Friday, December 10, 2010

Two ways of doing art in school


I've been very struck by the quantity of art I end up bringing home from both of my kids' schools. But a post about how to store and process all of that will have to wait for another day (a day where I have figured out how to do it and then am qualified to share!).

But another fact is very clear to me. There are two kinds of art projects in these piles: art that my kids made on their own with no direction from an adult, and art that was prepped and supervised by a teacher.

Let's talk about the latter type first. When I had a daycare business, we called these "parent pleasers", and the audience is always in mind. What is going to be nice for the parents to have? What will impress them and let them know that we are doing cool things with their children? This type of project can actually be very nice. For instance, above my desk right now I have a turkey handprint made for Thanksgiving, done very nicely on nice paper and matted on a scrapbook page. That came home from preschool, and I could literally slap it into a scrapbook and keep Hypatia's handprint for future sentimental value.

But every child made an identical project, and there was no exercise in creativity for Hypatia. Frequently children do not enjoy doing these types of projects. And if I gave her the raw supplies and invited her to do it again, she wouldn't be able to. The tissue paper flower in the picture is a prime example. How did she make that? She took the paper the teacher had already cut for them, was handed a pipecleaner, and told how to attache the paper to the pipecleaner. And then if she couldn't do that, someone came over and did it for her.

Then there is the other kind of art. The kind that kids will do with anything you give them - the contents of the recycling bin would be a very welcome material! The main problem with this kind of art is that it can create an amazing mess - glue and bits of stuff thrown around like a tornado visited your classroom or art space. And it generates a lot of pieces that if handed to a parent will just get a "what?". I've got my fair share of those - the item that I have to be careful not to ask "is this art or are you just bringing home some junk?". Almost nothing is ready to be put in a scrapbook or sent to a grandparent as a gift.

But this is genuinely the work of the child's own hands and mind. They could reproduce this, and the next one may be even better. They are learning skills that they will be able to continue without help from an adult. And sometimes the results are really cool, and unexpected. This piece Carbon made is a good example.

Overall, you can tell which method I prefer. At church I much prefer to give "free art time" than to make kids all make one project. If art or craft supplies are brought out for a specific project, I don't like to "make" anyone do it if they don't want to. It just isn't worth it, in my opinion. You want to learn to carefully follow instructions? Let's bake a cake. That needs to be exacting and it's a great time to follow directions. But make art? Who follows directions to make real art?

(Note: I am not an artist and have had no instruction in such. I do know that some skills, such as drawing, require some practice and discipline and following instructions - this is not a piece about how to run an art school.)

So if the kids coming out of my church program are carrying pieces that inspire parental responses of "What?", please smile and take them home. Say "tell me about your creation." and not "what is this supposed to be?"

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