Seeing

“Seeing is like dreaming, and even like falling in love.

It is entangled in the passions-jealousy, violence, possessiveness, and it is soaked in affect, in pleasure and displeasure and pain.

Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis not mechanism.”

-James Elkins

This quote was brought to my attention by Rika Burnham, author of Teaching in the Art Museum, Interpretation as Experience who was one of the presenters and leaders during the week long seminar Conversations in Creativity at the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington DC.

It is such a poweful statement and it has been resonating and dancing in my head. It brings to mind images of a project I did with Kindergarten children on the idea of seeing. I asked, How do we see? Do we see with more than our eyes? What does “seeing” look like? Here are some of the images from four years ago:

 

 

The thinking and emotion that is intrinsic in “seeing” is at the core of both my work with children and adults as well as my personal art making.

Robert S and Michelle M. Root-Bernstein, the authors Sparks of Genius  and  Dr. Kimberly Sheridan, one of the authors Studio Thinking:The real benefits of Visual Arts Education also led the seminar with a combination of passion and research. These two books have shaped my practice, so I was honored to have the opportunity to be a part of a small group of educators from all over the world to engage with them.

The seminar allowed me to both reflect and recharge on the Atelier or Studio environment that I facilitate.

Last Spring, when I asked a group of Pre-K students to think about, plan and create “What makes you happy?” I was inquiring into the minds of 4 year olds, however I was not only honoring their place in life as a 4 year old, but facilitating and mentoring the process of constructing their ideas into a symbol.

Here is Jasper’s Supersonic Aircraft:

Yes, this is an amazing scupltural construction, but what you don’t see, is that it took Jasper one whole hour to put holes in the bottle caps using an awl and hammer, and then he had to secure  the body of the aircraft into a vice to drill holes with a hand tool in order to attach the wheels. It took another 40 minutes to maneuver the wire through the small holes. These moments of engaging, persisting and working through frustration and often failure- to the end, are a micricosm of the process for all the children in the studio.

Weeks after Jasper completed this sculpture he informed me that he was not done. He still needed to add passengers. I honestly had no idea how he would find materials to fit in such a small area of his sculpture. But, I learned, that he has the great ability to visually make dimensional estimates. Through the proposition “What makes me happy” (a seemingly benign proposal), came great understanding of his thinking and habits of mind.

My commitment to Atelier or Studio (transdisciplinary) teaching and teaching environments was supported and challenged to grow during this amazing and in depth seminar. What a wonderful summer gift!

In addition to the seminar, I have another occurence to reflect upon.

Last night I had an experience that was complex and thought provoking. I was hired as an artist by Class Acts-Project Youth ArtReach to lead art workshops in a local detention facility for youth. This type of work is new for me. I brought clay and universal, diverse cultural & ethnic images symbolizing protection, elements, totems and human qualities. The youth were to make sculptural reliefs inspired by these images. Here are some of them:

 

 

I am planning on creating a mixed media mosaic for Class Acts, with these pieces (and more from subsequent workshops.)

Just like with Jasper’s process, this is what you didn’t see: the facility was disorganized so workshops scheduled were cut short, and/or moved to a room without a table/water access. Some staff were disengaged, creating a challenging climate. Eventually, the majority of youth were engaged.

While some participants voiced bravado or tested limits in conversation-others worked in silence. Others told stories inspired by the images. One youth told me with excitement about catching a huge toad, and going to the insect museum at The Smithsonian when he was a kid and seeing the huge hissing cockroaches. (I had scarab images.)

Another told me of his plans to have tattoos all over his body. When he shared plans to one day tattoo his eyelids with “Game” on one eye and “Over” on the other, I gently suggested he get tattoos in places he could hide them. “You really would be limited if you went on a job interview. What would you do, not blink? One day, you will be a father or a grandfather. You want to be able to think ahead and be proud of the images on your body.”

Some of the youth already had tattoos. One had several nautical stars. “What does that mean to you?” I asked. He replied,  “Reach for the stars.”

Another had an intricately drawn and shaded tattoo of a tree with entangled roots on his forarm. He told me it was The Tree of LIfe. It was beautiful.

One youth spent most of his time hiding behind a sofa, eventually emerging to sit apart-declaring he was not going to get his hands dirty. Near the end of the workshop, he stood next to me and began going through the images I had brought.

“Can I have some?” he asked.

“What for?” I replied

“I draw.” he said.

“What type of pictures are you looking for? I can give you a few, but I need the rest for the next workshop.”

“I like wings.” he said.

He found wings. I gave them to him. he said,  “Thank you.”

Poetic, bittersweet and sad. I question what an hour or 45 minutes of images and clay and me is worth in this environment? I believe in connection and relationship, and yes transformation through “seeing.”  How  do brief moments with limited connection and relationship effect (do they even effect at all) incarcerated or detained youth?

My husband, LaMar Davis of The Choice Program has done research on the Arts and incarcerated youth. “The truth is,” he told me, “you just never know what it might mean to a kid. That boy who took those (wing) drawings, it might mean a lot to him. These are kids who have nothing, and have nothing to do all day. Who knows, he might draw and create and that’s really great.”

I return to the words in the opening quote: “Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis not mechanism.” and leave them for you to ponder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Necessities

sylvie

I am continuing thought/research from my last post, The Evolution of Mark Making.

A week after that post I had my younger PreK children in the studio to create their first self portrait at SWS. This year, I am also held accountable by the school system I work for to produce data that shows either growth or mastery in “Art.” I am still developing the method for doing this, but  decided that collecting self portraits perhaps could be an excellent vehicle for collecting said data.

I am always extremely careful with “firsts.”

“Firsts ” offer leaps, but also can offer failure.

I have met too many people young and old (including myself) who stopped pursuing something because of a first experience with an adult who was not aware how vulnerable we are the first time we dare try something new.

The PreK’s, I will report, were brave, proud and glorious in creating their first self-portraits. Once again, we used mirrors and together discovered the wonder of the human face. Those nose holes are something when we squeeze them and talk, and  the kids were surprised to discover that they have a bridge on their face (nose bridge.) Looking, laughing, touching and then finally sketching…

SPMerov SPKatie

I love looking at these representations. While some children clearly  are comfortable holding a pen, for others, the act of steadying the pen in their hands and having their hand “Kiss” the paper was a great feat in and of itself.

Observing how they organized their face parts was also thrilling to observe. I suggested they make the face large, so they had room to fit all the parts in. Look how  one child accommodated my request, and her sense of space at the same time.sasha

Notice the shaky lines filled with intent

SPGabriel

as well as the strong lines discovering new details.

SPMayaF

They are equally powerful. It would be unconscionable to “grade” this work or make judgements on mastery to fulfill my data collection. Instead, I am determined to develop a system for identifying the evidence of  visual thinking and visual habits of mind.

SPAmira

josiesnowWhen I shared the self portraits with their teachers, some stories emerged. It turns out that one child, in the classroom only drew “snowstorms,” no matter what they were asked to record. In the studio her control and choices were intentional. I remembered  how she made her hair, using long strokes of the pen, instead of the usual one or two strands that most kids draw.

I realized in that moment, that it wasn’t any Ms. McLean magic that happened.

josie

How do we learn to tell stories?  At first humans/babies are non-verbal and then we begin to talk but we lack vocabulary and we don’t understand the idea of a beginning, middle, or end. (We have all listened to children tell a story  in this stage, “and then the man got the bird and then the man ran and then he had some lunch and then he saw his mommy…”)

Adults tell the stories, we read the stories, we engage in conversation. It is the act of listening that teaches children how to tell stories.

Similarly in drawing. It is the act of seeing that teaches children how to sketch. And how we do this is not with “lessons” per se. It is also not by chance or luck. It is by engaging the child’s senses in experiences that set off  synapsis. Synapsis that make everything connect in a visual way. To “see” in multiple ways.

Yesterday the PreK children of SWS went to the National Arboretum.

They engaged in a program about growing, harvesting  and eating vegetables and fruits through some wonderful hands on opportunities.programprogram taste

They used paint swatches and looked for color.

They did observational drawings of the Koi.

draw

I hypothesize however, it was the total engagement of their “being” in relationship with the environment and caring community that will foster their growth and mastery of drawing.

Following Ms. Scofield through the cold sprinkler.

sprinkler

Feeding the Koi in the pond.

koifeed

“I wish I was a fish so I could walk in the water.” Maya F.

KoiMouthP1080591

P1080592koi draw

Running to the Capitol Columns.

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Open space.

run

“It feels like a running day to me!” – Samantha

cricketWhen we walked through a field, the crickets were strikingly loud. “It sounds like it’s night time.” -Carrington

Walking under the arbors. “Somebody put sticks up there, and then stuck leaves.” -Robertvine

“It’s like Jack !” (in the beanstalk) -George

Laughing on the bus.

bus

butterflyFinding butterflies and crickets.

Adinath at one point stopped, turned and just gazed silently at the immensity of the Arboretum.

adi

Through planning provocations like this trip, valuing  moments,  and revisiting through photos and/or shared memory with the children & community, relationships deepen.

rainbow

koi

observe koi

The children’s vision also deepens and with this, their need to communicate through mark making or graphic representation (and many other ” languages”) deepens.koi draw2

It does more than deepens, it becomes a necessity.

As Loris Malaguzzi said, “…relationship is a necessity of life.”

and I will add  “…and so is the act of sharing it.”