Wednesday, April 9, 2014

6 Things Kids Can Teach Us About Art and Team Work

You know if you have been following me through Facebook or here in the blogosphere that I readily volunteer at my daughter's elementary school. They don't currently have a dedicated arts teacher. I will periodically give classes or have annually been their local PTA Reflections chairperson. That's a national program which encourages and promotes all the arts.

To celebrate all the students who had participated in the Reflections program in the slightest this year, I wanted to throw a little party, and include painting. Even for the kids that submitted music or literature or just suggested a new theme for the next year.

I had to word the invitation so that it wouldn't be intimidating to the non-painters. The goal was max participation. I had 12 kids participate. There would be a cross cut of technical skill from none to proficient with ages running between 5 and 11.

Here's what happened. 

After a brief introduction to Vincent Van Gogh and his paintings, I explained that they would be creating their version of "Starry Night" together as one group painting. I heard some mild protests. 

Then I showed them their canvas, a very large 24" x 36". Fear sprung around the room. 

Instead of giving them brushes, I gave them craft sticks to use. I heard kids saying it wouldn't look good.

Then the magic began... They started making bold, large sweeping marks on the canvas. They still thought it was just random marks until a whole tube of blue was used up. Large swaths of color were laid down rapidly because there were so many hands working together. Kids who previously didn't want to paint asked to do certain parts, like houses or stars or the color orange. 

6 Things Kids Can Teach Us About Art and Team Work

1) Believing is Not Required at the Outset

They didn't really believe that making marks with craft sticks was going to turn out okay, much less great. Once they saw a form emerge from the shock of blue paint they relaxed, trusted and put their energy into action. The more they saw results, the more effort they used. Belief was no longer even part of the equation. It's only a hurdle in the beginning. The group will do the rest.

2) Large Can Become Small

When I first showed the students the 24" x 36" canvas and told them they'd be painting on it, the fear was palpable. They were used to drawing on standard 8" x 11-1/2" pieces of paper. What a jump! It's like a billboard! Once they made their first marks, and plunged into their work it didn't matter anymore. It wasn't just that there were numerous hands to help, it was they had their own task to do. Scale became irrelevant.

Introducing the blank canvas and project scope to the young students

3) Use Friendly Tools

They had brand new paint brushes available but I showed them what would mostly likely happen though if they used those. New or timid painters often hold a brush like a pencil, using tight, small marks. A large canvas requires large gestures especially since we were creating a painting inspired by Van Gogh, who used expressive, loose brush marks. So, I simplified the tools and gave them craft sticks. Who is afraid of a Popsicle stick? They simulate a large brush like mark when used a certain way. They are also not intimidating to the non-painters. Why intimidate when you can free up a group?

Craft sticks mimic loose brush strokes, without requiring finesse or adding intimidation

4) Push Through the Ugly

In every painting, there is an "ugly" phase or a part where it just doesn't look good. That is, it doesn't look like it could become good. The trick, or key, is getting past that to the truly great phase. Most people give up at this ugly phase thinking that they aren't good, or don't have talent or (insert another negative thought). These kids had their doubts, but because there were so many working together they quickly got past the ugly working phase before their self doubts caused them to stop.

Students working through the "ugly" (doubting phase) - not yet integrated as a group

5) Collaboration is Powerful

Before, these kids had always drawn on individual pieces of paper, and been guarded over their images. They'd never worked on a group art project. They were minor outcries over whether someone was going to over paint or "mess up" their section. Blending edges (and territories) was explained. Kids with no previous experience enjoyed the thrill of expertly demonstrating a skill to another child. By the middle, they were loosened up and truly enjoying the give and take and constant change of doing the work. They stopped looking for others' infractions and instead gave in to the pleasure of painting. They had become a team. A team with nothing in common except one painting.

Deep satisfaction after completing the project, the team is integrated

6) Experience Trumps Fear

Now they have the warm, powerful feeling of successful working experience with others of different ages and skill sets. Technically, the beautiful part of the exercise is once the students realize they finished a large painting! It's in their muscle memory. They will no longer be intimidated by anything that large even if they set out to paint solo! The fear of the unknown for the (formerly) non-painters is banished. They know they too, can paint. Craft sticks will translate to brushes. Experience trumps fear, easily. 

These young painters are learning how to add highlights, in turn they taught others

This amazing masterpiece "Starry Night" inspired by Van Gogh and created by the Reflections students of Galileo School for Gifted Learning, will be auctioned at Winter Springs High School April 17th from 6-7pm in the Auditorium. Proceeds will benefit the Seminole County Reflections Program. There will be an Seminole County Reflections Awards Ceremony following the auction.

"Starry Night" after V. Van Gogh, by Galileo School for Gifted Learning Reflections students, 24x36", acrylic

A special thanks to Jeff of the Dairy Queen of Sanford who generously donated Bizzard Juniors to our student painters during this project.

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