Process Art’s Pesky Problem

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Mousetrap paper holder. Or, as I see it, surreal assemblage.

Over the years, I’ve written a lot in this space about the value of process art (see for example Doing Food Coloring and Permission to Play: Toddler Paint Bomber). My interest started when I was an undergraduate and developed an intense appreciation for the Abstract Expressionists. Learning about their work and the questions they engaged with in their studios – exploring the inherent nature of the materials they worked with – became an obsession. I developed my own color field experiments and filled huge sheets of paper with marks based on systems I devised. It was visually engaging in an allover sort of way, but I knew it wasn’t nearly as interesting for others to look at as it was for me, with my embodied knowledge of the actions I took to make it.

In the years since, I have continued to develop my relationship with questions like: What is art for? and Why art? I have carried these into explorations of art criticism, visual culture, environmental and installation art, relational aesthetics, and creative placemaking.

This interest also manifests in my advocacy for process art in the playful learning of young children. Really, I believe children of all ages looking for new ways to connect with creative activity ought to focus on process (see for example, Permission to Play: Birthday Parties and Grandma Joyce’s Beautiful Stuff!).

And so it was with a heavy heart that I set about cleaning Cora’s desk yesterday. Stacked on top were the traces of two weeks of summer camps and a few final school projects.

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(Note: I took this photo AFTER I had cleaned the desk and decided to blog about it. I stacked the artwork back up in an approximation of how it had been. But absent are the dolls, rocks and sticks, books, and other random crap that had been there too.)

As Dan has observed, all horizontal surfaces in our house quickly become repositories for junk and this desk is no different. In the three years since it has been in this location, I can count on one hand the times that it has been clear and Cora has sat at it to do anything. I have a plan for it in my head related to a pen pal project we’ve been working on (fodder for a future post), so I told her it was time to clean up.

Of course Cora wanted to save EVERYTHING.

The art camp she attended last week at a neighborhood studio (Paper Moon Art Studio – Columbus, OH) was a great process art experience for Cora. She got to work with a range of media from paper mache to assemblage (complete with hot glue, see the top image on this post), and sand painting to watercolor. She was only there three mornings, but she made a ton of stuff. We had trouble carrying it all home! I was so happy to see this evidence of experimentation but what to do with all that stuff? I live in constant battle against clutter – mostly this involves shoving piles into drawers and cabinets when guests are due – but point being, I don’t like to have a lot of stuff sitting around on horizontal surfaces.

I also struggle, personally, with the hidden curriculum we are teaching kids when we give them access to unlimited supplies and let them make things that will ultimately, at least in my house, wind up in the trash. I has this same feeling while attending TASK parties run by Oliver Herring (see A Task, But Not a Chore). I love the energy that Herring creates and the collaborative experimentation I see at these events, But at the end of the day, there are piles and piles of materials left in a jumble on the floor. A few ideas for combating this issue come immediately to my mind.

Art educators will see the immediate irony in this. Many of us have felt the pain of watching students put their artwork in the trash bin on their way out the door at the end of a term. All that time and effort? Don’t they care at all about what they made here? And, by extension, don’t they value me and our time together? Some educators even use this as a litmus test for a successful lesson — Do the kids express desire to hold onto what they made? to share pictures of it in Instagram? to hang it up at home, or give it to someone as a gift?

So now I’m left holding this evidence of creative activity, all of which Cora insists on calling Art (capital A intended) in an effort to use what I value against me. And I’m wondering,

How can we simultaneously teach people that some things they make are precious and others are not? That some creative experiences are about the process of making, and some about the product that results?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

Permission to Play: Birthday Parties

Two of the most popular posts on this blog are: SuperMom: DIY Barbie Shoes and A (Few) Photo(s) a (To)Day: We Make Things. Both posts reflect to the DIY ethic we strive to embrace as a family. It’s a foundation of me and Dan’s relationship which dates back ten years to the first kid’s birthday party we planned for George’s 7th birthday.  I was still in grad school, had no kids of my own, and had never hosted a birthday party for a child before. I wanted it to be awesome. I had a subscription to a short-lived Martha Stewart publication – Martha Stewart Kids – which illustrated many of the things Lara Lackey found wrong with Martha’s ideas for kids in her 2002 NAEA presentation “Martha Stewart and Art Education: Is She a Bad Thing?” Step-by-step instructions, overly aestheticized displays of materials which an art educator or parent knows wouldn’t last five minutes around a group of kids, and examples that only an adult could replicate. But the article that’s relevant to this post wasn’t for kids per se, it was for parents. Parents who wanted to throw the best birthday parties on the block.

The section on building a backyard miniature golf course caught my attention. I showed it to Dan and George and they liked it too. Little did I know what I was getting us into.

Dan and I had been dating about ten months and this was the first big project we did together. It tested our skills (mostly Dan’s abilities to build things) and our creativity. We spent a lot of time figuring out a theme for each hole, using as many materials as we could find around the house as inspiration as possible. It was a creative challenge and we learned a lot about one another building through the process.

Dan motorized the windmill and we used baking dishes to create sand and water traps.

This weekend we marked our tenth year of planning birthday parties together with a Harry Potter-themed party for Cora’s sixth birthday. Our schedules are a lot busier than they once were so I did a lot of the initial planning and gathering of supplies. But as we hung out together the night before the party pulling together the potion making station, I was reminded of how much joy and satisfaction we’ve found over the years putting ourselves in the minds of the kids we’d be hosting and imagining how they would play with the prompts we set out for them.

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While the point of the planning was the party, the process was equally important for me and Dan. We laughed as we made up names for the ingredients and shared high fives over one another’s ideas for potion combinations and other activities we’d be setting up. Making birthday parties has provided us an annual opportunity to spend time together, playing around with ideas and materials to create something.

Realistically we probably only have a few more years left of planning parties for children. When the time comes, we’ll have to find some other excuse to pick a theme and plan some fun and games for our own friends.

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Photo of the Day: First I yelled, then I kvelled

 Cora found a stain on the coffee table today and turned it into a lion. With red Sharpie.

Naturally I was livid. What on earth was she thinking drawing on the furniture? With a marker she knows she isn’t allowed to use? But once I got a good look at what she did I could’t help but be proud. She found a mark and turned it into something entirely new. Truly A+ work.

Holiday Crafting with PreSchoolers (and Glitter!)

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It’s no fun crafting alone! On this occasion we were hanging with Cora’s aunties in Seattle via FaceTime.

(My last post was all about holiday crafting with the teenagers in my life. This one is dedicated to my littlest studio mate.)

Crafty Cora and I haven’t made anything together in awhile. So, in the process of gathering holiday crafting ideas to work through with the big kids, I pinned a few for her too. But, the one featured here is something I made up while I was volunteering in her classroom this week. At the easel, her teachers set up the usual cups of tempera but had some festive glitter mixed in. I made the stars out of cardboard I found in the class recycling bin. Challenging myself to make things out of what the kids discard has become a pretty regular activity for me. I was also inspired by an observation Cora made during our first, and very early snowfall a few weeks ago. She was genuinely stunned by the way the snow glittered in the sunlight. Her appreciation for those natural sparkles inspired me to take a new look at glitter, an art supply I, like so many other professional art educators, rarely make use of.

Glitter is despised by art teachers working to disprove the notion that art is the icing on the proverbial education cake rather than a key ingredient in the cake itself. How could something so glittery and seemingly frivolous, not to mention messy, ever be taken seriously? The Onion ran a story a few years back that seemed to prove the point – “Cases of Glitter Lung on the Rise Among Elementary-School Art Teachers” (2005). Students and faculty in my department at the University of Florida maintain a Pinterest board called “Heard Craig Loves Glitter” in honor of our chair’s feelings for he stuff. The board has 239 pins.

So, it was with a hint of irony that I picked up a bottle of glitter on my holiday craft supply buying mission a few weeks ago. It was one of those moments where you imagine cameras are focused on you and someone, somewhere is watching you and laughing, like in The Truman Show or some still to be created Nielson ratings-crushing reality show about art educators. I picked out a bottle with not one, but two types of silver glitter and looked forward to pulling them out and making everything sparkle.

Yesterday, while visiting with my sister and her wife on FaceTime, I invited Cora to paint the stars I made at school and dust them with glitter. To keep the glitter from covering every inch of the just cleaned kitchen counters and floor, I found an old, large, shallow box. After Cora painted each star, we put them in the box and she was free to shake away. We’ll reuse what didn’t stick to add some bling to our next project. At the end, we still found a bit of sparkle scattered around the house, but I’m trying to look on the bright side.

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Happy Holidays (Craig)!

Doing Food Coloring

I’m not sure how many kids ask their parents, “Can I do food coloring?” Perhaps more than I can imagine. Cora has been doing food coloring since she was one. That’s when we started taking a set of translucent tupperware containers (red, yellow, and blue + one clear) into the bath to transfer colored water from one to another and watch the magic.

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Last year for her birthday, we filled squirt guns with colors and she and her “friends” made some collaborative paintings (see Paint by Squirt Gun).

This summer, after our freezer was accidentally defrosted and refrozen by our very well meaning dog sitters, we harvested a giant clump of ice and got busy pouring with salt food colored water on it. Thanks again Tinkerlab for a great invitation!
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These were all exciting experiences that provided us both “permission to play.” But the fun really began for me this weekend when Cora asked for food coloring and made her own choices about what to do with it. Her actions echoed those from the past, but she was the master of ceremonies, determining the tools she needed and the order of events. Here’s a quick recap.

I was busy for hours on end making sauces and pressure canning them so Cora was getting into just about every nook and cranny of the kitchen trying to keep herself occupied. She eventually stumbled on a stack of tiny blue plastic cups we have used for grape juice in our hippie hebrew school program. She stacked them and counted them and stacked them again. Then she made her request,

“Mom, can I do food coloring?”

While Cora was ready to line up 50 cups to play with, she settled on 5, which turned into 6 once we realized we needed another to complete a rainbow of colors.

DSC_0110After that, she asked for a plate to put them on. I gave her two; one dark blue, one white. She moved the cups from one plate to the other talking about how they looked different one each. Then came the request for “a block of cheese.” It took awhile, but I finally realized she meant a block of ice. So, we filled a square tupperware about a 3/4 of an inch with water and found some other things to do while it froze.

Later that afternoon, she asked for the ice. We popped it out of it’s mold and Cora got busy. DSC_0130DSC_0133

 

 

Once the ice was significantly melted, she poked at it with a spoon which then turned into a scooper. DSC_0157

Once she had some cups filled up, she asked for a bowl to dump them into.

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Then she refilled the cups and carried them over to the sink for one final dump.DSC_0174DSC_0180

Game over. It was a VERY busy day, with lots and lots of dirty dishes to be done.