to raise the questions Monet did than to mimic his responses. What are his questions, the task he set himself? They are remarkably similar to the questions any artist, any creative person, any awake person asks. "What is that damn thing out there? What does an idea look like? How can I give form to a feeling? How does this whole mess fit together? How can I speak about the thing no longer there? The thing not here yet? Why am I moved like this by mere daylight, by nightfall? Is there truth here, or merely beauty? Does this line have integrity, or is it guile? What have I made up, what have I observed? Of all the things I can do, what shall I do, what should I do? Will I ever get it right?" P. 17

NO MORE SECONDHAND ART: BOSTON: Shambalah Publishers, 1989.

Monday, January 19, 2004


"Simply put, making art is chancy--it doesn't mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding."
Bales, David and Ted Orland (1993). ART AND FEAR: OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING.Santa Barbara: Capra Press.
(thanks to Dr. John Crowe for sharing)

"We imagine more limitations in school life than actually exist...what we feel is possible may be closely tied to our desire to fit into a school system without being noticed, without risk. All these qualities are not the qualities of the artist in relationship to society. Artists should not be afraid of the challenge of being different. It is not enough to tell our students that art deals with the extraordinary; this also has to be demonstrated by our treatment of the classroom, by its space and furnishings and by our speech and actions."
George Szekely (1988) ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY IN ART LESSONS. New York: Teachers College Press.

Sunday, January 18, 2004


"Very young children make art on their own as a form of play. As children grow up, however, they come to depend on adults to direct their art making. In school, drawing is no longer a natural way of expressing oneself but part of something special called 'the arts' that is taught by special teachers, using specialized materials. Because children no longer feel capable of expressing themselves naturally, of formulating ideas through art, they find it difficult--and they even fear--making art on their own. It is this fear of acting independently, of proceeding without being told what to do that teachers must help children conquer. The first step in teaching children to make art is to be concerned that they regain their independence."

George Szekely
Teachers College Press 1988

Friday, January 16, 2004


Sometimes teachers have to give over some of their classroom to outside influences. The local arts council requested student writing connected with art work from our students in order to make a nice exhibit at the town library. Due to the short time frame some volunteer teachers agreed to connect ongoing writing experiences in the classroom with small drawings or paintings to be created in the art room. It has been very instructive to see the students working without choice for one class. Although we tried to make it as stress free as possible (giving advance notice of the one-time project, letting students choose among a variety of drawing and painting materials and in some cases choosing which piece of their writing they wanted to illustrate) I noticed numerous behaviors in my classroom which I had not seen before. 1. Students were throwing away a lot of drafts, more than I had ever seen before. 2. Students were complaining that they did not know what to do, despite the fact that illustrating their specific piece of writing was the project. 3. Some of the students with "difficult to teach" reputations showed behaviors which I had not observed in the art room before (complaints, bothering other children, etc.) 4. A lot of the work looked much "tighter" than I usually see in my students, less edgy. And I experienced stress also, which surprised me. Students who were trying hard to avoid doing the project became a problem for me, as parents will be invited to the reception for the exhibit and will be looking to see if their child's work is there. And so I felt, for these two classes, the sort of atmosphere which might prevail in some art classrooms in which the teacher chooses the work. It was probably more difficult in my classroom however, as my students have expectations of working on their chosen art in a manner of their choice.

When the classes were finished almost every student had finished a usable piece for the show. They will have an experience of a reception and a month's presence in the town library. The fine writing program in our school will get deserved attention from the local public. But students, and I, will be very happy next week when we return to doing things they way we like.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


My friend talks about his elementary school days. A scientist and musician now, he was, as an elementary school student, obsessed with butterflies and wild native orchids. He reports to me that this obsession had no place or standing in his elementary art classes. He remembers being told to paint the silouette of a tree in black against a turquoise sky. He remembers that each painting in the classroom was nearly identical to all the others and how, even as a young boy, he thought that was pretty silly. In a choice art classroom the obsessions of students take center stage and are usually the content of the art. I currently have no orchid enthusiasts that I know of, but one second grader looks with me at the NASCAR website so that he can make the colors on his little cardboard race cars as authentic as possible. He is making a extensive set of NASCAR racers as a gift to his stepfather who shares that interest with him. And it is both a gift of love and a fanatical interest of his at the age of seven. Were my friend to travel in a time machine to join this classroom today the teacher would be finding library books and reproductions of both butterflies and orchids. A plexiglas cube with actual butterflies embedded in it would be another reference. There would be discussions of the best medium to use to render these carefully (watercolor, tiny brushes? colored pencils?) and I predict that other children working at his table would learn a lot about butterflies also.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Even really young children can understand big ideas. When I show the first grade how to do stick weaving (known as gods eyes or string crosses) I discuss the meaning given in the culture where the craft originated, with the four points of the crossed sticks representing earth, wind, fire and water. I invite them to create their own symbolism for their stick weaving: symbolism of the colors they choose and what the four points of the sticks represent for them. Small children have no trouble doing this, choosing colors to represent such things as their soccer team, love, nature, etc. The four points represent such things as family members, favorite sports, best friends. Art can always be about more than just what it looks like.

Monday, January 12, 2004


For some children it will take quite awhile just to be able to thread the needle, make both ends the same and tie a knot at the end ( many want to tie it at the needle...) and be able to stitch all over the styrofoam; it is the equivalent of a scribble drawing in developmental stages. We musn't forget that everybody has to go through the developmental stages in drawing, with some going faster than others, and it is my belief that every art domain has a similar progression through which EVERYONE must pass; so for each thing we introduce, I believe that we must allow for the beginners (no matter what age) to do that domain's version of the SCRIBBLE. Should we reflect sometime on what scribble behavior would be in painting, sculpture, clay, etc. How can we provide this??

How can we as art teachers provide ourselves the opportunity to scribble in teaching? How can we allow ourselves to teach small, without too much ambition, so that we have time to breathe, to observe, to reflect? we will have these children for a few years...we do not have to do it all the first year..we need to be good to ourselves. I do not want us to burn out.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Our little art room is arranged as a studio with centers for painting, drawing, collage, mask making, puppets, book making, fiber arts, digital art and architecture. these six to eight year olds are able to use these materials with confidence and skill; a result of focused brief demonstrations, peer teaching and one on one interaction with the teacher. The job of the artist is to have an idea and find the material which best expresses it, or to encounter a material which leads to an idea. Our students take on the role of the artist with vigor and excitement.
We reflect on what can often be the gap between what is taught and what is learned and we strive for the authentic learning which is consentual and self-sustaining.

I sat with Ashley one morning. She told me that she had spent the entire weekend drawing animals at home. She had found reference materials and models and was challenging herself to draw better and better by careful observation. “I have found my talent” Ashley said.

We are constantly in awe of the commitment and drive that the students bring to their work and the joy that we see, when students find their talents.

Thursday, January 08, 2004


My approach to art teacing was born of the need to survive, was nourished by my memories of childhood and continues to thrive and grow in the relationships my students and I make with one another. I had very conventional elementary art education training and teaching experience in Maryland. I traveled from school to school with my repertoire of Projects and Examples. In 1972 I approached my new job in Massachusetts with optimism: a bare room, a few supplies and about 800 children. My first problems came in the form of students who finished their projects before the others. I found myself encouraging them to work on the piece longer--not for valid reasons but in order to keep them busy. I also found students who wished to use other supplies to improve a piece of work...and usually their ideas were good ones. How could I manage pulling out all those extra supplies? If I gave one student a container of paint to improve a collage, other students became excited and wanted that choice too.

One day some children and I were chatting about school and one said: "If there were no teachers school would be a fine place!" Intrigued, I asked: "What would you do if you were here and the teachers were not?" "DRAW ON THE CHALKBOARDS!!!" My goodness; that was not a very exotic request. The chalkboard became the first choice center in the art room, available when My Teacher Project was completed. As many students looked forward to that sort of thing I added a table with unused dull construction paper colors, chalk and small reproductions. That table too became busy. Markers and crayons were put out next, along with a box of reproductions that I had covered with clear contac paper. I found Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs at a yard sale and put them out on a counter. They were a huge hit.

At that time I began to notice that My Teacher Project was sometims given short shrift as the students came to class anticipating their work in the centers, simple as they were. Work done there had a different sort of care, which I came to recognize as investment. And I began to see how few choices young children were being offered in the course of their school day...and how some of the most interesting and creative children were doing so poorly in their academic work.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

I notice that so many of the lesson plans found online stress the "fun" or the "cute" projects which students can make, according to complete directions from the teachers. I guess this fun component is necessary to try to entice students to participate in the idea created by the teacher. Students in choice classrooms think and dream and plan what they will make long before they enter the classroom. When I am on Monday lunch duty, my Friday first graders will accost me and describe at length their plans for their art class. I never feel the need of entertaining these students; they are serious about their work and the fun of it is in making something that they really want and care about. I never show anything "fun"; I just show them how to use tools and concepts so that their own ideas can be expressed in a prosperous manner.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

There is an amazing article in the January 2004 issue of ART EDUCATION magazine by Alice Wexler of SUNY, New Paltz, NY called "The Art of Necessity: Pictures of Lives Reclaimed from Trauma". She describes the art studio at the Northeast Center for Special Care (NCSC) where artist Bill Richards works with people with various disabilities. Here are two quotes from Richards: "Necessity is a powerful ally since it assists in circumventing the usual process of 'learning how to paint'--it takes you...to direct expression. The result is authentic art. The artist imbues the work with its essential motivation, creating a force that is universally readable." and "Making art is perhaps as natural as learning to speak--I have never seen a child resist art materials. Learning speech, the mother tongue, is a combination of self-teaching and the timely and rhythmic input from others. This is how we approach art at NCSC, unlike the systematic paradigm utilized in traditional art therapy. There, art's function is to generate information about the patient's condition whereas we view its function as process, a vehicle for invention and communication. Art-making as process means accepting its propensity of being inherently continuous, always establishing conditions for its next evolution." Richard's words describe something even bigger than the world of the disabled. I would propose that his description of the necessity of art making applies to all human beings and could be a goal of ALL art teaching. An article worth reading, for certain.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

by Elliot W. Eisner
New Haven: Yale University Press 2002

P. 117: “When children have substantial experience with paint and brush,
even when they are under four, they develop a refined sense of control over
it. They not only can control the brush in an impressive way; they often
experiment with its limits. This experimentation leads to the appropriation
of new schemata, that is, images they did not previously have but that they
can use in the course of their painting. In a word, they learn. They create
the conditions that promote their own learning by acting upon their work in
novel ways.
“Perhaps one of the most ubiquitous features of the image making of
preschool children is their ability to decide when they are finished. The
children are in control…the latitude for choosing when one has finished
is…wider. In fact that choice never leaves artists and their work; adult
artists always ultimately decide when they are finished, and so, too, do
“When young preschoolers, for example, work, there is much peripheral
learning, that is, learning through the observation of and socialization
with others. Teachers also teach in peripheral ways. They demonstrate.
Demonstrations promote try-outs by toddlers. All of this often takes place
in a variety of ‘work stations at which children can explore a wide variety
of materials and projects. Their engagement in these projects is governed
not by clock time, but by body time. Their interest defines how long they
will work at a station. During their stay teaching is mostly
opportunistic…guided by theory as well as by instinct.”

P. 118. “Choices about which materials and tools children will use are also
choices about the kind of thinking that will be promoted. The resource-rich
nursery school is a kind of educational cornucopia; children interact
socially at will, attend and stay at will; teachers talk and respond at
will. Interest drives the work.
“Studies of nursery schools show that children aged four and a half develop
substantial control over the tools they are given an opportunity to use.”

Friday, January 02, 2004

COLLAGE and serendipity
One of our teachers was preparing to transfer to another school. In the course of cleaning out her closets, she put out two huge boxes of pre cut bulletin board letters. There must have been about 2,000 letters and numbers in numerous sizes shapes and colors. Some of the letters were laminated and there were sheaves of paper stencils also. These “found objects” reminded me of some art work I had admired. I found reproductions of Stuart Davis and Robert Indiana’s work. After showing first and second graders the boxes of letters and the reproductions I invited them to use the letters as they pleased. For collage work some glued letters to 12 x 18 colored tag board. Many children looked for the letters of their name. One girl made a collage of K’s and then painted many colors around it. One student created a figure from combinations of letters. Letters and numbers were used to embellish some found object sculptures.

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