Marking time in the territory they are in

“I have found that my (art) work tells me what I’m interested in. It tells me what I’m doing in the territory I’ve landed in.”

Carrie Mae  Weems speaking at The Corcoran in conjunction with the 30 Americans exhibit, November 12, 2011.

These words really resonated with me. As I revisited my personal work in my grown up studio this weekend, I could see that my work informed me of my thinking during diverse periods in my life.

Artist as mark maker. As a mark maker in the specific moment they are creating. Artist as archiver. It is why artists are so dangerous to repressive regimes. Artists mark time in powerful symbolic ways, reacting, speaking expressing.

This idea makes me think of the listening I do every day.

Visual listening.

With 4, 5 and 6 year olds.

Are they not  also marking time in the territory they are in right now?

The following is the path behind, through and around  one of  the current PreK projects. As long and wordy as this documentation is (and I apologize for this), there is so much more to consider. I hope you will join in “listening” to what is often invisible.

I am posting a sampling of the transcribed work. There was not one that was better than another. Each piece marks the territory where each individual child has landed, right now. It is deepened by the context of being in a small studio group, where ideas are experimented, disseminated, constructed, shared and exclaimed over.

I was thrilled with Gaia’s verbal description for getting bigger or getting fat as “make more big.” Gaia’s first languages are Spanish and Italian. Her taking a risk and telling me a story in English in which she came up with verbal strategies to be heard is quite remarkable!



Hearing Artist Carrie Mae Weems speak after I wrote this, I would like to add another question:

Why is this work/research so very important? At this moment? In this territory? Right now? With young children?

“Time is not around me, it’s only around my mother.” Jack, age 5


I returned last week from an inspired conference, Educating the Creative Mind at Kean College (where I presented.) The above title quote came from Sara Zurr, Phd, who presented  her research on spontaneous music making and time. Her findings from 3 continents, Asia, N. America, Australia: kids who took the longest to line up, to transition, and were often considered behavioral problems had the most spontaneous music making/singing. Kids aware of the clock were least creative, hardly sang. Music eliminates time.

I had the pleasure of recalling her paper as I watched Myles , who in general , is high energy. Sitting for Myles routinely involves chair tipping and much movement (I am sympathetic, because I resist this urge often.)

drawmylesIf he were to be sculpted in clay (as the Terra Cotta Warriors were)  and buried for thousands of years, and then uncovered, he would want his sculpture to tell his story as being “in a band, and I play the drums. I have locks.”

During studio time, there is an extended free time. After he sketched his sculpture idea, he went and grabbed a drum, pulled up a chair near me, and began to play a beautiful rhythm with great intent and feeling. He paused and sat still as he developed his song. He continued, infusing dynamics. The tipping moving energy was replaced with both calm and passion. While his music vibrated, I marveled at how long he sat still. Music eliminated time.


The previous day, Grace spent 40 minutes in solitude playing the piano with earphones on, while her peers played collaboratively. When she looked up, I asked her if she wanted me to unplug the headset and invite her friends to listen. She had no idea the time she had been lost in her exploration of sound. John and Joya showed great interest as she shared her music. Music eliminated time.piano

Howard Gardner was the keynote at this conference. Imagine my joy when he was asked about his opinion of the pre primary schools in Reggio Emilia, “I think about Reggio Emilia everyday. It has made the biggest impact on me.”

Before I returned to Washington, DC, I stopped in NYC to see the Broadway Musical, Fela!. Quick, go out and buy some tickets and take a trip to NY to see this amazing piece of theatre, music, dance and history. Plus, my  friend, Duke Amayo of Antibalas created the dynamic score. It is a reminder of the important role of creativity in society. Not only as a means of expression, beauty  and culture, but also as a vehicle for fighting oppression.

What a complete embodiment of creative thinking. and multiple intelligences. My dear friend Maureen Ingram recently posted about Gardners’  ideas on her educational blog.

malen2malen1Back at SWS  I was struck by (PreK) Malens’ use of clay to show a funny expression. I had taken the time to show the children how to attach and connect clay, so it would not fall apart as it dries. Their task was to make anything they wanted while practicing the clay technique. Benjamin developed a striking bridge with rock steps.benjamin

My K’s recently returned to their sketch books to think about what their story would be in clay. How do artists tell stories, specifically clay artists or sculptors?

“By looking”

“By the things they put on the sculpture.”

“By making”

This is a photo of  Frederic conferring with Ms. Yvonne about symbols of a fighter pilot. Her husband  is a pilot.yvonnefred Below right, is Frederic as a terra cotta fighter pilot.

I asked the children  to sketch themselves as a terra cotta sculpture, not as a Chinese Warrior, but as they would like to be seen or known. Besides thinking about and creating a visual language to tell their stories, they had to sketch their knowledge within the context of  the possibilities of the material they were to use, clay. I challenged them to draw an  idea that showed that their sculptural piece would balance and be sturdy (Ideas generated to solve this included  making “fat legs”, “big feet”, “a base”.)  Extremities had to somehow connect in at least two places so as to not fall off. This is thinking as a visual artist. If I had chosen to ask the children to replicate a Chinese Terra Cotta Warrior, their conceptual and creative thinking would not have been activated. The project would not have been arts integrated, although it probably would have been interpreted as such.


Here are some of their ideas. How fascinating that children represented themselves  as  kids, as teenagers, as grown ups, and as Milo definitively said , as “40 years old, I am a builder. I build houses and schools. I have a tool belt.”


“I’m a singer and full of love”.-Bridget


“I’m a collector. I collect a nail and a bottle cap.” -Kaidrawkai

“I’m a dance teacher.” -Elliedrawellie

“I have this bear, I had it since I was born. It was my first bear and I dream about it. I’m a kid.frederick-Frederick A.F.

“I am 6 years old, I am pretending to be a Dr. I threw everything out to see.”-Gracedraweve

“I’m a kid. I’m holding Pinky. There’s crayons, markers and a pencil because I like to draw.”-Joyajoya

“I’m a swimming teacher.”-Elladrawella

“I play guitar in a rock band.” Maggiemaggie


“I’m a policeman” -Finn

The first group of children to create themselves and their story in terra cotta were undeterred by the challenges of how to get their figure to stand or sit upright. And their attention to symbol and story, let alone craft created a time vacuum. They worked for a straight hour, until lunchtime without a break, and then returned after lunch and worked for almost another hour. I know this state of mind myself personally. When an altered meditative state replaces standard time. Yes, art also eliminates time.

“”I’m good at reading. I’m a librarian.” Jonas


“I like to make things, like necklaces and beads.” Annika


“I’m a kid, I like the beach.” LeilasculptLeila

On an ending note, I attended the art opening of the  exhibit I am in at Adkins Arboretum and was honored to have received a jurors award for my piece. I am also honored to be in company with so many talented artists whose work hangs in the show. It is still hanging, so if you are in the Eastern Shore, take a look.mine2

I am also pleased to be featured in a new book, Digital Art Revolution by Scott Ligon. It is a great book, loaded with ideas for creating fine art with photoshop.

One more quote from Howard Gardner, (to keep  you engaged in promoting and supporting progressive education):


“You can’t make people creative, but we sure know how to prevent it. Don’t wait for funding, policy starts in a class, in a school, in a community. You never win in politics. Build on a civic  democracy. When you have a dedicated community, with continuity, it can last forever. Next to parents, teachers are the people young people trust the most. If you do your job well, your influence goes on long after you are gone.”

And that’s a long time.

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