There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.
I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.
This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.
But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.
Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.
So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post:
Joshua Bell to play again in DC after 2007 stunt
By – Associated Press – Tuesday, September 23, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) – Joshua Bell wants a do-over in Washington.
The Grammy-winning violinist played for change in a D.C. Metro station in 2007 during an experiment with The Washington Post, and almost no one paid attention. It made for a good magazine story that won the Pulitzer Prize. But Bell hasn’t been able to live it down after seven years.
Now, Bell tells the Post (http://wapo.st/ZGRQRm ) he is planning another public performance in the main hall at Washington’s Union Station. And he hopes to have an audience this time. The performance is set for Sept. 30 at 12:30 p.m.
I love my colleagues at SWS! When I squeeled that we HAD to take the kids in just 3 days, both Kindergarten Teachers, Margaret Ricks and Laura McCarthy took a breath and made this last minute hustle with chaperones and schedule changes a reality.
But first: I showed the kids the above video about all the grown ups who walked by a world class violinist, because he looked like just some guy in jeans and a baseball cap. Here’s their faces as they watched:
They were flabbergasted.
Parent, Emily Greif told me there was a childrens book made about what happened, and how it was the child who heard and wanted to stop to hear the music, but the Mom was too much in a hurry. The child noticed.
She lent us the book. Here’s a short trailer about it: The Man with the Violin
The children wanted to hear the book again and again. The day before the Joshua Bell concert, the children would yell out as they passed me, “We’re going to Joshua Bell tomorrow!”
The day of, many parents in excitement pulled up some Joshua Bell music for their children to listen to. Even before the concert, children were doing this at home:
Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”
And so I signaled, to go back the other way.
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened…
First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd.
Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.
And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed:
Sasha F.’s sketch
Edwin’s sketch (below)
Please watch this brief video clip of what is was like there, in the moment these images were taken. The magic of making sound visible.
The experience was seemingly spiritual, as the sounds and the sketching melted away the sea of adult legs pressing in on and around the children. Their being, their presence as participants in this historic moment solidified and confirmed their citizenship. In fact their sense of noticing and hearing surpassed the majority of the crowd of almost 1,500 who were jostling to get closer and closer and closer. In fact, the children managed to get the closest…inside, in their hearts and souls.
The newspapers gave great reviews to the event, but I wanted Joshua Bell to know about these small folks and their experience with his music. I sent Joshua Bell’s “people” an email with some photos of the children and their sketches of his music.
A week later I received this response, and a package in the mail.
Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.
I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher, someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.
I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.
With sincere thanks and best wishes,
Press Representative / JAG Entertainment
4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato
Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.
The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”
And I say to that, Amen.
I love imagery, photos, sound. Art.
This blogging thing is difficult for me.
I wish sometimes that others could just understand what I’m creating or doing, imagining, or thinking. I wish the intent and meaning of my work was clear without narrative sometimes.
(Liminality ll, Marla McLean 2014)
I worry, if I write about it, will I then have the energy to do it?
(Detail from Rivers, Marla McLean 2013)
Which brings me to the dilemma of not posting since APRIL!
Where do I begin again?
Is there a thread to return to?
I am deciding at this moment to start with the most current of thought and experience.
(The streets of San Miguel, 2014, MM)
I just returned from co-teaching a course, “Art & Social Justice” in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with the
Corcoran College of Art & Design Pittman Study Abroad Program.
(Mojiganga, in front of La Parochia, San Miguel de Allende, 2014, MM)
It’s my second year of traveling with Art Ed Grad students and Art Ed Director Dr. Pamela Lawton to be immersed in the rich cultural heritage of SMA, as well as facilitate an art project in Casa Hogar Santa Julia, an orphanage/girls home.
(Here’s the Corcoran gang at the studio of Anado and Richard.
First, let me say that San Miguel de Allende is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it’s a World Heritage sight.
It is an ideal location to travel with Graduate Art Ed Students to inspire, immerse, and learn.
Despite it’s vast riches (as world-over the case may be), poverty and need still exist. Similar to the US there is a great level of income inequality.
As part of the Corcoran College of Art & Design Study Abroad Course, students are given the challenge of creating art/arts programming at Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco. (A look at life at San Miguel de Allende that is often hidden.)
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Ana Maria, 2014)
“Casa Hogar Santa Julia, founded in 2005, provides housing, education, and support to girls in need. Surrounded by the competent, caring devotion of their beloved Madres, the girls of Santa Julia are transformed into confident, educated young women.
The needs of these girls stem from the precarious circumstances of their homes of origin; but at Santa Julia, these girls are being equipped to flourish in all parts of their lives—from faith to friendships, preparing for college, and personal discipline.” From the Santa Julia website
Casa Hogar Santa Julia far exceeds our American foster care system. Girls from toddlers to 19 yearl olds are nurtured (emotionally, educationally, physically, and psychologically.) That being said, this is a hard deck of cards to be dealt. The resilience and inner beauty of these girls is fierce in the face of the hardships they deal with daily.
Loris Malaguzzi , visionary of the Reggio Emilia Pre Primary Schools in Italy really nailed it when he coined the phrase The 100 Languages of Children. This idea is that children or individuals express themselves in a multitude of (non-traditional) ways. When given the opportunity to express through many vehicles (poetic languages of the arts and sciences) and simultaneously being in the company of those who “listen” through these non-typical communications, great understandings and empathy are developed.
The Art project we presented to the teenage girls, was a photography based concept. (We spontaneously created programming for some of the younger girls, however the crux of the course/plan was working with the teens.)
It began with a slide show and talk of The History of Mexican Photography By Contemporary Photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio. He took the girls on a journey that ended in popular culture and connection.
We then asked the girls, in just one session to photograph, with the caneras we brought, the following ideas using these prompts:
1. Autoretrato (foto de ustedes)- Self portrait
2. Foto de objecto (objecto importante, que signifique algo)-Significant or important object
3. Foto de algo bello- Something you find beautiful
4. Retrato de alguien que les guste -Photo of someone you like
5. Foto de su lugar favorito aqui -Photo of a favorite place within Casa Hogar Santa Julia
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Katia, 2014)
In Reggio-speak these prompts are what is called a “provocation.”
Or something that provokes and generates thought, excitement, wonder, or relationship.
A good provocation is the opposite of finite. It is an interaction or idea with legs.
What happened next is almost impossible to describe.
The girls took off like a butterflies being released.
These teenage girls first went about this photo shoot cautiously, but then literally began running from place to place,
high and low,
open and hidden with a sense of urgency.
Language barriers faded as small moments of intimacy, silliness, and connection were shared because of the camera.
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Abril, 2014)
I became witness to their unspoken.
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Paola, 2014)
Favorite places, beauty, their personal photos/momentos, their hopes, their place of rest…
(Photo By Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Joanna, 2014)
When we returned the next day with contact sheets, well, I wish you could have seen the moment when we handed each girl their images.
And then we asked them to edit:
1 image for a pillow
2 images to keep.
Pam and I would choose 1 image to be in an art exhibit.
This was difficult. The girls discussed, meditated on it, were decisive, indecisive, torn. Editing is tough.
While Ben (Corcoran Graduate and our Tech in residence) was off to print. The sewing part of the project began.
Some girls experienced sewing for the first time, while others were skilled.
Beginning things can be tricky, especially when there are language barriers (none of us were bi-lingual, and our Spanish skills ranged from nothing to a 5 year old’s level!) The girls’ English skills ranged from very little to excellent. Through a mix of doing, diagrams, English, Spanish, body language, and lots of visible listening, together we became a small temporary community.
The following days were filled with communion. It is why for generations people have gathered to stitch together; in New Orleans the men gather to hand stitch elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costumes, and the women of America stitching quilts in quilting bees.
We returned the next day with the photo they had picked for their pillow on transfer paper.
After ironing onto the fabric, the moment of suspense and excitement where the image transfers…
The steady work of the hand in a circle of others for hours creates space for both conversation and silence in the presence of shared work.
We brought fabric markers so the girls could put text on their pillows, dreams or thoughts. Many chose to write in English or asked for translations. The words were quite astounding.
(The pillow reads: My Dream is to be a good sister.)
(The pillow reads, Always Smiling at Life, Thank you God)
(Her pillow speaks of loving her 3 siblings)
This is also, why, in the context of the Reggio-inspired Atelier, children work in small groups. It creates a circle of familiarity and trust, a repeated gathering where the making is the vehicle for complex relationships.
(The many uses of pillow stuffing)
In the case of the girls at Santa Julia, their relationships already exist. Our small group of Corcoran students and staff were there to offer another language, another experience, an interaction, a provocation, and an opportunity to facilitate an exchange through the arts.
This year, for the first time, Pamela Lawton and I chose one image for each girl to be exhibited in Gallery 13, at La Fabrica de Aurora.
Here are some of the images we selected for this exhibition:
While we, the Corcoran engaged in this “service,” it is always ambiguous as to who in fact benefits most from these small moments.
I contend that while we gave the girls this opportunity, it was in fact, ourselves who received the greatest gifts.
The girls, knowing we were there for just a short time took the greatest risks.
By sharing their space and place, and engaging us gringos (who by the way, spoke Spanish at the level of a 5 year old at best!) they communicated great integrity, creativity, and gratitude.
Self Portrait By Silvia
I think perhaps this is true of teaching, universally. Yes, teachers work tirelessly and endlessly to develop, create, facilitate, and fight for the rights of children. However it is the reciprocal wisdom that the teacher receives from the student (sometimes in indirect ways that you don’t even realize in the moment) that makes life full, meaningful, and worth living.
If one can access through reflection the gifts received, well, that is the secret and art to persevering in teaching (and life itself.)
The exhibit is up through November 2nd.
In gratitude to:
Veronique and Bob Pittman, who make the Pittman Study Abroad Program in Mexico through the Corcoran possible.
Robert Devers, Director of Corcoran Study Abroad Programs for his incredible planning, organization, and support.
Dr. Pamela Lawton, Director of Art Education at The Corcoran, Partner in crime.
Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Photographer/collaborator. He truly helped us rethink this project while in the planning stages, and provoked us to both broaden and edit our plans. He also gave an exceptional lecture to the girls at Santa Julia.
The incredible women of Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco:
Barbara Rueda, Madre Lidia, Arcelia Chávez, all the Madres who greeted and smiled and made us feel welcome!
The Grad students: Amanda, Christine, Judybeth, Lauren, who participated in this course with gusto.
The Santa Julia girls who participated in our programming with gusto.
Ben Granderson, who printed and formatted all the images, and also volunteered.
LaMar and Mara, for volunteering.
The Art of Inspiration
The Arcimboldo exhibit entitled Nature and Fantasy is on display at The National Gallery of Art. Last week I led a Kindergarten class (Ms. Rick’s) on an exploration of his surreal paintings. For those not familiar, this is a painter from the 1500’s who made portraits out of things such as fruits, flowers, books, poultry, mammals. It’s fantastic stuff for any age.
I chose to not tell the kids that the paintings of fruits, flowers & vegetables became distinctive faces. I wanted them to experience the element of surprise and excitement. With the teachers, we prepared them for the trip, by talking about being observant, noticing details, using color thoughtfully, as well as the idea of inspiration.
What does it mean to be inspired?
The museum does not allow photography in this exhibit, so of the many tasks I gave the children, an important one was to choose one of their favorite paintings, and draw it in their sketchbook as a “memory” of the exhibit.
Henry gathered a lot of information, using both notes and representations, with the help of a chaperon:
Lia, used a different approach for her “memory.” She used expressive marks, creating a representation with great feeling:
Camille, I noticed sitting in the middle of the floor in one of the gallery rooms, intently sketching. The exhibit is popular and I noticed that patrons were walking in front of her and blocking her view.
“Camille, it’s getting crowded. You are welcome to get close to the painting.”
She replied, “No, I see it better from back here.”
This surprised me, because in general, kids often go so close to displays, they are craning their necks. She was serious and in fact, correct. To get perspective, one does have to step back.
She chose the painting “The Librarian.”
Her dedication to representing this painting was intense. You have to picture the scores of adults walking around and in front of this small body, hunched over on the floor space, gazing in between the bodies to create her memory.
Before the trip was over, she showed me her sketch. “Can you make me a copy today? I want my Mom to paint my picture.”
When we returned to school, we all discussed what we saw. Camille raised her hand, “Did you make the copy?”
I immediately did, and added a post-it note to inform mom of Camille’s plan.
It was a Friday, and Camille’s mom, Susan was to be out of town. On Tuesday morning I received an email.
I got in Camille’s folder a copy of her sketch from her field trip (dated 10/15/2010… this must be in her sketch journal that is kept at school), and a Post It note from you that Camille would like me to paint a painting based on her picture, so I stayed up way too late tonight and painted her a painting… I liked Camille’s composition and so I tried to stay true to her picture… The painting is attached. What a fun thing to do! I named the painting “It’s Time to Cook.” Medium is oil on canvas. 🙂
When I told Camille that I received an email from her mom, and saw the painting, she grinned ear to ear. “I know!” she said.
I asked her if together we could share this story of inspiration with the class, and she was thrilled.
When we shared with the class the story of Camille being inspired by a 500 year old Arcimboldo painting,
and then her Mom being inspired by Camille, a 5 year old, they were enthralled. There were rich observations and questions made by the class.
Reginald: Why did you want your mom to paint your picture?
Camille: Because I like the painting.
Beck: Your mom’s painting is cool because at the bottom it looks like a carrot with a watch, but the carrot holds up the book.
Frederick: If you look really close you can see a hand.
Ruthie: Those two bent things look like fingers that are holding a book.
Lia: The painting looks like a bumble bee. The bent fingers look like wings, and the part in the middle looks like a body.
Sam: I think there’s a celery for the nose.
Owen: The eyes look like glowing beads.
A kindergarten student inspired by a 500 year old painting.
So inspired, she wants her Mom to be inspired.
The Mom is then inspired by the 5 year old.
The entire Kindergarten class is inspired by Mom’s painting.
Everyone now wants a copy of their “memory.”
Tomorrow I am taking another class (Ms. Burke’s) on the same trip. I spoke with the class in order to prepare them.
“I think you will be inspired! What does inspired mean?”
“You can’t believe your eyes”
“You want to look at it for a long time”
“Really really really really pretty”
“I know what inspired means, it means,
You change them (the paintings)
but it can still be them”
I am looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure with Ms. Burke’s class, and then Ms. Scofield’s PreK’s in November and Mr. Jere’s class in December (PreK parents, try not to show the Arcimboldo paintings before!)
While the trip was originally planned to align with “The Story of Food” grant work, the deepest work went beyond the fun scavenger hunt of identifying and finding the hidden eggplant or onion in a face.
This type of deep work, can be revisited in life endlessly:
Making marks to create memory.
What Mani said, is a succinct definition of inspiration.
“You change them, but it can still be them.”
It is also a beautiful metaphor for teaching.