Whose art is it anyway?

An example of a recycled craft project.

This past month has had it’s high and low points in terms of my teaching.  I was painfully reminded by a group of students why specific outcomes can result in a deadly boring and uninspiring art activity.  I have been working with one of my homeschool groups on creating art from recyclables.  In poking around the web this summer I saw windchimes made from painted tin cans.  I saved cans for weeks rather than taking them to the recycling center, and I created my own windchime as an example. I brought sticks, string, nuts and bolts, lots of cans, paint, and glitter to class. I shared my windchime and I demonstrated how to punch a hole in a can with a nail so it could be strung with a nut or bolt for additional sound qualities.  Suddenly O asked, “Is there anything else we could make?” I was taken off guard, which is silly as usually my answer to this would be yes.  But I was so invested in having everyone create a windchime, that I actually ignored the question.  Soon everyone was pounding nail holes, slapping some paint on their cans, and stringing up their windchimes. Except for one or two students that enjoyed painting the cans, everyone else had quickly finished and moved onto a lively Lego building session.  I was so taken aback by the whole experience, that as I was processing what was happening, I never even took any pictures of the windchimes.

A more open ended exploration with cans.

The jellyfish shows the diversity that can be achieved while using similar materials in a modified choice environment.

Now my usual teaching mode is to present materials and show a variety of possibilities of ways that artists have used them, and demonstrate some techniques.  I work hard to support individual expression.  Probably due to the pressures of a busier than usual schedule this fall I didn’t have enough time to really give proper consideration to how I might best present this activity.  I could have had kids think about creating musical instruments, sound sculptures, or mobiles.  I could have shown the kids a variety of art created from tin cans. But sadly….I didn’t do any of those things. And the best thing that I can say is that out of life’s low points comes reflection, and an improved plan of future action.

Truly an example of individual expression, exploration of materials, and vibrant joy in creation!

This past Friday when I worked with this group again our recycled material was newspaper.  When I had planned the class last August I had thought that perhaps we could make papier mache bowls. I showed the students a variety of examples of papier mache creations, sculptures made from newspaper tubes, and paintings and collages that incorporated newspaper.  One student chose to make a papier mache bowl.  One made two papier mache birds, one made a papier mache flower reminiscent of a calla lily. Three brothers created large papier mache skyscrapers.  One student made boxlike building shapes from newspaper by folding and taping the newspaper. The brothers building skyscrapers had to do a lot of problem solving to figure out how to create what they envisioned from cardboard before covering it with papier mache. The girl creating boxlike shapes also did a lot of experimenting to get the forms she wanted. O, the student whose question I had ignored, drew a picture of grand knights fighting a  powerful god that was stealing their pyramid with a raging tornado-like storm. I had brought in some metallic sharpies and he really enjoyed using those to draw the grand knights and their castle. He was eager to tell me all about his drawing and I wrote down his story.  When I read it back to him he seemed surprised and pleased that I wrote it exactly the way he told it using his words. I often take dictation for students, and I was happy that it meant so much to him. It meant a lot to me too, that he was able to use our time together to create something that was meaningful to him.

Playing with tape. Definitely not in that day’s demo, and a great example of seeing everyday objects in new and innovative ways.

And the silver lining is that whether a student tries what I offer or demo is perhaps not as important as the exposure to possibilities.  Having the opportunity to explore ideas and materials as well as viewing what classmates create is an important part of the learning process in the art studio classroom.

The armature for a papier mache bird. Bet he’s glad he’s not a turkey!

As Thanksgiving is almost here I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful students that help me learn, and inspire me to keep reflecting too! I have an even greater appreciation of choice based art education since the windchime activity, and am so thankful for the professional learning community I am part of on the TAB/choice listserv!


About francifularts

I am an independent art educator. I had my first experience teaching ceramics when I was 24 and worked in the University for Youth program at the University of Denver. As an elementary school teacher I always found myself integrating the arts across the curriculum, which led to me working as an artist in the schools. In May of 2008 I began a master's program with Lesley University in their Creative Arts in Learning Program. It was a truly transformative and incredible experience which led me to decide to devote the rest of my teaching career to teaching art, and through the arts. About the same time that I completed my master's degree in January of 2011 I was hired to teach art in two different programs. I have never been happier in my work as a teacher, and I really appreciate the wonderful professors and cohort of fellow teachers I studied with at Lesley University. I also want to thank all of the wonderful arts educators that I have met online through the TAB/choice list serv for their thoughtful posts and insightful suggestions for teaching art!
This entry was posted in process vs. product, reflections on teaching and learning. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Whose art is it anyway?

  1. Beth says:

    Hi, Franciful Arts….you left such a thoughtful comment on my Make a Map! post I had to come see what you are doing. This is such an interesting post, with your thoughts about open-ended creating, instead of a more defined or teacher-goal oriented project….I love it. And it came at just the right time for me, to help me in thinking about how I will do next semester. I’m learning all the time, from the children, from experience, and from people like you. sincerely, Beth

    • Hi Beth, Sorry not to get back to you right away! I guess I overlooked some e-mails with all of the busyness of teaching and family life! So glad my post was helpful! Most of us were taught to make the projects our teachers presented. Our students however need opportunities to develop their own artistic vision and voice! I was fortunate when I was completing my master’s thesis on the importance of three dimensional learning to meet a wonderful art educator named Kathy Douglas. She and one of her best friends (Diane Jaquith) wrote a book called Engaging Learners in Artmaking which completely changed my perspective on art education. I highly recommend the book and their website Teaching for Artistic Behavior. I want you to know that I really enjoy your blog and always look forward to reading it when it comes to my inbox. I have been teaching students to make stuffed animals from socks and your photo stories with the Waldorf family and the Stick Monster inspired us to make photo stories with our stuffed animal creations too! If you’d like to see some more of what I’m up to with my students (including the sockpet buddies) I have a teaching page on FB called Franciful Arts.

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