In Our Own Hands

IMG_9677“I am interested in the idea of taking art (or museum shows/collections) out of the realm of ‘institution’ and into the hands of the individual; one does not need a formal space to put things in, in order for it to be valid.” ~ Keri Smith

Kids see their own art as pure, authentic, and surprisingly satisfying. Last week, before we broke for school vacation, I was sitting on a chilly cement floor with a group of 30 public school children, having tried our darnedest to fit every child in two second grade classes into a large circle.IMG_9908We’d almost made it around for comments when two young artists volunteered to share a piece of their own art. Proudly, they held their the not-yet-printed collagraph up before the group. From our midst, whether inspired by the complexity of design, or the images before them, came a sudden burst of applause.

Universally acclaimed by every second grade LEAPS of IMAGINATION student, this was an authentic piece of art. How would kids know?
Testing an array of uncommon mediums, new skills or tools, and a tentative plan is a feat that requires an admirable amount of risk taking – the willingness to go out on a limb. For a start, kids are looking for connective tissue and composing a unifying story from their preliminary ideas.

IMG_9880That’s something most young kids in school are willing to do if we present them with  long blocks of uninterrupted time. With virtually no dress rehearsal, and enough resilience to pick themselves up after a fall, they reap real satisfaction from the unpredictable art forms that emerge. IMG_9864


How can we as teachers make it safe for students of any age to take art, or any subject for that matter, into their own hands? Here is a handful of smart suggestions from Keri Smith’s 2008 book, How to be an Explorer of the World – habits of mind we can generously impart to all.


1. Always be looking.


2. Consider everything alive and animate.


3. Everything is interesting. Look closer.IMG_9668

4. Alter your course often.


5. Observe for long durations (and short ones).IMG_99446. Notice the stories going on around you.IMG_9817

7. Find patterns and make connections.IMG_9928

8. Document your findings in a variety of ways.


We can take learning and art making into our own hands if we stop for a moment and view the world through Smith’s lens.

Take a peek….with spring on our doorstep, we can’t go wrong. IMG_7180

Nancy Harris Frohlich


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