This fall I was immersed in doing an artist residency at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with two classes of Creative Experiences and Play for Pre-K through Grade 4 Learners sophomores.
Having spent my adult life among artists and creative people (known for showing up whenever, dressing however, arguing for their rebellious beliefs, and thinking out of the box), I’d never seen the likes of these education students: always on time, neat and trim, quite concerned about doing it “right” and meeting requirements, polite, dispassionate and analytical. Frankly, just what you might want in a teacher.
But they were uncomfortable with art. Most remembered being criticized for their art, and they were especially skeptical about the value of abstract art. The professors warned me that all but one thought abstract art was basically a bunch of paint thrown on a canvas.
Starting with my demo, I moved them through many paint-intensive experiences: color mixing, paint-squishing, feeling drawings, partner drawings, body-tracing paintings, a collaborative body-shadow painting, poured paintings, and the final project, two-sided mask-puppets based on tribal fables. The residency culminated in a final exhibit with the students interviewing each other and presenting their work to the faculty and dean.
Along the way, one by one the education majors caught the joy of expression. They began to release control of the outcome and value the process. They experienced firsthand the fact that creative art is inclusive and therapeutic; it increases self-esteem and self-ownership; and everyone’s art is unique, not right or wrong. They learned that art connects us with others–others who are similar and different–in our classroom, in our culture, and in cultures of the past.
They came to appreciate abstract art and, more importantly, free expression. They understood that opportunities for creativity and alternate ways of learning are vital for their students and for laying the foundation for the contributions their students will make throughout their lives.
Each future teacher felt newly confident about including art in their classroom and integrating it into their curriculum. One said, “Art used to be a dreaded time; now I may use it for leisure time.”
For me, the residency renewed my passion for getting the empowerment of art into the lives of young people.