This is for you: Children, art and gifting.

I had originally intended to share this work along with some thoughtful musing about the natural way children give art as gifts, the specialness that soaks into mundane objects when labored over or given with love and the ways in which working with children and experiencing this gifting first-hand have me thinking differently about art, exchange, gifts, gift-economies, value and the gallery gig-

But I’m having one of those weeks where a rare lull in studio work AND work-work have allowed me to get excited about new ideas, and now there are too many thoughts about too many things happening all at once in my head for me to do anything other than mull. Also it’s Friday. And warm. And now a cat is laying on my arm, greatly reducing my capacity to type.

 

:A collection of spontaneous art-gifts from children, generously given and joyfully received over the past year (an incomplete list)

a boat caring loved ones on an adventure (L) attached to an illustration of said adventure (R)

a boat caring loved ones on an adventure (L) attached to an illustration of said adventure (R)

A double gift: both a creature and a new interesting way to think about puff balls as a starting point.

A double gift: both a creature and a new interesting way to think about puff balls as a starting point.

Another gift that's many gifts: A custom-made wand that came with a) a tutorial on how to make more wands for other friends b) the power to transform the classroom into rainbow colors and c) an invitation to make magic and play together.

Another gift that’s many gifts: A custom-made wand that came with a) a tutorial on how to make more wands for other friends b) the power to transform the classroom into rainbow colors and c) an invitation to make magic and play together.

A first edition hand-made book by Chiara.

A first edition hand-made book by a new friend…

An explanation of Easter rituals (bunny, kids and EGG)

…withn explanation of Easter rituals (bunny, kids and EGG)…

...And interesting and inexplicably hilarious juxtapositions (as seen here with 'Ice' and "ice cream'.)

…And interesting and inexplicably hilarious juxtapositions (as seen here with ‘Ice’ and “ice cream’.)

Tell me about your practice: SILENCE

Tell me about your practice: SILENCE

I recently read a really lovely post on Brain Pickings by my new best friend Maria Popova.* In true Brain Pickings fashion, it touches on a lot of things, but the one of those things that really struck a chord with me was silence- including its role as a necessary catalyst to creative acts and deep searching.

In a 1986 paper about ‘Wait Time,’ researcher Mary Budd Rowe found that by increasing the wait time (or teacher-silence) after asking students a question by just a few seconds had tremendous changes on both students and teachers. Students answers grew in length and complexity (sometimes as much as 700%), while teachers became more flexible and began to refine their own questions to be more thoughtful and intentional.

Silence comes up in my own teaching practice all the time. To be able to follow student interest or accurately gauge the reaction of an adult learner to something said, I need to be a good listener. I’ve found silence to be a great tool to help build this skill (which makes sense- how can I listen if  I don’t shut-up now and again?). It’s empowering to learners to have the power to co-construct a conversation but more selfishly, it feels good as an educator to know that it’s not up to me to fill time or perform.

That’s not to say that silence is always, or should always be, a zen-like contemplative experience. Sometimes Frequently, we find silence to be uncomfortable or even downright scary. My own completely unscientific hypothesis about why this is is twofold: First, when we pause to listen, we get a chance to hear our own insecurities and small voices, ‘Are they listening? Are they zoning out? Am I boring?’ Second, and even more unsettling, though, is that when we allow for silence we open ourselves up to the Unknown, and to the human mind, little else is as scary as what we don’t know.

Cartoon Network’s miniseries, Over The Garden Wall uses our fear of what we don’t know/can’t see to great effect. It’s also the manifestation of everything I love. Go watch it so we can drink tea together and freak out about how good it is.

In contrast, in the Reggio Emilia approach, foundational to my own approach to working with children and adults, self-enforced silence is seen as selfish. If the aim of education is to foster community and engagement with the world around us, then keeping your thoughts to yourself is selfish- you’re withholding from the group insights which could enrich the conversation.

As with most things, I have two opinions (‘Do  I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself…”) Silence is good. Silence is bad. Ultimately, silence is a tool, and like any tool there are times when it’s the tool that’s useful and times when it’s not.

This is true in the home studio as well.
Sometimes I need noise:


Remnants8

and sometimes,  I need silence:

IMG_4503

What about you-

What audio or ‘visual decibel’ do you need to be successful is it always the same? And if not, then how do you know when it’s time to change?

*No, we haven’t met, but seriously, Maria, if you’re ever in Columbus hit me up- I will buy you Jeni’s and we can talk about books. Or you can talk and I can just listen in wonder- whatever works for you..

Blog as a platform for dialogue

Two weeks ago today, I was on a plane, flying from New Orleans back to Columbus. I had spent the previous three days meeting with other museum educators, art teachers, administrators and artists at the National Art Education Association’s 2015 National convention. My stomach was roiling with half a cup of airplane coffee and my head was absolutely swimming with conversations, ideas, things I saw, things I heard and new connections between it it all.

While I was only in New Orleans for the Museum Ed. pre-conference and one day of sessions, it’s probably good I didn’t go to more, as over a week later I’m still in the thick of processing, reflecting and synthesizing all of the conversations.

During our last day in NOLA, a dear friend and former colleague asked my co-worker Steph and I, “So, What’re your big take-aways? Cause you know you’re going to be asked when you get back.” Had I really tried to form an answer right then and there, I’m pretty sure my big idea would have been, ‘beignets are superior to donuts’ or something equally as meaningful.

Even now, I’m still churnning through notes, catching up on sleep and rehydrating (talking to strangers + 80degree temperatures in March had me in a perpetual state of ‘DAMP’), and trying to suss out not just what was most interesting/relevant, but what it means for me in practice. While  I can’t say what my biggest takeaway was or even just how many I have- there were a few big ideas and essential questions that have rose to the surface. I’ll get to the rest in time, but first and foremost was the need for real, open conversation, within conversation, the importance of articulation and, for me personally, that old itch of improving my capacity to  mull things out in the quiet public/private space of the written word.

So why am I rambling about this here?

I’ve been slowly carving out this space online for almost 6 years. That’s 1 year longer than I’ve known the love of my life, 2 years longer than I’ve known how to cook and nearly 3 years longer than I’ve fallen sideways into education. If this blog were a person, she’d be reading and writing, ready for school. From time to time I have an existential crises about it all, leave for a bit, and come back. I always find a ‘why’ for me to keep writing, but NAEA has me wondering if my own ‘whys’ are enough. The question isn’t just ‘why should I write here for myself,’ but also ‘why should I write here where you can see it and what’s in it for you?’

Whether you’ve been reading from the 1st days of portfolio/show promotions or you’re new, I want to invite you to start responding- Not with affirmations or quick encouragement (though those too are wonderful and make me feel all warm and fuzzy), but with your real thoughts, ideas, answers and questions. For my part, I promise to try and give you questions and ideas of my own that are worthy of provoking a response, and to value your words, to really listen, to join the conversation just as thoughtfully, and we’ll all grow smarter together. You in?

 

[As I open this dialogue, despite the disclaimer on the right sidebar, I feel the need to make another, more explicit and intentional disclaimer: While I work for, and sometimes write for the Columbus Museum of Art, there’s a weight that comes from writing ‘for’ an institution. While CMA is my home base, and while there are many wonderful, like-minded people who share many similar philosophies that influence my own (and whom I will give credit when I inevitably pull from their brains) this space is my own. My words (especially if they provoke or offend) are my own and in no way reflect the institution, or even my department as a whole.

Also, despite this addition of the and shift towards dialogue and pull towards learning, I am a teaching artist and thoroughly incapable of living compartmentally. Expect the regular non-sequiturs, in-progress studio shots and cat nonsense to continue.]