Frozen in Columbus

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Like much of North America, it’s been really cold around central Ohio this winter. While I’m not a huge fan of playing in the snow, the sub-zero temperatures had me wishing I could run and play just a little, or at least walk to and from the car without feeling like I might loose a digit.

In hindsight it seems like more than mere coincidence that Disney’s blockbuster animated film of the year was Frozen. Did they consult the Farmer’s Almanac on this one? We haven’t seen the movie yet, but our young neighbor June has developed a deep fascination with all things Frozen this winter which she shared with me the other afternoon when we braved the elements and tromped down the road for a playdate.

June started out a pretty shy kid but has been coming out of her shell more recently. Her mother told me that she’s been talking to everyone who will listen about Frozen. Singing songs from the film. Acting out scenes. Dressing up as her favorite characters. On our visit, she sat me down for a page-by-page run through The Art of Frozen. All 168 pages. It’s a beautiful book worthy of anyone’s attention.

June’s dedication to her subject was inspiring. She pointed out aspects of the design process she learned from the book – how the characters developed in the minds and drawings of the animators; the environments they created and their Scandinavian inspirations. She pointed out the different media the artists used. And then she showed me her own artwork, inspired by, and embedded into the book.

I love this example of autodidactic art education. It is a kind of spontaneous activity not often found in school art programs. Reminds me of George working under the tutelage of unknown Lego and origami mentors on YouTube. Is there a space for such learning in schools? Or should it just stay at home?

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Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 2, No. 3

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Not pictured, but another one of our favorite picturebook about sleep is
Cinnamon Baby   (Winstanley, 2011).

Anyone who knows me outside of this blog, knows that Crafty Cora is one of the world’s worst sleeper. When, in the summer of her first year, Go The Fuck to Sleep (Mansbach/Cortes, 2011) was released, it was as it were written for me. I listened a few too many times to Samuel L. Jackson’s reading of it during our most restless afternoons and evenings. I just listened to it again for the first time in a long time and it still has me laughing out loud. I can’t imagine anyone who could better voice that story.

So, it was with mild hesitation that I took The Insomniacs (Wolf/Hits, 2012) and Bedtime is Caneled (Mend/Neyret, 2012) home from the library. What was I thinking? Was I just providing fuel for the fire? I went to bed each night wondering if this would be the one when Cora would come downstairs and say, “Mom, maybe we should ‘live during the dark hours” like little Mika Insomniac. Or, would this be the day that she’d send a note to the local newspaper bedtime canceled, forever. Thankfully, nothing like this has happened. Yet.

Maggie didn’t really send a note to the newspaper either.  But her declaration the bedtime was canceled somehow made its way to the editor’s desk. The results were not pretty.

The Insomniacs are a quirky family that relocates across the globe and, rather than adjust to the time change, decide to stay awake all night and sleep during the day. The images are rich and lovely with figures drawn in a contemporary graphic style, simultaneously bright and subdued coloring. I might have to buy this one just for the pictures.

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol 2., No. 2

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This recommendation isn’t like its predecessors. It’s a book of pictures (and words), rather then a picture book. This one is filled with examples of Chindogu, a kind of design challenge credited to Japanese inventor Kenji Kawakami. Chindogu offer solutions to life problems that seem useful at first, but upon further consideration, merely cause more problems for the user. I’m not going to try to describe them here. Just check out Chindogu.com or run a Google image search for a taste. Once you’ve stopped laughing out loud, read on.

I didn’t go looking for this book. It found me while I was cat-sitting for friends. How could anyone resist that wacky cover? I had to borrow it. And I’m so glad I did. (Thanks Julian and Liz! I promise to return it ASAP.)

Rosa and her gal pal spent a good while with it after school today and George, our resident STEM student poured over it at dinner. Their unsolicited enthusiasm for it got me thinking about creativity and invention. Art educators wonder whether these are things that can be taught, and of course our jobs depend on finding ways to make that possible. But sometimes we all just need a good strong dose of inspiration. This book offers that in spades.

I can think of a handful of my students who are interested the STEAM approach to education that would find Chindogu interesting. Likewise, Kawakami’s tenents for Chindogu offer parameters for creation that echo parameters set forth in design thinking. I’d love to see an enterprising art educator create an educational resource around this modern day Japanese tradition. At the very least, I hope this book will find its way into a few classrooms. It may be absurd, but I think we could use a bit more of that in our schools.

 

Sometimes We Make Stuff, Sometimes We Break Stuff

As an art educator, I spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for acts of creation. And, in my personal life, my family and I spend a lot of time making stuff. But every once in awhile, it’s nice to break things too. It gives us a sense of power over the material world around us that is not so different from bringing things into being. Watch any small child around a stack of blocks and you’ll understand.

Sometimes, when we tear something down, we make way for something new. Such was the message of Ai Weiwei’s Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) and Robert Raushenberg’s Erased deKooning (1953). These were conceptual works, making way for new ways of thinking and creating. Sometimes it’s not that heady.

IMG_4470I spent an hour and a half this morning tearing up an old bathroom floor. It felt wonderful. I only planned to take out the threshold today, just enough to make room for work to be done outside the doorway, but once I got started, I had to keep going. When I was a teenager I loved the band Guns and Roses. I guess part of me still has an Appetite for Destruction. I was feeling the Flow.

As I worked, I thought about the history of the space I was in; the layers of linoleum, wood, and glue stacked on top of one another. I thought about who put those down and how excited they must have been to have something new. I imagined what the bathroom would look like once we remodeled it. But most of all, I thought about how powerful I felt wielding a crow bar and cat’s paw and how much different the world might be if more women learned to use them; if we had the opportunity to tear things apart once in awhile, rather than always being in charge of nurturing and raising them up. What new possibilities might we imagine?

He Crossed the Line: RIP Elliot Eiser

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I often cite Elliot Eisner as one of my formative influences as an art educator. His article, “The Art and Craft of Teaching” (1983) is among the first articles on education I remember reading. I also recall getting terribly upset when, as a young high school teacher, I read his critique of visual culture in art education just when I was developing a genuine enthusiasm for it.

While I haven’t spent much time in deep conversation with his work over the past few years, his voice has been quietly humming in the back of my head. Few in our field have written with such eloquence and encouragement as Eisner. Few have been able to speak so clearly and comprehensively about our field – in both artistic and intellectual terms.

What a coincidence that he should pass away this week, just as I am beginning a new term teaching History of Teaching Art. I’m going to take this as a sign that I need to revisit his work, beyond his oft referenced list of 10 Things the Arts Teach. I started tonight by rereading “The Art and Craft of Teaching” (1983). This was an article written not for art educators, but for educational leaders to encourage them to reconsider scientifically determined guidelines for teaching and learning. It was a call for an authentic form of teaching, an active and reflective practice. It is an article all teachers, and parents, ought to read and take seriously for, as Eisner predicted, we are suffocating in a time of numbers-driven schooling, rather than people-driven learning.

RIP Elliot Eisner. In your honor I pledge to be the most human educator I can be. (Even as I am tethered to this computer…)