Painting in the Year 2000: A Classroom Video Series

By Szekely, George | Art Education, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Painting in the Year 2000: A Classroom Video Series


Szekely, George, Art Education


did you start teaching art in the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, or nineties? What was the world like when you began to teach? You might say, "things were quite different then." Do you recall your first painting lesson? Art sure has changed since then. With a new century beginning, we all feel a sense of urgency to reexamine our teaching. No one has the definitive answer for teaching painting to children, since painting itself needs to be constantly reevaluated and reinvented. Each approach has to keep the subject open and challenging for students to freshly define. I look for painting ideas in children's playing and in their playful handling of all objects and media. Children who come to the art class have had many painting related experiences at home which they seldom view as valuable art acts. In fact, their painting discoveries are often the best clues to the future of art. Children's painting interests are different from those of adults; and what children find exciting about the painting act and the materials of painting are valuable sources for art instruction.

Tell them I can't paint, Ana keeps reminding me, while I write his article. For the past decade, my daughter, now age 14, has been my constant source of inspiration for my teaching and my books. She is more often recognized at conventions than I am. Needless to say, Ana enjoys her celebrity status and thinks of herself as an artist. So when a young artist speaks, I listen, "I can't paint regularly, Dad; I can paint like you, but not the real way." Now that she had offended her father the painter, I had to hear more. Ana felt that she could not paint as she was required in school, working from photographs and coached by examples from the old masters. fortunately, Ana did not discard her vast color collection, return my brushes, or demonstrate less enthusiasm for using her paints at home. She comtinued to create free abstractions on her nails with her 123 prized nail polish colors She built an enviable collection of Snapple drinks and peeled the labels, so that each exciting liquid color could be enjoyed. She continued to paint her phone, her new boom-box and tennis shoes, and just about any inviting canvas in her room. To her this was not "real" painting. After we sat down to what Ana calls, "one of our boring art talks," I decided to write this paper. Instead of arguing with Ana about what painting is and what it's not, I showed her video takes of our elementary school classes in which children learn to discover for themselves new boundaries for painting.

Each video excerpt contains a demonstration of alternative ways to approach painting. The demonstrations are choreographed into playful skits. Each performance is designed to invite new ways of thinking about painting and for students to expand the performance through experimentation. By acting as the art forms' founders and inventors, we see children who are able to think of the unusual in tools, techniques, and painting surfaces. Painting plays allow leaping beyond ordinary painting visions so young artists can paint in ways they've never painted before.

Each video excerpt contains questions designed to conjure up images of unusual ways to make and envision painting. The ability to "silly talk" about painting loosens up existing views and enables children to build new visions for painting. Discussions based on each question promote thinking about paint ing in ways the children have never thought of before. Talking about new possibilities offers a fresh license to artists of the future.

After 30 years in my own classroom, I still hear the certainty in the voices of my teachers when it came to assignments or criticism. I understood as a student that they knew all there was to know about painting and art. Art was not presented as a mystery with rich complexity, something to search for in each experience, and throughout one's artistic life. Yet a sequentially designed art curriculum that does not include, or perhaps even begin with, questioning what painting, design concepts, or notions of appreciation could be, oversimplifies art and handicaps future practitioners. …

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