“Arts teach kids so much about the process of learning a skill, the process of taking risks, the process of practicing over and over, to become an expert at something.” ~ Andrew Bott, Principal, Lincoln School, Brookline, MA; former Principal, Orchard Gardens School, Roxbury, MA
It wasn’t long ago that the media was humming with the story of Andrew Bott’s bold decision to fire security guards at Orchard Gardens School (K-8) and replace them with Art instructors. Bott made the headlines for putting his designated Boston “Turn Around School” out on a limb. The result: with extra time to be creative, kids were more motivated in their classrooms and ultimately performed better on tests. It turned out that Art really mattered – something so many of us are waiting for the research to verify.
Until now I have not taught Art outside of an academic setting. At the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, where my colleague and I have just begun teaching, I am discovering first-hand, some of the ways in which making Art impacts young minds. 1. Art gives us the opportunity to look closely-to develop keen observation skills. When we invited kids in the ARTLab to draw in the garden, they fixed their eyes and minds on the objects they chose. Children took their time, as if working in slow motion, looking at the ruffled edges of leaves, flowers just opening, and gradations of color. They practiced noticing.
Children seemed to have an epiphany. We can use our imaginations to create absolutely anything from what we’ve seen, once we’ve done some serious looking.
With maps of Maine in front of them, our young artists perceived the most minute of details – symbols for museums, vehicles, directions, and recognizable names. When they discovered that they could use their maps to make their own Art, they became true explorers. On their printed maps they retraced roads and designated new ones; they drew homes where they imagined theirs could be.They designed houses and imagined forms of transporation. In their minds everything was possible! With something “real” as their jumping off point, they were ready to abstract.
Moving to the gallery affirmed their convictions. Artists can transform something familiar into an unpredictable new form. Children took a look, at first denying that this piece had any relationship to what they knew as a map.When they got closer it was all too clear. The artist had cut “round things” from a real map and stuck them on the wall, defining and repeating a pattern.
These were but a few of the lessons I learned from the children on the first two days in ARTLab Studio. No doubt there are plenty more to come. Thank you, CMCA, for giving me a laboratory in which to learn and teach.