On Tuesday, I had my first day as an Artist Assistant at the Learning Through Art program at the Guggenheim…which is actually at PS 145 in Brooklyn. The artist I am assisting is Sonya Blesofsky (check out her website, then stalk her on Google because her art is really thoughtful and interesting) and I love how she teaches. We have 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade and these are the most well-behaved kids I have ever encountered. They are respectful to the teachers, to each other, extremely engaged and creative and freakin adorable.
Sonya began by writing out
the agenda “todays plan”, which included putting on aprons, giving out sketchbooks (the kids were quite literally thrilled) and stretching because as Sonya says, she likes to get her mind and body ready for making art. Then they reviewed what is called the “essential question”, which was “How does where an artist live influence his/her art?” I’m pretty sure I didn’t get the wording exact, but you get the idea.
Then we projected this Picasso on the wall (where it was not covered with elementary school paraphernalia):
“Mandolin and Guitar”
Sonya had the students say what they saw and why they thought that’s what it was (“guitar!” “how do you know it’s a guitar?” “the shape! and the strings!” almost everything had an exclamation point after it). What was so fantastic about Sonya’s teaching method was that there was no right or wrong answer. She never corrected anyone and never forced any answers, she just let them see what they saw and gently guided them to figure it out on their own.
Then we projected this: (Picasso’s view when he painted “Mandolin and Guitar”)
She asked them what they saw again and then switched back to the painting and asked if they noticed anything. They inevitably put together that it was the view in the window from the painting and then it was on to art-making!
I can’t emphasize enough how excited they were about every step. Every time Sonya said something, there was a chorus of “YES!” and little fist pumps in the air.
Then they came up with a happy place for themselves, be it Mexico, Coney Island, their bedroom, a friends house…etc. and they wrote three sentences about it and then made a drawing. It’s unbelievable how creative they all were. I’m blown away by the details and imagination. Then they were all given pre-cut shapes of paper and they made collages of those drawings without cutting, ripping, or drawing anything. They loved their “challenge” but even more than that, they loved the next step when they got to cut out their own shapes and make a second version of that collage.
When time was almost up, Sonya had everyone clean up (which, again, they did beautifully), and then it was time for reflection. Which piece did they like best? The drawing? The first collage? The second? Why? The answers varied, but literally without exception, each kid was excited about a piece they did. Unbelievable.
That was my first day and I loved it and I left being thoroughly exhausted.
I have no idea how teachers do this everyday, there’s so much interaction and energy that you need. I keep finding myself in teaching environments: kulanu at HAFTR, substituting for special ed in MDS, working one on one with autistic kids, art classes, and now this. I love teaching and I love kids, but I don’t think it could be my career. It drains me and I want to come home and have that energy and patience for my family. Maybe I’ll go into museum education where it would be different people and ages all the time (in my head, I’m not actually certain that’s how it works).