Friday, February 1, 2013

How did you do that painting?

On January 28th, two PTCC alumni – T. and A2 – joined E., Theo, A., and M. of Preschool One in the Studio. The subject of the group’s collaboration was to create a new, big splatter painting together. T. and A2 were experts at this, since they had made one such painting before, which now hangs in the Studio.

The impetus for this project came from Ian, a teacher in Toddler One South. Ian had asked me if any children might be interested in creating another beautiful splatter painting that he could hang up in his home. I knew that many Preschool One children were curious about the painting, so I talked to the Preschool One teachers about the idea. They then offered it to the children, who agreed to take the job. They were excited to try out this new technique, and T. and A2 agreed to come and teach it to them. Serena (a Preschool One teacher who had also taught T. and A2 the year before) helped to arrange the meeting.

The afternoon visit began with a conversation about the painting hanging in the Studio and how it had been made.
Theo. : “How did you do that painting?”
E: “With feet?”
T. & A2: “No!”
T.: “With paint and brushes.”
A2: “And glue.”
T.: “We splattered the paint.”
A2: “We moved it around.”
T.: “We moved it fast.”

We then took a moment to feel the canvas that we would be painting on.
A.: “It’s soft. It makes me go to sleep.”
Theo: “It’s hard, too.”
Serena: “Look at what is underneath.”
(She lifted the canvas so we could see the other side).
E.: “Wood!”

With these conversations done, it was time to take action! A2 and T. demonstrated how to apply the paint, scooping their brushes into the paint jars and waving them over the canvas. Dots and strings of paint appeared on the white surface.
M., Theo, E., and A. joined in, adding new drips and new colors of paint. It took a little practice to add paint without actually touching the canvas with the paintbrush.

Theo: “That looks kind of messy.”
E.: “I’m doing like scooping it.”
T.: “It’s like exploding fireworks.” 

After fifteen minutes of steady painting, we all took a step back to look at our painting. Theo's verdict?
“It doesn’t look done yet.” We asked the children what parts of the painting needed more work. Several of the artists identified one corner that had less paint than the rest, so we agreed to focus our efforts there. We also discussed what new colors we should add. E. suggested that our painting needed some red, so we poured some fresh red paint for the next round of work.

We returned to painting, working together to add more paint in the more empty areas.
As he worked, T. observed of their painting technique, “You can’t control the paint. The paint controls itself.” 

Although he was not able to come down while the artists were working, Ian came to look at the painting not long after they left. “This is so cool! I love it,” he declared. “I’ll have to come by to say thank you!” 
What a wonderful opportunity this was! Not only did the Preschool One children learn more about the painting that has so often piqued their curiosity, but they also had a chance to try their hand at making one themselves.  In addition, the project opened up possibilities for collaboration (not only with fellow classmates, but with older “experts”), as well as for a growing knowledge of their current PTCC community (by creating this artwork for a teacher that many of them did not know before they began the work).

This experience also made me think about the multiple layers involved in learning about something. In some instances, like this one, there is an element of “teaching” involved. A2 and T. both did a great job of teaching the children about their process, answering questions, explaining their technique, and then demonstrating it for the younger children. However, the act of “doing,” of trying this out for yourself, is equally important. You won’t necessarily realize what it means to “move it around fast” until you have a brush in your hand. In addition, I felt that our conversation as we worked, as well as our break to examine and discuss our work part-way through, showed the added layer of “thinking” – thinking about what we were doing, how we were doing it, and what we could do better. To me, it would seem that the real learning occurred at the interstices of these three processes. Together, they made the experience powerful. These children were at once learning about and carrying on a past tradition, exploring paint and its application in a fun and visceral way, and reflecting on their work like true artists. If any one of these elements had been removed, some of the meaning would have been missing.

Where else do you see a sense of community being built in the Studio and in our center?
What learning experiences have stuck with you throughout your life? Were all of these elements – teaching, doing, thinking – a part of them?

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