Sunday, June 21, 2009

the conversation begins . . .

tapping into the primary inspiration -- SELF

These portraits were created during a 2003 Art Camp session (ages 5 to 7) using Frida Kahlo as inspiration. Natalie B. gave herself the traditional Mexican dress so celebrated by Kahlo, while Sam D. channeled both Kahlo and Francis Bacon to express his "super strength: lava-shooting eyes". The almost demure, seemingly unfinished portrait Julia N. harkens back to John Singer Sargent's paintings of debutantes and heiresses. Ryan M. was able to combine elements of both Pablo Picasso and Kahlo as his face becomes the window for the intense joy
he expresses on a daily basis. While the children may be unaware of all these myriad influences and connections, these bubble up during their ongoing conversation with the oil pastels and paper.

In fact, after introducing the work of Frida Kahlo and the general use of pastels, the children "got to work". Their efforts are unencumbered by the adult-refrains of "I can't" and "This doesn't look right". As teacher it is my job to first introduce the topic of conversation for the work (Kahlo), then teach children about the use of the materials (oil pastels and paper as well as concepts like color blends, texture, line and shading--all specific to oil pastels) and once each child found his/her muse (the self) to stand back and only occasionally encourage each child to revisit their work until a level of "completion" or balance was achieved.

"Completion" or balance is acknowledged in two ways. To begin, the teacher must abandon all preconceptions of what is "right" and trust in the child completely. One must let the child run with the knowledge and materials after these have been introduced.

Eliminate the language attached to doubt and misgivings. As we grow older we adopt this language and apply it when taking a leap of faith. Once washed out of our system, these doubts cannot then be gifted or inherited by the students. 

Finally, the student must take ownership of the work. S/he must be able to verbally express why the work is now complete. The teacher must be open to hearing his/her explanation! If you feel that more effort can be given to the work by the student, then try something simple like, "is there a color you think should be added or try another shape or line in this space?" The more open-ended the suggestion, the more the solution will spring up from the child artist's imagination. I also try to make suggestions related directly to the material being used. For instance, oil pastels are perfect for color blending. I often suggest filling empty spaces with color experiments and blending. This leads to a more enriching experience or conversation with the medium and a closer relationship with the work at hand.

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