Camille face

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.

Arcimboldo_vertumno

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:

P1090051

Lia, used a different approach for her “memory.” She used expressive marks, creating a representation with great feeling:

GiuseppeArcimboldoFIREP1090052

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.”

"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.

camille

It was a Friday, and Camille’s mom, Susan was to be out of town. On Tuesday morning I received an email.

Marla:
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. 🙂
–Susan
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.
camille2
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.
camille3
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.
It's Time To Cook
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.”
three
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”
“Cool!”
“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.
Observing deeply.
Internalizing inspiration.

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.