Monday, March 4, 2013

How did you do that painting? Part II

When Monica (one of our Preschool Two teachers) and I decided to offer a splatter painting provocation to her Studio group, I suggested that we invite an “expert” on the subject from Preschool One. A. volunteered to join us, and together we read some parts of my documentation of Preschool One’s splatter-painting session. The children then examined the other splatter paintings, offering their thoughts about how it had been made before A. told them a little about his experience.

L: “Maybe they put paint on the paper and then they put the paper on one of those [canvases].”
J: “I think they did that they used a paint brush and then put paint on.”
A: “We just standed up and splattered it on.”
Monica: “What did you splatter on?”
A: “Paint. We did it like this.” [He swoops his arm back and forth].
Monica: “With your hand?”
A: “No, with a paintbrush.”

We examined the canvas we would use.

Nina: Wow, feel this!
Katie: Please be gentle as you touch it.
A: Yeah, or else it will break through.
Nina: It’s smooth and ticklish.
A: It’s a little dirty. [We turn the canvas over to see the wooden frame.]
Nina: It looks like a window.
A: It’s F’s symbol.
Next, I asked if there was anything we should keep in mind as we splattered our paint.
A: When you put some paint on your paint brush, don’t get your paint on the walls.
L: Don’t splatter it too high or it could go in someone’s eye.
J: You should keep your eyes closed like this.

We moved onto painting, needing only a few reminders about the specific technique we were trying today. 

A: It’s making bumps on it.
Gaia: Oh! I got paint on my foot.
A: It’s okay. Katie will put some water later…. That’s gonna be a splatterfoam!
Gaia: There’s a lot of light blue.
A: A big flop just came off!
J: I see green and blue and purple and yellow.

We examined our painting together:

A: “Look at that one. It looks like a really big brown river.”
Nina: “It reminds me of a big rainbow.”
L: “It reminds me of a big, humungous, huge color.”
Gaia: “It reminds me of a big, humungous rainstorm.”
Finding that the corners needed work, we focused our efforts on them during our last few minutes painting.

What does the experience of such a painting project provide?
What does the experience of such a painting project provide?
On the one hand, it offers a chance for children to gain a new perspective about paint. These children have a lot of practice using paint at a table, touching the brush (or a hand being used as a brush) to paper. Splatter painting (in the style of Jackson Pollock at least) involves a canvas set out on the floor, which the artists move around with their brushes poised above but never touching it. There is a new layer of kinesthetic movement added, but also a different sense of cause and effect. You can aim your brush towards a certain part of the canvas; you can move your arm in different motions to change the appearance of the paint; but you don’t have the same control as when you actually touch your brush to the surface you are painting. Each movement has the potential to surprise and excite its maker.

On the other hand, there is the collaborative nature of the work. Everyone is sharing the same jars of paint. Everyone is sharing the same space for painting – they must keep track of the many other bodies at work as they move around the white rectangle of the canvas. Everyone is conscious of where their paint is going, making sure not to “splatter it too high,” as L. said.

One piece of this collaboration, too, is the development and sharing of expertise. In this case, A. took on the role of the expert in the fullest sense. He had so much to share about the process and about the painting as it was created. Having been there for both of his experiences with this style of painting, I noticed that A. had a lot of insights about the way the paint looked and moved that he had not necessarily voiced the first time around. The moment where he told Gaia not to worry about the paint on her feet also showed how aware he was of his fellow painters and how eager he was to share what he knew with them. I am sure that the other children gained a lot thanks to A’s presence, but I also felt that A. gleaned a great deal from the opportunity to not only make use of what he had learned before but also to share it with others.

What differences do you notice between the two documented painting sessions with different groups?

What do you think children learn from being the teacher or the “expert”? How is this different from their learning in other roles? 

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