A new semester has begun and after school activities and clubs are in full swing. I got caught up in the moment and signed my four year old up for 3 different after school activities; soccer, ballet, and of course art. Sure, preschoolers get arts and crafts in with every assignment. It is how they learn best after all! But most of what she gets is step-by-step- instructions from the teacher. It makes a beautiful product and my refrigerator is full of handmade crafts. After school art clubs are different, they give children time to actually CREATE.
I have other artwork from my daughter which I keep safely in a box, out of reach from little hands, dog bumps, and milk spills. It contains the art she does with me at home on lazy Saturdays and rainy Sundays. Sometimes you can tell what’s going on in the picture but most the time you can’t. I can remember her completing each one and how she narrated her next steps, which parts she hated, which parts she loved, and which parts she reworked over and over again. This is the difference between learning artistic expression and completing a craft. My years at an art college made me not only a good draftsman, but also a surprisingly agile problem solver. This extends from art making into every day life, from mending a broken belt buckle to dealing with a bad day. This invaluable life tool has given me the drive to teach children as young as 2 years how to work through problems on paper.
Art Zone, which meets after school at the Dixon every other Wednesday, is my favorite class to teach. The kids who attend are 10-15 years old, an age that is unique in terms of artistic expression for 2 reasons. First, Parents are less likely to be looking for a refrigerator-perfect art project, so there is less pressure to use a step-by step guide. Second, this age group is still too young to be overly self-critical, which allows them to experiment, take risks, and re-work problems. A perfect storm to foster pure creativity! A typical class will start with a snack and a chat about school. Everyone comes to the Dixon from different schools, so it’s great to touch base. Then, since art, ideas, and inspiration cannot be formed in the classroom alone, so we normally go out to see the gardens or the galleries. After that we head back to the art studio and I introduce the materials, tools, and subject. From there, I step back and let them flourish. Once, a student asked if I had any wire. Even though we were working on charcoal drawings, I didn’t bat an eye and found a box of wire for him. The artwork that comes from this class is as diverse as the children are and simply stunning.
To watch these kids learn these lessons on paper is exciting. They don’t get times like these in school to slowly work things out through trial and error. And sometimes we make such a mess that most parents may not want it at home either! I’m happy the Dixon gives me the opportunity to teach this group. Here is to another fantastic year with my Art Zoners!! - Erica McCarrens