Rethinking the Valentine

Okay. I admit it. Valentine’s Day has never meant all that much to me.

It’s not that I’m not romantic or anything like that. But, I have historically thought of it as a market-driven holiday; our love for one another measured by the store-bought cards kids pass around at school and candy conversation hearts which never appealed to me on any level.

Likewise, as an art educator, I put holiday crafts in a category of work not worth the time of serious contemporary art educators. As at this time last year, I just finished a unit on the history of holiday crafts in art education (see Paper Heart and the History of Art Education). My students shared their perspectives on the issue, most suggesting that there isn’t much time for holiday crafting in their artrooms even if they wanted to bring it in. They questioned which holidays would be addressed, could be addressed, in a multicultural classroom. And that they feel misunderstood when administrators expect them to celebrate and decorate for holidays like this. I share their views.

But this year, as Crafty Cora and I got to work on tokens of affection for her classmates, we got to talking about what Valentine’s Day is all about. I found our basic research personally edifying as I grew up with some vague idea that (Saint) Valentine’s day isn’t for Jewish people. It also gave me ideas about how it might be meaningfully addressed in a comprehensive art program – not that I’m arguing it ought to be…

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that, as with Christmas, Valentine’s Day predates the saint for which it is named. According to the History Channel, it started as a fertility holiday known as Lupercalia and, paralleling the social history of romantic relations, morphed into a holiday about romantic love.

Our search uncovered an interview with Valentine collector Nancy Rosin which positions the Valentine as an interesting bit of visual culture. Rosin suggests they are “important as a social chronicle. Personal communication between people…fascinating stories.” Watching her video, I could imagine using Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to talk with students about the history of romance, the practice of arranged marriage past and present, and the industry of greeting cards (love it or hate it, it’s out there and it’s huge, and a professional venue for artists and illustrators). Rosin shares her knowledge and perspective as a curator about the history of Valentine productions – mass-produced and handmade. I love her notion that the handmade cards bear “the fingerprints of love.”

I had all this in mind as Cora and I got out a big box of papers and started cutting out hearts. She practiced some of the same skills she worked on last year – tracing, cutting, composing, pasting, sewing – and we listened to Motown love songs. A light snow fell outside. It was the perfect weather for crafting.

As we worked, I questioned the benefits of the activity. After a bit of cutting, she passed  that job on to me. After a little gluing she outsourced that as well. Eventually she declared herself in charge of the sewing machine and told me, “How about you do your stuff at that table and I do mine at this table.” And just like, she chose the job she liked best and declared herself the director of our little Valentine factory. She even kept track of how many we’d made on the calculator.

If there is any value left in the notion of holiday arts as motivator for students, I think there could be the start a lesson plan here around the essential question, “Can art be mass produced?”

Mass-production.

Factories.

The Factory.

Andy Warhol.

???

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4 thoughts on “Rethinking the Valentine

  1. My follow up question to your question is: if art cannot be mass produced how can we understand printmaking, photography, and new media works in the context of art as a unique and singular product? I see some great potential in having students explore the problem of answering these questions and finding ways to represent their answers in the form of methods for creating rather than finished artwork. In other words, their answer is in the form of a method demonstration.

    • Yes. I guess I was suggesting they might explore this notion as the collaborate to mass produce Valentine’s, in this case. The cards would not be the objective, rather the processes involved in making them.

  2. The more I look into T.A.B. the more I can see this fitting nicely into an art class. The students who want to create holiday art are able to and those who don’t want to can continue on with whatever project they are working on. This way holiday art is not forced onto the students who feel misunderstood, as you said, by having this required of them. I still have a hard time being ok with the idea of having all students create art for a holiday they may not observe or agree with, but I think T.A.B. could be the perfect solution to that. Allow the kids to do the research and look further into a holiday if it interest them in order to make a work of art based on the holiday.

    I do like the idea of the connection to mass production. I think that could spark some interesting discussions.

  3. Pingback: Acts of LOVING Kindness | Art Education Outside The lines

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