Michelle Zuccolo presents the class with different materials each week, including still life and examples of famous artwork and gives students the opportunity to try drawing and painting in the same style. The last few week’s classes featured capsicums and the students used charcoal and pencils, creating beautiful tonal drawings. Once exploring the structure of the capsicums, students recreated them with acrylic on canvas. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
Where we were born, how we were raised, and the experiences of our early lives all inform the narrative we maintain and develop about ourselves. Hopefully, the narrative of our lives is loaded with experiences of love and associated positive experiences. Love that is experienced not only as an emotion, but as positive and constructive actions. Love in action, such as the unbroken legacy passed down through the family of the successful raising of children. Or on a wider scale, experiences of solutions to problems of disease or governance. Perhaps we could have also experienced love’s cousin, beauty, as seen in the natural world. The wonder of the universe, the complexity of our ecological systems. For me, that particular grassy dryness and illogical forms on the Australian river flats where I grew up, or when afternoons would drift by with little to distract me from seeing the light change or noting the breeze on my skin.
Undoubtedly, we also experience limits in our lives. These are unique to each of us. Each of us struggles at some level with something that seems to cast a shadow over how we live life now. I won’t pretend that we can instantly wipe away these experiences; in many cases it requires much care which at its base has love, for healing to occur.
Because we require a stable, predictable image of the world with which to engage, we tend to project our little bucket of experiences out on to every scenario that we encounter. If we have had a negative experience in a particular relationship with a parent, we are often wired to expect that some of those elements are present in our adult relationships until ‘loved’ otherwise. Often the expectation of the negative will cause us to act in particular ways that are in themselves defensive and negative. Then the cycle continues, contaminating our relationships. This form of negative expectation is very different from the optimism which I would want to see in our children. So, what is the difference between a negative expectation and optimism?
A negative expectation assumes that everything will stay the same as has been experienced. A negative expectation can infect our entire outlook because not only is it destroying the real image of the world we encounter, it also destroys possibility. Have you ever noticed that a truly positive and engaging person is open to change, but a deeply damaged person often can only see things the way they are seeing them? It is as if possibility and therefore hope have been shut down. If we don’t have possibility, then what can we hope for?
Hope emerges from a world view that embraces the possible. Hope is usually closely aligned with experiences of love (the good), because possibility alone can go either way; positive or negative. Hope that embraces love, aspires to that which is better. I see creativity as closely aligned with this idea of hope. Admittedly, creativity like possibility is not always for the good as demonstrated by some aspects of our military history, but when bound with a love based hope, creativity seeks and acts for the good.
When we encounter, or recall negative experiences, I think the greatest challenge we face is not to let that experience become the template with which see the rest of the world. By maintaining a sense of possibility, a sense of hope, we enable ourselves to act, to seek a solution in an act of creativity. This is not a false hope or positive thinking. The real falsity lay in the belief that things cannot change based on a handful of negative experiences. By contrast, possibility, which is real, calls us on to creativity. This is the quality I want to see in our children; a resilience that drives them to constantly seek creative solutions no matter how great the challenge they face.
The assimilation of new techniques into children’s art work.
I have returned to teaching a children’s class after two years focused upon developing the adults’ classes.
I came into this new children’s class with the intention of introducing some elements of ‘atelier’ or ‘academic’ style training for the children. This is the methodology that many of the adults who have attended our classes would be familiar with, that enables us to rigorously teach technique.
Whilst I intended to introduce the same elements as in our adult’s classes, those of you that know me, will know that I am heavily influenced by Steiner and Montessori educational philosophies. These philosophies emphasise intrinsic self motivation (self motivation), creativity and the natural rhythm of child’s development. Whilst these philosophies are not completely incompatible with the style of training I wanted to introduce, it certainly gives me a lot to consider as a teacher.
We have had our first two classes for the term and the results, in fact, the way in which the first week’s instruction was absorbed then reappeared, fully integrated into the second week’s work has left me speechless. Perhaps these children are just incredibly talented, but somehow, they have taken in the new techniques and used them to produce work which incorporates those techniques into their own powerfully iconographic style. The three examples below by Taku, Chloe and Tyla display a far more individual approach than I would commonly see in adults, yet all have used the techniques of constructing a sphere and use of tone that I had shown them the week before. They do this while still maintaining an aesthetic integrity; the work holds together as personal statement. The new techniques have been subsumed to the personal visual logic each child individually consistently maintains.
On the basis of these works, it seems that it is possible to teach technique to children without restricting their creative or personal expression. Taku, for example, maintains a powerful expressive line and an arresting visual impact over the foundation of the structural approach he had been shown. Chloe has a whimsical play with the line of the structural drawing. With the interplay of line and the rubbing of the charcoal, the groups of objects all merge into one whole, showing an interplay of relationships between objects. Tyra also uses value, or tone in a powerful way, inventing value for visual impact (the shadow wasn’t present in the arrangement she was drawing from).
I realise that while teaching what is essentially a limiting process to the children, I shouldn’t limit the children’s other visual processes and iconographies. The purpose of restricting would be to show the assimilation of the technique I am teaching more clearly. The problem being that by restricting other information children use in the image, I may be sending the message that other forms of expression aside from that being taught are are wrong. The eventual casualty of such an approach being the death of creativity, exploration and intrinsic learning.
For the age group in my class, (9 – 12 year olds), it seems I can teach technique and that the child experiences an adaption of the new technique into an existing canon of technique, creativity and visual language rather than a weeding out of those pre-existing elements. In so doing, they maintain their ability for powerful personal expression.
I’m very much looking forward to the work that is to come.
The following is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent earlier today which may be of help in understanding what I am trying to do in the Young Artist Program.
Until the age of thirteen or fourteen a child needs to be reassured that their own creative processes including experimentation and failure are all valid. I am trying to allow the children to emulate the creative processes that I see a mature artist go through. By doing that I am hoping that the child will be equipped with confidence and creative processes to deal with the challenges of anything they choose to take on. At some point the child’s vision widens and seeing skills they do not possess; they choose to acquire those skills. It is at that point that a systematic direction can be given. To some degree these two aspects are present in every child at every stage so I am trying to read the child to know when to let them go and when to give direction and I do that every class.
If the child were to produce mermaids and dogs every week I would not see that as being any different from Fred Williams producing landscapes. My role then is not to distract from the child’s vision but to support them in developing that vision and give technical advice when necessary (which at this age, may or may not be taken on). My other role is to expose the children to art and art processes which I try to do although the children are often so absorbed in their own work they barely seem to notice.