About jodiK

I am a lot of things, but for the purposes of this blog, I am Jodi Kushins, PhD: an out-of-practice Art Education researcher, trying to get my mind and my voice back in shape.

Picturebooks on the Potty: The Next Generation

A few months back I said I wasn’t going to write about picturebooks anymore. I planned to post about the chapter books Cora and I have been reading together but then life got in the way and I haven’t taken the time to write about Harry Potter, My Side of the Mountain, or Bone. In the meantime, my friend Amy and I submit a proposal about picturebooks for the 2018 National Art Education Association convention, our local children’s bookstore – Cover to Cover (Columbus, OH) – announced they are changing owners and moving out of the neighborhood, and Cora started reading on her own. All this brings me back, happily, to share my thoughts on the stack of Mo Willems books currently perched on our potty.

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When I first read Willems Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus I couldn’t understand what so many people, including those who award the Caldecott Medal, saw in it. It seemed to me, frankly, a stupid story with lackluster illustrations.

Then came Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, first introduced to me during a read aloud in Cora’s preschool classroom. Her teacher had purchased a copy of the then newly released Thank You Book which was to be the final of 25 books about Gerald and Piggie. I couldn’t understand the appeal. Again the story seemed weak and the illustrations overly simplistic and uninspiring.

Then came kindergarten. Cora’s teacher used Elephant and Piggie throughout the year: They listened to the stories during read aloud. The kids drew copies of the book covers and arranged them in a timeline based on when they were published. And they read from them in a readers’ theater at the end of school celebration, demonstrating work they’d done on their reading, intonation, and collaborative storytelling skills.

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My heart melted as Cora and her classmate read the book they’d chosen to a group of kids and parents. She was reading! Out loud in front of a crowd!

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All of a sudden Piggie and Gerald didn’t seem so bad. The next time we went to the library we sought them out. We brought a few home and Cora asked me to read them with her, taking turns reading different parts. It was fun and it was her choice. She wanted to read unlike so many other times I had tried to coax her to practice with me in the past.

Parents of young readers know it’s hard to find books on the level that your child is reading. Each publisher seems to have a different labeling system and none seem quite accurate. But Piggie and Gerald really are great first readers. They have simple sentences made up of words that are easy to sound out. They have repetition. They are silly in all the ways kids recognize as silly.

But I’m still not enthralled with Piggie and Gerald as art objects. They seem to be some other thing, something overly instrumental in comparison with the books I’ve written about before in this space. While some of those had instrumental value, they also took aesthetics into primary consideration. I don’t see that in Elephant and Piggie.

But then Willems is addressing another set of demands. In a recent interview with The New Yorker, Willems reported:

The challenge for me is that my goal is to be funny, but within the constraint of using only about forty to fifty words…That’s why I say that early readers are hard writers—writing them isn’t easy….I sometimes joke that I write for functional illiterates…Because these stories aren’t meant to be read once—they’re meant to be read a thousand times. In that way, they’re more like a song than like the score for a film. You don’t listen to ‘A Boy Named Sue’ for the ending.

I’m still want to know more about Willems relation to Piggie and Gerald. Were they just money makers in the end or did he dream of lives for these characters outside the pages of their books? What has he said about his illustrational style in these books? Whom and what did he look to for inspiration for these books? I’m interested to learn more and welcome links in the comments to interviews with or discussions of Elephant and Piggie you may have read.

In the meantime, Thank you Mr. Willems. Thank you Miss Maureen. Together you got Cora reading to herself (on and off the potty). I’m so proud!

 

Passing the time playing pass the drawing

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When Cora first started music classes, her wise teacher who was always able to teach to the parents while simultaneously teaching our kids, recommended we “sing through our days.” I came to know the value of this, especially after 3 years and 9 collections of music. We had learned nearly 200 songs, and it was easy to find one for just about any occasion. I quickly learned that singing was an antidote to many childhood woes – boredom, stubbornness, sleepy, hungry, sad, mad. A good living example of “fake it ’til you make it.”

This past weekend I stumbled on an example of drawing through the day, an idea I’d like to develop in future posts. Sitting through her third band concert in three weeks, Cora was having trouble sitting still for all four Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra groups. I pulled out some paper and suggested we play “pass the drawing,” our family’s version of exquisite corpse.

In case this is an unfamiliar concept, in this simple drawing game someone draws something then passes it to the next person to add something and so on. You can set rules like, only lines and shapes and no recognizable objects or not and let folks determine what adding something means for themselves.

Dan and I have played this with the kids for over ten years together–waiting for food at a restaurant, on a long car ride, at a party. We hadn’t played with Cora in awhile and it was great to see her thinking and expressing her ideas in pictures. I haven’t written much about her representational development lately, but it seems time (follow-up to come).

We made three drawing in total, I don’t know where the final one is hiding. She assigned us each one to keep and hers must be hiding someplace secret. I’ll ask her if she can find it tomorrow.

Artists as Public Intellectuals: The Drumpf Edition

This winter I was invited to revisit a piece I wrote in graduate school for the journal CultureWork on the role of artists as public intellectuals (“Recognizing Artists As Public Intellectuals,” 2006). It was just published and the timing couldn’t be better, following on the heel’s of this weekend’s reports on the 2017 White House Correspondence Dinner – those in attendance and those who abstained. My original essay uses Stephen Colbert’s address at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (2006) as one example of artists’ contributions to culture as political and social commentators. That’s worth a re-view too, if you have 16 minutes and 53 seconds to spare.

It’s not easy to say something in 500 words or less but I gave it a shot. If you can’t imagine the “first 100 days” without Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, and Seth Meyers, you might like this quick read.

Leave a comment and let me know.

Field Trip: Hartman Rock Garden

The summer after I graduated from college I drove across the country with an old friend. We were moving to California, following some beatnik dream. We pulled off the highway somewhere in Kansas and passed a series of whirligigs with political messages hard to ignore. We stopped for gas, asked about what we’d seen, and learned they were the work of an older eccentric down the road. He might be up for a visit–though he had an ornery reputation–if we wanted to stop by.

We drove to M.T. Liggett’s barn and hung out with him for a few memorable hours, not realizing he was a veteran of the American folk art world. Just weeks after graduating magna cum laude with a dual degree in studio art and art history, I learned of a major gap in my education. I had little to no knowledge of outsiders like Liggett whose art showed no concern for the latest trends in SoHo or L.A., just the the “human urge to create” (Kakas, 2001). Stumbling upon Liggett and his work was something I will never forget, and something that seems nearly impossible in 2017 where so much has been marked on Google’s Earth.

Yesterday Cora and I went on a field trip Hartman Rock Garden in Springfield, OH with some friends. Standing in this suburban backyard folk art environment I was reminded of the wonder such spaces hold. I first learned about the garden last fall in an essay by Karen M. Kakas published in Histories of Community-Based Art Education (Congdon, Blandy, Bolin, 2001). I had been living in Ohio for over ten years and had the book on my shelf at least that long but that chapter hadn’t caught my attention before. The images were hard to ignore and I put a field trip to Hartman’s at the top of the Ohio list of things to do.

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As we pulled up to Hartman’s former home, a tour bus pulled away and we had the space to ourselves. It was amazing, not least because the project has been standing out in the elements for more than 85 years. Ben Hartman worked on the stone and cement structures between 1932 and 1939 after a Depression era lay off from his work at a local tool manufacturer. He referred to the project as his “personal WPA project,” an antidote to the boredom brought on by unemployment. After his death in 1944, his wife Mary took care of the property until her own passing in 1997. After ten years of neglect, the Kohler Foundation purchased and restored the site. Today it is maintained by a local non-profit, Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden.

The farther I get away from my interests in gallery-sanctioned artworks, the more projects like Hartman’s appeal to me. The authentic passion and creative compulsion to create it displays, the attention to details, the use of materials at hand. It all fits my definition of what art is and what sorts of efforts and examples we ought to build art education around. In her essay, Kakas asks, “Besides [aesthetic] enjoyment, what does the novice art viewer learn about art upon encountering these objects in someone’s backyard?” This is a question I hope to consider further and explore in projects at Over the Fence Urban Farm this summer.

Kakas suggests art educators “need to make our students aware that most [environmental artworks] are like an endangered species.” After visiting Hartman’s I visited its Facebook page and plan to attend a volunteer day this spring to help with maintenance work on the site. It’s less than an hour from our house and I can’t think of many comparable opportunities I can give Cora to be part of art history and preservation.

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This final image is a one Cora took of her favorite piece in the garden. She thought it was funny to imagine a bird sitting on a cactus. I think Hartman, a religious and patriotic man, had a more profound message in mind but I think he’d be satisfied with her finding humor in the piece.

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Summer vacation is just around the corner. I’m hoping we can find other folk art environments to visit. Where have you been and what have you seen? What impact such spaces made on you? What have they inspired you to create?

Artful Readings: An Introduction

This post introduces a new column, “Artful Readings” which will replace “Picturebooks on the Potty” which I wrote from 2013-2016 in this space. (For a full list of “Picturebooks on the Potty” posts, search for Picturebooks above.)

My daughter Cora, who inspired me to start the column, doesn’t really need me to read to her on the potty anymore, but we are still reading a ton together. Cora goes to school only part time and is unschooled the other parts. Much of that other time we spend reading books and talking about them, researching and writing about things related to what we are reading, and making art and playing games based on the characters from the stories. In upcoming posts I plan to document and share our further adventures in literature, and reflect on them from an art educator’s perspective. I hope you’ll join us.

 

 

 

 

Community Holiday Crafting

I’ve spent the past few years embracing holiday crafting with my family. I’ve written a lot about our traditions on this blog (see “Permission to Play: Holiday Crafting Edition, “Our Craftiest Christmas to Date,” “Handmade Holidays: The Next Generation,”Holiday Crafting with Teens,” and “Holiday Crafting with PreSchooler (and Glitter!)

This year, my attention’s been turned outward. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, I’ve found myself crafting with the community more than my kin.

I attended a stitch ‘n bitch session at Wholly Craft, a handmade gift shop hosted by a local organization that supports women’s reproductive choice – Women Have Options. Ohio legislators recently passed measures to outlaw abortions past 20 weeks of conception. Women, and supportive men, throughout our state are enraged and looking for ways to move on and prepare for the challenges ahead. I attended “Felt and Feminism” to connect with women actively working to protect women and our reproductive options and make some fem-inspired XMas ornaments.

This past Sunday, I hosted a Chanukah Menorah making session as a follow-up to my last post, “Tis the Season for Solidarity.” I rented time at Paper Moon Art Studio, gathered supplies, and got some general design ideas to share. I invited a few creative friends to help me get things set up, play around with the material to imagine ways they might be used, and think through the best ways to get people started on the project. I was impressed with all the ways folks found to put the materials together that I hadn’t imagined. The event was attended by Jews and Jewish allies and at the end of the night, 16 new menorahs walked out into the world.

Finally, a friend and I hosted an Winter Solstice Eve party for some kids from school and their parents. We set the party up just after school and had snacks and crafts. Mostly the kids wound up running wild while the adults sipped spiked cider and chatted in the kitchen. But a few joined the adults poking cloves into oranges to make pomanders and cut paper snowflakes.

With all the crappy things happening in the news, I needed this time with friends (old and new) making things to give me hope that we will carry on, and we will make the world beautiful as we do so.

Happy Holidays!

‘Tis the Season for Solidarity

Growing up in Great Neck, NY, the “quintessential Jewish suburb” (Goldstein, 2006), December was a time for Chanukah candles, not Christmas lights. Still, I remember the few houses around town that were decked out for that holiday. I loved and hated those lights. I loved to see them twinkling through the crisp winter nights. I hated that they reminded me of this great big and seemingly amazing thing I wasn’t a part of.

Today, I live in Columbus, OH where most of my family, friends, and neighbors celebrate some derivation of Christmas. At times I have felt uneasy participating in their seasonal traditions. Afterall, as the Chanukah story teaches us the Maccabees fought the Greeks for the right to be different, not to blend in.  But, as I’ve written in this space before, I now feel comfortable sharing the joy my friends and family feel at this time of year. (See, for example: “Cultural Responsiveness Begins at Home,” and “Our Craftiest Christmas to Date.”)   In turn, I’ve shared my Chanukah traditions and together, we’ve found light in the darkness.

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Sharing the magic of Chanukah candlelighting with some non-Jewish friends.
(Columbus, OH 2007)

Times seem pretty dark for many of us at this moment in time, and it’s not just because the sun is up fewer than 10 hours a day. Many of us are afraid of the direction our country will go when our president-elect takes office in January.

The appointment of Stephen Bannon as Senior Counselor to the President set a lot of Jews on edge. We fear that with someone like Bannon in the White House, someone who has supported racism through the spread of white nationalist messages on Breitbart “News” Network, prejudice and violence against minorities will not only increase, but be condoned. When the story broke of Richard Spencer’s speech at the white nationalist movement conference in D.C. last month, our worst imaginings seemed even more like real possibilities.

After watching Spencer’s talk and the response from his audience, I had a sickening thought. With Chanukah around the corner, would I feel comfortable setting our menorah in the window per tradition? I voiced this fear to my husband, Dan, who was raised Catholic but does not associate himself with the church any longer. While he is not Jewish, he is supportive of my commitment to my Jewish heritage and my desire to raise our daughter, Cora, with a sense of Jewish identity. Dan assured me we would light the candles and display them for the world to see, and that we would get others to join us. (I really love that guy.)

So, here’s your invitation.

If you are Jewish and haven’t lit Chanukah candles in a while, please join us.
If you are a friend of Jews, please join us.
If you want to show the world that you are not afraid to stand up for those who have been persecuted for following beliefs that don’t mimic the dominant culture, please join us.

The Jewish calendar is lunar based which is why our holidays don’t fall on the same secular dates each year. This year we’ll be lighting candles for eight nights beginning December 24th. I’m excited by the idea of millions of chanukiot (a name for menorahs used on Chanukah which have 9, rather than 7 candleholders) taking their place beside Christmas trees, Kwanzaa Kinaras,  that night.

There are lots of ideas for DIY menorahs out there as well as well as information about the candle lighting traditions. If you have a Jewish friend or neighbor, they might have an extra one you can borrow.

Dan and I made up the following secular blessing which we welcome you to use if you are so inclined. It speaks to the spirit of the traditional Hebrew blessing, but is something we believe Jews and non-Jews can say without fear of contradicting their own religious or philosophical beliefs.

“Thank you for being here with me tonight,
to celebrate the miracle of the Chanukah light.
Peace out.”

(NOTE: I hope to come up with a catching #hashtag we can all use to connect on this project, but I need help. Please send your suggestions or post them as a comment below.)

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