I Am An Artist

There is such power and joy in being able embrace oneself as an artist. An artist able to:

  • be inspired by other artists
  • use that inspiration to create your own art
  • inspire others
  • make creative and artistic decisions
  • carry out your plan or
  • enjoy the freedom of artistic and creative play and experimentation
  • speak your truth through your art
  • embrace your artist-self by choosing your own name (Hundertwasser)
  • share your understanding and vision by naming your artwork (Thomas)

The power and joy explodes, I think, when you can do all these things as a young child.

Last week my Kindergarten artists explored the work and life of Alma Thomas. She began her career as a representational artist, and later in her artist journey embraced abstract art. Amazingly, at the age of 80 in the early 1970’s she became the first African American woman to have a solo exhibit at the Whitney Museum in NYC.

The kindergarten artists loved Alma’s use of color, and enjoyed trying to guess what she named each of her paintings. They worked hard — first in their sketch books and then on the final watercolor paper — to recreate with crayons, the marks Alma made with acrylic paint. By the way, in case you’ve never tried it, it takes a lot of dedication to fill a 9X12 piece of paper with marks the size of your thumb.

As my artists worked in the classroom, I worked alongside them in my home studio. Like them I made my own crayon marks, and then added layers of watercolor wash. My work was often interrupted by “Hey Ms. James. This is …..,” as they slid their work under the document camera so we could marvel and talk together.

Encouraging them to include all the elements we noticed in Alma’s work, yet at the same time allowing them to make their own artistic and creative decisions and plans, is a delicate line to walk. I often wonder how close their work has to look to our inspirational artist’s work.

As I’ve worked with them this year, I’ve become more convinced that there are four non-negotiables. My fantabulous artists must:

  • include the elements of the original piece that we notice and spoke about together
  • be free to use their big beautiful brains and awesome hearts to decide how to incorporate the elements into their art
  • be allowed, encouraged, and enabled to find joy in their process and product
  • come to know themselves as artists

So, I work on pointing out what I see — what I see that reflects the elements we discussed, the things I notice are missing, and the many things I wonder about. I do my best to guide my artists to walk that delicate line of agency and requirements with me. Sometimes I set them free to make the decision as an artist, sometimes I request they put the artwork down for a bit and then look at it again to see if they are still happy with it, other times we find a compromise that allows them to have freedom while still following the guidelines.

Here are some of our Alma Thomas inspired works of art. I’m always interested to see how they interpret the current artist’s work, and how they incorporate some of the other artists we’ve explored previously. I’m amazed and edified by their title choices. The titles add to the power of the piece. They speak to the audience to share the artist’s thoughts and understanding, and speak to the artists themselves to affirm who they are.

The Master of Sjhapes
Magical Squares
Tornadoes Howling
A Meteor Shower
The Inspired Painting
Artist’s Lines

When I read their titles my heart is full. These Kindergarten artists are perceptive, thoughtful, confident, and invested in sharing what is in their minds and hearts. Everyday I do my best to affirm them “Indeed my young artist sisters, you are masters. You are inspired and inspiring artists. Don’t every believe anything less.”

Grab A Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about finding time in the day to “give” to my learners — time for them to make and invent, time to think creatively and critically, time to think about possibility, to experience joy, energy, challenge, freedom, and agency. It’s not so easy to find, but I just kept thinking and wondering.

I noticed I sometimes have small pockets of time in morning meeting. Not a lot of time for sure — maybe 5 minutes — but I thought I’d see what we could do in that time.

I searched around for LEGO bricks in the classroom, and found quite a few. I took out most of the pieces that suggested any thing in particular (trees, people, wheels). I hoped by doing that to have the creation be more open to possibility, and the imagination of each maker, and less led by the ideas of the LEGO makers. I found a basket that made it easy to send the bricks around our morning meeting circle, and eagerly anticipated our work together!

lego basket

By the way, we hadn’t used our LEGO bricks in some time, so they were in a need of a wash. I loaded them in a mesh bag, and washed them on the top shelf of my dishwasher on a cool setting. Worked great! Thanks to all the people who posted things online about ways to wash them.

The first two times we gave it a try, we worked together to create one structure. We each picked a lego, and added it to the structure as we passed it around our morning meeting circle. Here’s our first creation.

inventing 2

Sometimes the girls were quiet, watching each other add their brick. Other times they kibitzed about where to put the brick, or shared with a neighbor what it might be.

When we finished creating the structure I placed it — with a pencil — next to a clipboard reading “Our morning meeting invention might be … ”

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Over the next few days, the girls continued to think about what the structure might be — not what it is, but what it might be — and when they had a moment, they added their ideas to our lists.

The girls loved creating together, and writing their ideas one the lists. In the process we all got to practice and grow in many ways. We

  • used our imagination.
  • thought creatively and critically.
  • were open to possibilities.
  • collaborated.
  • were flexible when our friends accidentally knocked a piece off, and replaced it in a different spot.
  • acted as individuals, and as a team.
  • practiced handwriting, and encoding our thoughts into words so others could read them.
  • were resourceful — figuring out how to create something with a small set of bricks.
  • worked on our communication skills — as we created, as we talked about the creations later on, and as we shared our ideas.
  • enjoyed each other and the process.

It may seem like there is no time in your day to allow your students to invent, create, make, think, dream, imagine, wonder, and enjoy. Don’t believe that. Be open and observant. When you notice a moment or two in your day, give it to your students, and yourself, as moments of possibility.

Often times this is my mantra: “Small moments. Small creations. Big impact.”

Give it a go. Grab the moment! Your students, and you, deserve it.

 

By the way … 

If you find a moment and do something, leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what you did, and how it went.

If you find a moment and have no idea what to do, ask a colleague, or leave me a comment. I’d be happy to brainstorm some ideas.

if you look at your schedule and say “Molly does NOT know what she is talking about. My day is packed, and there is NO WAY I can do one more thing!” leave me a comment. Maybe we can look at your day together and find some time.

 

 

Creating and Curating Their Own Creativity

We frequently visit our school art gallery. We go armed with sketch books and pencils — ready to sketch anything we can see from within the gallery. Sometimes this is art, sometimes each other, and sometimes things we notice through the windows.

Most days our conversation goes like this:

Them: “Miss James, can we take off our shoes?”

Me: “You may — as long as you understand if we have a fire drill you are going outside without your shoes.”

They always agree, and I always cross my fingers that we don’t have a fire drill! Typically, once their shoes are off, they stow them under a shelf in the gallery and happily get to work sketching.

On this particular visit, the removal of their socks and shoes fueled their imagination and provided a unique medium for their creativity.

As I walked about the gallery. I came upon this …

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Returning a few moments later, I found this …

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And, finally, a bit later, this …

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I love their creativity, collaboration and inclusion. Did you notice the number of shoes and socks increased in each photo? Each time someone asked to join, the original artists expanded their work to include their friends.

In the last photo, they are working together to collect the signatures of all the artists who contributed to their “double-flower art.”

I love that the freedom I gave them — to take off their shoes and wander the gallery in bare feet  — resulted in such beautiful, examples of their powerful and joy-filled agency and creativity! I never cease to be amazed how such simple things — though profound when you think about it — as time, space, freedom, trust, resources (bare feet, socks and shoes, pencils and sketch books) and agency, allow these young creatives to do their thing.

They are fantabulous.