Let's Talk About Art

Detail from a child’s work of art. The detail shows the watercolor music sheets cut into smaller rectangle/squares with tin foil embellishments along tempera lines and blocks of color.

Detail from a child’s work of art. The detail shows the watercolor music sheets cut into smaller rectangle/squares with tin foil embellishments along tempera lines and blocks of color.

When I first started out with this blogging idea, I launched a blog called Child Art Retrospective. I kept up the sharing for a time, mostly for myself, and then turned my attention to other things.

In that blog, I shared projects and traced the steps for how process is most definitely part of any artistic pursuit. I focused on how process is taught. Step by step. Using paint as an example (there are so many art materials) process is about applying paint to surface, but it is not a random flinging of paint at a surface unless you mean to fling that paint at a surface. But art is not just about flinging paint around. Jackson Pollack may have launched that idea, but in early childhood, I would view this as a sensory experience and not necessarily an artistic one. I would even argue that Pollack himself was only after the sensory pursuit himself and that it became art might have been due to fierce marketing, zeitgeist, and the better artist in the house Lee Krasner, IMO.

At our School, we hold to Nature, Art, and Play as guiding principles. We are also a parent cooperative. You can read about every single one of those topics but Art here on our Growing Together blog, I realized as I looked over the lovely collection of children’s art at our most recent Garden Party, that I had not written about our approach to art here.

This work of art was created by a four (and three-quarter so important) year old over the course of several months. Built piece by piece, layer by layer. It is the imagined bird’s flight over a nighttime landscape. This particular one is an ocean landscape with boats and islands. The currents shaping the push pull of the shimmer of water.

This work of art was created by a four (and three-quarter so important) year old over the course of several months. Built piece by piece, layer by layer. It is the imagined bird’s flight over a nighttime landscape. This particular one is an ocean landscape with boats and islands. The currents shaping the push pull of the shimmer of water.

Here you go.

We hold that art is a process. It is a way to communicate information and feelings in the poetry of line, shape, texture, and color. We introduce as many kinds of artistic materials we can get our hands on so that the child artist has all the words and sounds to express the poetry they have within them. We especially like to use materials that we find (reuse, repurpose, recycle).

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We most definitely teach technique. We talk about and then experience how materials will move, what possibility this movement could hold, what their limitations are, and the speed or the slowness with which we must work with each one. I was recently thinking about glue — just a small thing, but so useful — hot glue will hold, but white glue holds better, or differently. The children will work on a single easel painting over several sessions. It is quality, not quantity. You won’t find Pollack studies on body or paper, or at least not from his splatter days. We talk about artists and their work. We teach drawing. We teach painting. And we teach collage, construction, sculpting, cutting, bending, scraping. All of it. So many bits and pieces to experiment and experience. A full vocabulary of material and process is what we are after.

The works you are seeing here were started in January. The works will serve as the backgrounds for the children’s portraits. The portraits are separate pieces that once completed will be attached. These backgrounds began in a much difference place. The first part was an idea — maps — just a topic really. Something these children, and really all the children at our School, create all the time. These children created stunning “long painting” landscapes in the Fall. These are in a word, gorgeous. I want to keep every single one. Those paintings are about 72” long. The works you see here are on standard size tag, 18”x24"“.

Separate components were added over time. The circles that you see in the works are oil pastel “destinations.” The small rectangles and shapes are music sheets of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony which we found in a Free Little Library down the street as we walked to the forest. The children applied watercolor to these before cutting them up to represent houses or boats. But even before that happened, great sections of the background were indicated and divided off using permanent marker, oil pastels, tempera, and water color.

All that is well and good, but all of those lovely foreground pieces (the music sheets and the circles) cried out for a dark background — we mixed tempera paints with black to darken the shades of paint and the children blocked in/out the black lines and painted over those too-light backgrounds. Whose opinion was it that these were too light? Mine. We are looking for finished pieces here, for goodness sakes!

Once discussed though, the artists could all see that this edit was very, very, very necessary. The whole background needed to move away from us in order to place a greater value for those shiny treasures of music notes and circles. Adding tin foil at the end was like icing on the cake!

Applying watercolor to a sheet of music. The brush used for the watercolor is a fine brush. It will give both shape and line.

Applying watercolor to a sheet of music. The brush used for the watercolor is a fine brush. It will give both shape and line.

Two artists applying “nighttime” shades of paint to their backgrounds.

Two artists applying “nighttime” shades of paint to their backgrounds.

Reapplying the black lines using a lettering brush. Here is the thing…there are so many different kinds of brushes. These are tools. Learning how the science of movement, line, quantity are all gained when a child is taught to use the tools to their advantage.

Reapplying the black lines using a lettering brush. Here is the thing…there are so many different kinds of brushes. These are tools. Learning how the science of movement, line, quantity are all gained when a child is taught to use the tools to their advantage.

This child is using diluted glue and a foam brush to attach oil pastel circle “destinations.”

This child is using diluted glue and a foam brush to attach oil pastel circle “destinations.”

Cutting the watercolor music sheets into smaller squares and rectangles. These are attached along the black lines. This lesson of valuing the layers — all that work that has gone before — means that the children experience art in a completely different way.

Cutting the watercolor music sheets into smaller squares and rectangles. These are attached along the black lines. This lesson of valuing the layers — all that work that has gone before — means that the children experience art in a completely different way.

I have yet to meet a child who is not a fan of anything shiny. They are little magpies. Tin foil brings the shine they need for this particular work. Although I called them buildings with lights shining in the night with the tin foil representing the shine, some of the children saw these as boats on water. Each of the works, because they took so much time and have been revisited over and over, hold stories with chapters and so, so many ideas.

I have yet to meet a child who is not a fan of anything shiny. They are little magpies. Tin foil brings the shine they need for this particular work. Although I called them buildings with lights shining in the night with the tin foil representing the shine, some of the children saw these as boats on water. Each of the works, because they took so much time and have been revisited over and over, hold stories with chapters and so, so many ideas.

I hope this gives you a snapshot view of our process.

And yes, some of the children will grow up to be artists. And all of them, every single one, will know how to solve a problem, how to climb out on a limb, how to take a risk with expressing ideas in a visual medium to connect with other humans whether they are the artist expressing it or they are the viewer enjoying it.