Monday, September 10, 2012

Art Primer (7 months later than planned)

...So, have you ever gone back to the post manager page on your blog to see an almost-finished post that is all kinds of awesome, only to realize you hadn't thought about it/remembered it in approximately 7 months' time? I can't be the only one! So here's my shining example of such a discovery from February of this year. I would just like to point out that technically, Khary was still 6yo and Khalil was 3. Carry on. 

(originally written in February 2012)

The boys and I have been expanding on the "Five in a Row" concept and using books as an introduction to further studies. Sometimes it's as simple as a bunch of books about snow, winter, animals, and snow forts. Today, we began reading "art" books for kids. Not craft books. Not "how to make a picture like this" books. But books about collecting art, appreciating art, famous artists, famous works of art, art museums. Apropos because we were going on another field trip to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art the following morning.

We started with an art appreciation book, The Art Collector, by Jan Wahl an illustrated simply and gorgeously by Rosaline Bonnet.

In it, a little boy is inspired to try his hand at creating art by his great-grandmother, and that spawns a lifelong calling for art appreciation. He begins his own collection and eventually it fills a museum. The cover hints at the beautiful and artful contrast of simplistic, clean, kid-friendly illustration with the complex and sometimes abstract artwork he collects and displays. Using action verbs, Wahl poignantly conveys the lure of appreciating paintings of various styles. My boys were entranced and talked about how different paintings made them feel in the book. I also love how the story hints that one needn't be a gifted creator of art to really love it--probably because neither my husband nor I seem to have inherited a gene for realistic drawn depiction--and therefore neither have our children. But they have shown an ability and interest in looking at paintings and this book was very fitting for them.


Another book on the "art appreciation" theme is Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka with illustrations by Lane Smith (and many notable artists of the 20th and 21st Centuries!). Scieszka takes readers on a tour of New York's Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, by following a little boy who was to meet his friend Art at a nearby street corner and gets directed to MoMA to "find art." Van Gogh's "Starry Night," some Andy Warhol, surrealism, cubism, one of Monet's Waterlilies, Kahlo, postmodern commentaries, sculpture...the book's "tour" is thorough and varied. Scieszka also includes a guide to the art featured within the story. One of our favorites was a Henry Moore sculpture, "Family Group," because Moore worked in Kansas City and the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum features a number of sculptures and models, both inside and out. I must say, I was proud when Khary saw the sculpture in the book and immediately recognized it as "just like the ones we see at our museum!" 

Khalil, too, was fascinated by the works within. Perhaps that's one of the best things about modern art--kids get something out of it, even if it's not what you or I would take away. He was so taken with a pair of paintings in the book that he diligently worked on creating a similar image of his own.

The Beautiful Bird ...

Joan MirĂ³

Number 20

Bradley Walker Tomlin

Khalil's abstract line drawing


We also read Paris in the Spring With Picasso by Joan Yolleck and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Priceman's illustrations are vibrant ink and watercolor--and playfully abstract (not to mention a bit cubist in nature themselves). Yolleck's treatment of the Gertrude Stein's cadre of artists is light and conveys the excitement of that culturally incredible time and place. It is also heartening to see her approach to Stein's relationship with Alice B. Toklas is no different from any traditional romantic relationship in which the partners share a flirtatious affection for one another.

In one series of pages, Yolleck and Priceman imagine Picasso's creation of "Two Nudes." Upon my closing the book, Khary, age 6 and not normally taken to impassioned artistic creation, immediately grabbed a flesh-toned marker. With it, he very carefully--and with a light hand I don't think I've seen from Mr. Brute Force before--sketched out a blocky body, then outlined it with thin black marker not unlike the illustration's version of "Two Nudes." Now granted, most people wouldn't recognize that it was a copy of Picasso's interpretation of a strong female form, but it was so different from any previous version of his stick people--"bigger...and squarer, so that they look very strong"--that I have no doubt that's what he was recreating. Above the figure's head, he drew a bright yellow and orange sun like that featured on the cover of the book. See for yourself:

Two Nudes

Pablo Picasso

Khary's Picasso Nude (plus the sun image from the book's cover)


Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Homeschooler's Chalice Lighting

I attend All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City. At the beginning of each service, a member is asked to read a Chalice Lighting to essentially open up the service and set the tone after the minister's introduction. It can be an already-published reading or a personal account. I prefer the personal accounts, so when I was selected to offer up the Chalice Lighting for today's service regarding lifelong learning within our congregation, the words came easily. After having a couple of friends look over it with impartial eyes, one asked me to publish it on my blog. So here you are. I could expound on the ideas as they apply both individually and to my congregation, but the Chalice Lighting is a short reading, so you get an edited-to-the-bones essay from me. (And that is rare!)

A chalice image similar to the one used at All Souls KC

As I grow as a homeschool parent, I am learning as much as my children about our shared universe. How can that be, given my distinct educational advantage over a 4 year old and 7 year old? It’s because I get to learn more and to watch my children suss out answers for which they hadn’t even developed questions just moments before. It’s because we get to experience discovery and wonder together and to inspire one another. There is an educational philosophy called Unschooling, which holds that learning is a natural part of living and takes place throughout life. It includes the concept of Lifelong Learning--that I have just as much responsibility to pursue self-education regarding my own interests as I expect of my children. And can’t we all learn more...about the world, about ourselves, about our roles within our relationships and communities?

Another parenting philosophy to which I subscribe is free range parenting, or resisting a societal belief that: Our children are in constant danger, and the role of a parent is to shield our children from all threats. I was a free-range kid; I daresay virtually all of us of a certain age and older were raised similarly. We explored at  will, played outside our caregivers’ awareness...We were trusted to come home with as many fingers and toes as we had left with in the morning. By extension, we learned to make decisions for ourselves...and yes, some of those decisions were poor ones...but we learned that failure was okay; we found our personal boundaries; we learned to trust ourselves--and to trust others.

I try to allow my own kids similar freedom, and although they are young, they often prove themselves more capable than I would have guessed. They problem-solve, adapt, accept challenges with enthusiasm and humility--making themselves vulnerable to failure while trying to meet those challenges. When one considers any personal or shared endeavor, aren’t those are the attributes of successful learning and growth?

I light the chalice this morning for the humility and shared trust--in both ourselves and our proverbial villages--that are hallmarks of successful lifelong learning and growth.