On Mondays, the primary class has an optional after-school art class.
For the first lesson, I contemplated on what I was going to present and felt the how would be even more difficult to solve.
How does one teach art? Do children need to be taught art? Should I even teach? Or should I present something and have them explore the idea of art? What is art for that matter?
Oozing out, were many struggles I had around the topic of art during art school days, such as the value of art and the way it was taught to future artists and designers. The conclusion that remained was that art’s purpose was to ask questions or engage the viewer/user in a dialogue about the meaning of moments and experiences, concrete or abstract. Moreover, I felt the value of art was most appreciated while it was created, meaning the artist and the viewer may perceive an artwork’s force to the same degree, but the difference between the creator and the consumer may reside in how and what they feel. What I am trying to say is that the potential to create is within all life, but today, it is seen as a profession or a hobby that is exclusive to those who are encouraged to pursue traditional creative trades such as writing, art, music, design, dance, cooking, etc. Thus, the self-image of those outside of the creative world can be limited by fear. If the rise and ubiquity of platforms such as instagram (which possess as much sociological weight as they should) have taught me anything it is that one: we love ourselves, and two: we have an intense desire to create. If you’re like me, you may ask: “Why do we desire to create?”.
For me, to art, or to create, is an avenue to express myself. Art can be collaborative and art can be individual at the same time. The same way art can be original and appropriative at the same time.
So, perhaps my role as the art facilitator for these young artists is to aid them in their self-expression using my broad definition of art, which is the act of self-expression. The next question is “why then, should we start with visual art and how shall we explore it?”
Visual art refers to forms that are either in two or three dimensions: drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, photography, and cinematography to name a few. Why visual art? My theory is that it is potentially simple enough to view the cycle of creation and evaluation across time and space. Simply put, when I stroke the page with a brush, there is a clear history of my actions and the relationship between my mind>hand>brush>paint>paper. By comparison, playing music requires the sound to be replayed if one wishes to experience it again outside of their body/mind.
And this leads me to another idea regarding art. Earlier, I mention how for me, the purpose of art may be to engage its environment in the process or meaning of life. And, if that is the purpose, then the essence of art may be relationships; interdependence between elements within a context, where their identities rely on position or action in relation to the rest. Thus, the act of creating is essential for the understanding the varying and complex relations between the idea of this to the idea of that.
Basically, making sense of the world…
The dot. Later progressing to the line.
As it was our first time together exploring art, we used only the black marker, to keep it simple. We briefly discussed what art was, and I plan to open every class with that question, hoping to plant the seed for deeper and internalized/personal discussion. Many art class structures suggest using examples of artwork and presenting the children with the history of art and the most popular artists. No thank you… At least not for the first class or set of classes. I believe that traditional technical art skill education in cohesion with art history is important and necessary for many reasons. However, I believe a bond with the material is in precedence compared to the way another artist expresses themselves, whether that neighbouring artist is their friend sketching one foot away, or a craftsman who lived far far away, and a long long time ago.
With that in mind, or in this case out of mind, we selected our papers, and began marking our pages one dot at a time. I encouraged them to slow down, and evaluate their mark, selfishly trying to understand their expression. Some were slower, appearing more methodical, others were faster, appearing assured. Some used as many pages as they could get through within the allotted class-time. And some insisted on using only one page, never lifting their gaze off of their creative process and ungripping their pincer.
We discussed the power of the dot and the line. They (4 year old artists) shared how they can split their characters using vertical and horizontal lines, how they could fit different-sized dots in the squares of a grid sheet, how they can make a rectangle using four turns with the marker. I even had one of the boys draw all over his hands and face. I thought it was interesting, but asked if his mom would be okay with it and if he wished to think about it in the washroom, in front of the mirror.
At the end of the class the boy with the gridded dots visited the sink for hand-washing, later realizing it is partially wet, which with panic created a few rips in the paper. I attempted to assure him that the process of art is finding the harmony between creation and release (using simpler language) and that without the water we may never have realized that the black ink actually includes a blue tint also. Or that the water made the composition more complex as it adds motion blur to an area of the artwork. This led us to suggest we incorporate the element of water in our next experiments.
Over the last six or so years I have grown pessimistic or even worse, indifferent toward art. Spending the time with the children, planning the lesson, and having the process be fun, engaging, and the results be surprising and aesthetically interesting, reminded me of the power of art and a few ideas on how I can bring more of that power back into my life.