Friday, January 6, 2012

Mama Art Docent: Calder

Round Two of Mama Art Docent was fun, fun, fun. On my first day was had studied Diego Rivera. This time the teacher chose Alexander Calder since the class had already started making mobiles as part of a science unit on balance and motion. In social studies they were beginning a unit on Antarctica and so the teacher also requested that we use penguins in the lesson.

We reviewed our last artist and project using our art words (line, shape, color, texture, value, space). Then I read Sandy’s Circus: A Story about Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone. The book is great and the kids loved the illustrations. We kept pausing to discuss the elements of art that the illustrator chose to us, and the kids made lots of interesting and substantive comments tying the illustrations to the story. The kids were excited to find out at the end of the book (*spoiler alert!*) that Calder is credited with inventing the mobile (they had begun studying mobiles the day before). We talked about how artists are inventors and that when they do art they are inventing things. We talked about how art and science go together. Then we followed up by looking at some of the examples of Calder’s mobiles in The Life and Work of Alexander Calder by Adam Schaefer.

For the project, I had bought a second-hand book of penguin photos ($5.00) and sliced out all the pages. I also brought nine photo-laden library books about penguins so that each table group (six kids) had a few to look through as they worked. Each table group got a nice fat stack of beautiful and interesting photos of various penguins. Some kids glued penguin photos to existing pieces of the mobiles they had made the day before. Others ended up reconstructing their mobiles almost completely to accommodate the photos they wanted to use. We talked about how mobiles spin, which means we have to think about what is on either side of the paper. We talked a lot about size, shape and balance. The room was energetic and curious; kids would work, then get distracted, talking with classmates about photos. They kept pulling me aside to show me pictures that they liked. I would ask them to describe what they liked about the photos using their art words, and they would answer – thoughtfully and comfortably using their art words.

In sum, Calder was a huge hit and a great way to pull together art, science and social studies curriculum. I love being a totally-unqualified-yet-excited-about-kids-doing-art Docent and can’t wait to go back next month.

(you can't see the mobile very well - but it was awesome, I promise)

Mama Art Docent: Rivera

Hats off to the woman who brought the Art Docent program back to life at Sis’ elementary school. We had Art Docents in the schools I attended as a kid, and I think the idea of getting volunteers (armed with a boost of enthusiasm and a few details about an artist) into classrooms is wonderful for everyone. And so, in support of the program, I thought I would use this space to keep track of the projects we do. I am hoping that the whole thing will seem simple and fun, inspiring others to think about supporting some version of Art Docent programs in their respective communities.

At our school this is how it works:
- The school makes a one-time purchases of the curricular materials
- The program coordinator set up a curriculum that suggest 5-6 artists per year for each grade
- Art Docents (like me) work with their classroom teachers to set times and strategically organize the order of the lessons in a way that supports the general classroom curriculum
- Art Docents use the materials provided and the world wide web to put together a short lesson on the artist and a classroom project

Sis’ teacher is GREAT. She looked at the artists and fit them around class themes in science and social studies. The first artist we studied was Diego Rivera. The class was studying South America and looking particularly at fabrics and clothing. I wanted to focus on the fact that Rivera wanted his art to be public.

Here’s the play-by-play of how we tied it together:
- I first wanted to make sure we had some shared vocabulary so I made a handout with six blank boxes where the kids could write-in the six element of art (line, shape, color, texture, value, space) and draw themselves some example to help them remember. I included un-labeled examples of the elements on the back of the handout which we also discussed.

- We talked about the six elements, using two Rivera prints. The kids totally got it and had a great time making comments about the prints using their art words.
- Then we discussed a few details of Rivera’s life and work using books I had checked out from the public library.
- I brought in photos of murals from our town and we discussed where they were and how they made us feel.
- For the project each student created a 6x6 inch square design (on cardstock) using fabric scraps and Mod Podge. I asked that they use the elements of art in making their design choices. I showed a few examples, and we discussed the use of the elements in each example.
- Small groups of students each received:
o A bag of fabric scraps
o 6x6 inch squares of cardstock (one per student)
o Mod Podge
o Felt paint brush
- While the squares were drying, we played Jenga, with students getting to take a turn after answering a question about Rivera or the elements of art.
- Then we organized the 23 squares on a grid I numbered ahead of time. Students were encouraged to move and/or rotate the individual squares, using their art words to justify the move. This part was really fun!
- I then took the squares home and put the mural together.

In the end, the mural was pretty random, but overall, the project allowed for a lively discussion of the elements of art and circumvented any performance stress (“I can’t draw!”) since the materials (Mod Podge + fabric) were somewhat unusual.

It was messy and loud (in a good way). The kids had tons of fun. I was totally impressed at their ability to make substantive comments about art (Rivera’s and their own) rooted in the six elements. And I think they got the idea that art can/should be something we enjoy publicly.

Give it a go!