08/26/03
For Art's Sake
    by John Cech

With the new school year just beginning or just around the corner of Labor Day, you may find something missing in your children's school day this year, if it hasn't already disappeared: art. Art classes used to be one of the saving graces of a long school week -- a time when a teacher might put on a piece of music and turn a class loose to paint or draw or mold something from clay. And we proudly displayed the results on bulletin boards and on every home's art gallery, the refrigerator.

But these oases are now few and far between in the curriculum, and our children are more likely to be bringing home math worksheets and sentence diagrams than a young Jackson Pollock's fluid abstractions -- for which there can never be standardized tests. Who can really blame our schools when funding may depend on the grade a school receives on those required exams. American schools used to be known for their innovativeness and creativity, but those qualities are quickly being left behind.

What's a parent to do if they think that art is a valuable, indeed an essential thing for their children to experience? One place to begin, and this may be the silver lining in this cloud, is by having your own art classes at home. Time, of course, is always an issue for families, and so are art supplies and the space to spread out. And so is expertise. Most of us, when asked, will claim to have little artistic talent.

Ah, this is what's called a teaching moment -- for your children and for yourself. Doing art with your youngsters could well be the start of something really interesting on your kitchen table. If the prospects of this opportunity intrigue you , let me suggest a series of books by Cathy Weisman Topal that will provide you with a jumping off point into the lagoon of creativity. Topal's Children and Painting begins with the basics, like how to make your brush a part of your hand and your hand an extension of your imagination. She then gives you more and more ideas to work with -- textures, color, and a variety of painting techniques -- all of it presented simply and elegantly. If you're looking for something truly tactile, try her Children, Clay, and Sculpture and I guarantee you, you'll never think of push pots -- you know, the kind you make by shaping a lump of clay with your thumb -- in the same way again. And if you have lots of things filling your closets and cabinets and drawers, the odds and ends of life that you just can't seem to throw away or manage to recycle, there's no telling where Ms. Topal's Beautiful Stuff! Learning with Found Materials will take you. Art, after all, comes from words that meant to fit things together, and it gave us the root for our word, "harmony." Those are lessons really worth learning.

Copyright 2003 John Cech

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Friday, 25-Jul-2003 14:48:45 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."