Artistic Development – By the Numbers

Crafty Cora is starting to get interested in activity books. You know, the ones you buy at the grocery store that are full of coloring pages, mazes, and connect the dots. As a professional art educator part of me cringes at the thought of them. They were an integral part of my own childhood, however, and as such my artistic development.

This morning we are coloring by number, per her request. Just as Duncum (1988) wrote of copying, there is some merit to this activity, even if the result is not an original work of art. Here are a few thoughts on that.

• Cora is focused and concentrating on completing a task. The smile on her face at the end was evidence that she enjoyed this as much as the process.

• She is learning to see numbers in use as symbols representing actions.

• She is participating, if unwittingly at this point, in an art making tradition with a history we can explore at some later date.

Here’s to breaking our own rules, sometimes.


Scenes from an Artful Day


“Mom! Let’s see what happens if we do this…” This one gave me chills. Curiosity is the mother of invention.


We picked a bouquet of different flowers noting their names, variations of color, shape, and size. Hitting all those good ole’ elements and principles of art without even trying. Cora says she earned, and wants, a “badge” so we’re talking about making one and then starting our own version of girl scouts. Then she pulled all the petals and practiced tossing them in anticipation of her aunt’s wedding next month where she’ll be a flower girl.

Lots and lots of independent play with lots and lots of narration. Better than any reality TV show I've ever heard of.

Lots and lots of independent play with lots and lots of narration. I bet you never knew HotWheels could be princesses learning to go potty…

Some days just click. Today was one of those. We moved effortlessly through errands, chores, and playful learning. I wish they could all be like this.

My Cousin versus Land’s End

Portia Munson’s “Pink Project” (1994)

Just a few short weeks ago, the maxipad company Always brought me to tears with their video #LikeAGirl. I was crying for the young me who struggled to find herself amidst a sea of gender-based societal expectations I thought were bullshit. I was crying for my mother who was told she ought to be a teacher rather than a physician. And I cried for my daughters, for whom I hope the path to self-discovery is less tumultuous.

And then my cousin Lisa – a computer programmer, maker, and homeschooler – wrote a letter to the Land’s End clothing company that went viral. Here’s an excerpt:

My nine year old daughter loves science…So you can imagine her reaction when she saw your company’s science-themed t-shirt designs for boys featured on page 26 of your latest catalog…We immediately flipped forward in your catalog to find the equivalent shirts in girls’ sizes… instead of science-themed art, we were treated to sparkly tees with rhinestones, non-realistic looking stars, and a design featuring a dog dressed like a princess and wearing a tutu.

My first response was, of course, “How totally cool! My cousin made the Huffington Post!” I shared the link with my students, particularly a few whom I specifically recalled were interested in gender issues in visual culture and art education. I used Lisa as an example of how one person, speaking out online, can make an impact on others. We spend so much time in our program asking students to post their work on their professional websites and share their ideas via social media but it isn’t always easy for them to see the impact of those actions. Here was an example. And one relevant to those in our field who believe that part of our job involves educating people to critically interpret and respond to the material culture that surrounds us. The letter was met with applause all around.

Today I visited the Huffington Post’s facebook page link to the article about Lisa’s letter. While only 25 people commented on the website itself, there were 185 comments on Facebook. (A conversation for another time, perhaps: Where are getting our news these days?). I was amazed to see how many people thought she should have kept her mouth shut and that her opinion was frivolous:

 This is not news worthy; if your daughters like science then buy the science shirt. Not everything we buy & sale needs to be steeped in controversy. 

Others thought her ignorant of how commercial marketing operates. (If only they knew she was the daughter of a true Madison Avenue ad man.)

Another idiot who doesn’t understand business. Are there girls who like science? Yes. But who is more likely to want a t shirt with planets on it? Boys. A company isn’t going to make a whole line of clothes that only 1% of the customer segment will want. Simple business, all these gender rights radicals need to go to a remote island where there’s no economy to worry about.

Neither of these commenters seems aware at all that women are still fighting, every single day, for equal pay for equal work or that some of still feel the need to explain, as adults, when we don’t adhere to gender stereotypes. Sure, Lisa can just buy her daughter the shirts she likes from the boys’ section of the catalogue, but kids are very brand conscious and they can be mean. All it would take was one kids saying, “Hey, that’s a boy’s shirt!” to make even the most grounded girl question herself. And it starts earlier and earlier.

For anyone who doesn’t see the connections between gender-based marketed and children’s psychosocial development, I highly recommend Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter (2011). See also the artist Portia Munson’s Pink and Blue Projects (detail above).

We have the right to make choices in the marketplace, and the marketplace is growing and becoming more diversified everyday. Online t-shirt companies like Columbus-based Skreened, for example, offer design options that can be printed on your choice of t-shirt (color, cut, size). But for the majority of Americans shopping at Walmart, Target, and Sears (who carry the Land’s End line), the choices are pretty black and white. Or should I say, pink and blue. And that matters. It matters a lot.


More DIY Barbie Dress-Up

I’ve been upcycling baby doll outfits out of Cora’s infant clothes for awhile. But, Barbie eluded me. She’s so itty bitty. Thanks to Jess at Craftiness Is Not Optional for a Barbie doll dress tutorial easy enough to do over a morning cup of coffee. After a year and a half living with naked hand-me-downs and arounds, it’s about to be Fashion Week around here!photo-1[Postscript: Read more on the challenge of making DIY Barbie clothes here.]