A place to see what is happening in Fine Arts at Rocky Mountain School for the Gifted and Creative

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

On Toilet Paper Tubes, Scotch Tape and Strawberry Baskets

Many of you are familiar with the universal developmental sequence that takes place as children begin to draw. Just as babies progress from scooting to crawling and finally to walking, children move predictably in their drawings from the scribble stage to the schematic stage to the realistic stage. It is interesting to note that making images is a universal human activity. It is also interesting that at a certain point, most people simply stop image-making altogether. “According to Peter London in No More Secondhand Art; “We have learned to be embarrassed by our efforts. We have learned to feel so inept and disenfranchised from our own visual expression that we simply stop doing it altogether”. Perhaps, sadly, this is the last developmental stage of image making for many.
Many of us are not as familiar or comfortable with the developmental stages of three-dimensional work, yet no doubt a similar progression exists. In order to create a sculptural piece of art, students must learn a great deal about balance and support. Students discover how to attach one object to another, how to achieve height, width and unity. Early sculptural attempts may look no more organized than a 3 year old’s scribble, but are just as necessary and valid as those early marks with crayon or marker. A great deal of learning is taking place when a student engineers a three-dimensional object. What materials are interesting and available? Should one glue, tape, staple or lash? Which glue works best for which material? Is the hot glue gun REALLY the savior of all things 3-D? How does one support a heavy object? What surface treatment adds beauty, interest or definition? Should the sculpture be free standing, or attached to a base? Is the object functional or decorative? Many meaningful questions arise while constructing objects in art. Although the results do not always accurately reflect the importance of the process, the process has real value, and is a meaningful aspect of the authentic work of artists.
I suspect those of you who house vast landscapes of structures made from cardboard, paper tubes and pipe cleaners are pulling your hair out, wondering how to find room to store and display all this recycled… stuff. More importantly, you may be struggling with how to admire and validate the work your child is so proud of.
Some parents and teachers are quite savvy in talking about art with children. Instead of asking, “What IS that?” many people considerately inquire “Would you like to tell me about your picture (or sculpture or mobile or weaving or????)?” Some parents allow a certain spot at home for display, and when it is full, a child must select things that need to “go” in order to make room for new pieces. Another tactic is to agree to display a piece for a little while, and then take it apart in order to re-use or recycle the parts. It is not necessary to keep every object your child drags home indefinitely, and children will understand that there is simply not room for it all. While a certain period of admiration and display is welcome, much of this early sculpture is much more about process than product, and the resulting object may have relatively little importance to your child once it is complete.
In passed years, on one day near the end of the school year, I would set up an “inventor’s workshop”.Toilet paper tubes, scraps of Styrofoam, tape and staples would come out and in a flurry of excited enthusiasm, students would create something that was of importance to them. It was by far the most popular activity I facilitated. Some students waited all year for this one glorious day. It is little surprise that the “Construction Center” in the art room is the most popular workstation right now, and while the objects that leave my room are sometimes challenging for adults, it is important is to recognize the significance and value of creative construction. One must learn to walk before one can run.


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