Monthly Mentor

Hester Menier (November)
Hester Menier is an elementary art teacher in the Wentzville School District near St. Louis, MO. She has been teaching elementary art for 20 years in rural and suburban districts with large low socio-economic populations. Her education background includes a BA in art education from the University of Northern Iowa and a MA in art education from The Ohio State University. Menier became the first National Board Certified teacher in her district in 2010. She believes that having quality and relevant professional development for art teachers is important to developing strong art programs that prepare students for futures in the fine arts. Over the past few years her commitment to professional development for art teachers has shown through her participation in a variety of committees and organizations.



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Monday 11.16.15

Getting Boys Interested in Art, Again.

From: Hester Menier

If you look back through the history of art, men have dominated the field until the most recent past. So it may seem surprising that getting boys interested in art class would be difficult. When art class is competing with classes more preferred by male students, like P.E. and computers, it can be hard to find ways to engage boys effectively in the art classroom. It is disheartening to hear from parents of struggling boys at parent teacher conferences, “Art never has been an activity our child liked, even when he was little, and it still isn’t their favorite subject.” Some years I can find that one idea that really captures the attention of my boy artists and other years, the same concept flops. Frequently what works is something linked with current popular culture, like Minecraft, Legos, NASCAR, etc. But I think I found the secret to success this year, offering a wide choice of opportunities that boys can’t wait to try. Here are my top 3…

#3 Architecture is an artform that is sometimes difficult to offer in an elementary art room due to lack of storage space and materials. I have solved this by making it a temporary work of art that lives on in a photograph. At the end of construction, students use an iPad to save an image of their work to a Google Drive.  This allows it to be shared with family, friends, and on a Smartboard with the whole class. Boys love to construct and problem solve with building materials.  I offer Keva planks, foam blocks, pentominoes, and small wood scraps. If you need materials on the cheap, get the scraps donated from a local construction site or the high school industrial tech class. To get them started I do small lessons on the basics of architecture, like what makes a building strong and durable (like a foundation and proper material choice), how to make the building functional for its intended purpose, and aesthetically pleasing. I offer books on architecture, blueprints and lots of building images. They make the most amazing things! My biggest success so far, a student who frequently refused to even enter the art room many times in the past, built this multi-story building with a weight bearing cantilevered deck. Now he enters the art room with a smile ready to work each week.

Building with cantilevered deck by a 5th grade student who often refused to participate.  

Marble Race track from a 5th grade student with poor effort in the past.

#2 Sculpture which is similar in many ways to architecture, but with many more options for materials and subjects. Again, this can have significant storage issues, so my solution, think small like postcard sized. I even have a size tester like the airport has for luggage. Materials for sculpture abound, especially if you can get parents and staff to save you recyclables. Teaching students that there are more than 10 different ways to attach materials really opens their ideas to the possibilities, beyond just glue (see pipe cleaner attachments below). Boys love the challenge of building sculpture when you offer a problem to solve. Because there are so many possibilities for subject, narrowing the field down by offering a problem to solve focuses their ideas. If you add a competition component, it peaks their interest even more. Things I have done with great success are Medieval Castles that need to have defenses to protect the royal family, robots that must stand on their own, and cars that actually roll. Plus an extra bonus, these projects can often connect with the curriculum being taught in the science and social studies classes.

4th grader making a building with straws, pipe cleaners and foam sheets.

3rd grader’s beginning parts for a bus. You can see the wheels, chassis, seats and roof with windows.

#1 Sewing and Weaving, traditionally thought of as girly, are a huge hit with the boys. I don’t know if it is because art gives them “permission” to do something usually associated with women, or if it is the practical nature of what is created, that creates the draw. But my boys beg to use the fiber art materials, and often create more at home. There is no need to go big here either, keep weavings, soft sculptures and other fibers projects around the size of your average cell phone. Some of the biggest hits have been finger weaving, ugly dolls and necklace weavings on cardboard. The repeated weaving and stitching movements, often lead to high success rates for boys who usually struggle with the fine motor control that drawing requires.

Small weaving necklaces by 4th grade boys.

Here is how I know that offering these opportunities are the secret to engaging boys in the art room... I had 2 parents stop me in the hall to tell me their sons were upset to miss art class due to a holiday, because they couldn’t wait to come in a work on a particular project in class. These were boys who had history of not caring much for art class which showed in their work. And the parent, of a child I didn’t teach in Kindergarten or 1st grade, told me at Meet the Teacher Night, “Good luck with my son, he hates art class.” A few weeks ago at the end of class, he begged me to let him bring dad down to the art room to see what he had made. After school that very excited student dragged dad in, and excitedly showed him the wonderful work he had created. Making sure to offer opportunities that boys enjoy can ensure they are as interested in art as the girls.

Monday 11. 9.15

Teaching Artistic Behavior (TAB)

From: Hester Menier

One of the biggest personal battles I have faced in beginning TAB in my classroom, was my comfort level with true kid art. For years, my students produced beautifully crafted boards of artwork that made everyone ooh and ahh, after direct instruction.


But when students direct their learning, by choosing the media, subject and technique the product is quite different. I don’t think that this is just a TAB issue, all art teachers struggle to find the balance between students copying and creating.
When I read Choice Without Chaos by Anne Bedrick, this really stuck with me…
“One of the biggest questions people ask is what about skills? My question is, “Why are you so sure that they were learning them when you were directing them?”
This was my initial hesitation with the TAB, which led to many questions.           

* How do I know my students are learning?

* When I was using direct instruction to have students produce amazing artwork, were they going through the motions or did they truly learn?

* In a TAB room when the art looks poorly made does it still have value?

The answers to these questions have all become very clear to me as the first few weeks of open studios are wrapping up and students are thinking they have finished work.
How do I know students are learning?
I hear it, even if I can’t see it. While students are working, I frequently, just listen to the conversations they are having. This is something I did when I had a direct instruction classroom, but now the conversations are different. Before I heard about video games, vacations and birthday plans, but very little about art. Now I still here a few discussion of video game strategy and other pressing social issues, but they end quickly when an art problem needs to be addressed. I have overheard students comparing 2 different types of glue for making a collage, noticing that the rubber cement didn’t work as a seal like the Modge Podge did. Students have asked others for help on holding a sculpture in place while they added more bracing, with the 2 discussing options. And eight 3rd graders taught each other to make brown and compared what they learned to placement on the color wheel. When you talk with them about the choices they are making, they can tell you about the work very descriptively using selective art vocabulary. So the answer is YES, they are learning. They are learning what they need to at the time to solve the artistic problem they have designed. Some will learn more and others less, but that is where you as the teacher need to know your students and push them to reach their best potential and beyond.


When I was using direct instruction to have students produce amazing artwork, were they going through the motions or did they truly learn?
I think there was some of both happening. Unfortunately, I am finding that much of what I had taught them in the past seems to have floated away with the wind. The bits that have stuck were often lessons where they had to make discoveries themselves, or were allowed to experiment with materials. For example, those 3rd graders learning to make brown, we do this in kindergarten and 1st grade. Back then I told them how, they did it and used the brown to paint a cat or something else. It was just another fact to remember with no lasting impression or personal meaning. As 3rd graders they couldn’t remember what we had done, and I told them to experiment and figure it out. So they started randomly mixing colors until someone got brown. Which led to the greater conversation about how the colors were arranged on the color wheel, and how they could use that information to make brown. Watching their excitement as they found multiple ways to achieve the same means made me proud. That is an learning they will remember, because the learning was deeper and more meaningful to them.


In a TAB room when the art looks poorly made does it still have value?           
I have decided that the answer here is YES, and this goes back to Lowenfeld’s Stages of Artistic Development. We all think of the scribble stage being only for drawing and toddlers, but every media and skill in the art room has it’s own scribble stage. Even adult learners may need time to scribble when they approach a new medium. If we don’t let each child experience the scribble stage with those media and skills they can’t move on to produce artwork at high levels, because they don’t have a basic understanding to build on. Many students who can make lovely drawings may not have the same instant success with paint, because they haven’t had the opportunity the “scribble” or experiment with it before. They need to smash the brush and splatter, mix every color to make a page of mud and add too much paint creating a hole in the paper. This type of artwork, doesn’t look as polished as those well crafted direct instruction pieces, but they may have significantly more educational value. Without the scribble stage students have less tools or tricks to handle mistakes with the media or skill, which can lead to frustration and ultimately dislike for the media or skill. This is the person who says, “I can’t draw”. The key as the teacher is to understand your students, knowing when they need to scribble and when they are ready to move forward.


So my comfort level with kid art is getting stronger, because I have changed my view of the purpose of art instruction in my classroom. Art class should be more focused on the process of creating art, the product will come when each student artist is ready.

Monday 11. 2.15

Learning, the Never Ending Journey

From: Hester Menier

After teaching elementary art for 20 years I have experienced a variety of situations in which I had to learn or sink. Teaching in multiple buildings requiring travel, working with non-English speaking students, working with no budget, being on a cart, large class sizes, the list goes on and on. But in many of these situations I was not in control of the change or situation. But this year, after attending a wonderful workshop on teaching TAB (teaching for artistic behaviors), one for which I was reluctant to attend and initially skeptical, I decided to make a major change in the instructional model of my classroom. This adventure has felt like being a first year teacher all over again, but this time I had one great advantage, I am much more aware of how my students and I learn, and how this understanding will make us all better in the end.

Learning can be understood through the 4 Stages of Competence, first introduced in the 1970's by Gordon Training International. This concept basically discusses how individuals go through 4 stages in their journey to learn a new concept or skill. I felt that this not only applied to my journey through this instructional change, but what my students are going through in each of the studios without the direct instruction I had used in the past.

The first stage is Unconscious Incompetence. You don't know that you don't know. And you might even deny that their is a problem or lack of understanding. This is where most of my students are right now. They absolutely love the change to a studio format and have jumped in enthusiastically. They are engaged and excited. Once they start working, the room is a buzz of on-task chatter, creative problem solving and collaboration. But the work they are creating doesn't quite reflect the the atmosphere in the room or the goals they are setting for themselves.

I asked them on the 3rd day of open studio to close their eyes and imagine their first TAB artwork and decide was it eh, something they could hang on the fridge or gallery quality. With almost every class, the majority felt that what they had made at this point was gallery quality. At this point I knew we had a blissful lack of understanding of what quality artwork looked like and was already generating a plan to help them get to the next stage and increase the quality of their work without sacrificing the enthusiasm and risk taking that was happening.



Stage 2 is Conscious Incompetence, here the learner does not understand something, but they are aware that they don't understand, and want to learn and become better at a skill. This is where I am currently feeling as a teacher. I know that I don't know everything about TAB and I am not sure how it's all going to work out, but thankfully I have a lot of tools and resources to help me learn and get better, even after 20 years. With this in mind, I began to introduce several resources to help students move forward too.

First we discussed the value of making mistakes. Mistakes happen, and are the best learning experiences, since we find out what to do and what not to do. I love the book Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, since it shows many ways to fix a mistake. Using the book to teach into this concept, I also hung up posters in every studio with lists of ways to fix a mistake. There are several different versions available on Pinterest. Like this...


Second, I started sharing other projects and student work on my Fab 5 wall. These are 5 examples of work I felt showed thought and effort, and exemplified the mini lesson fro the week. Students can get inspired by veiwing the successes of others.


Finally, I started to conference with students while they worked. I attended a workshop earlier in the summer about the Conferring Method in Readers/Writers Workshop used in the regular education classrooms. Using this method I am better able to offer tips, techniques, materials and visual resources to help students learn more about what they don't currently know, as it relates to their personal work. Hopefully, sending them to the next stage.

Stage 3 is Conscious Competence, where the learner knows how to do something, but they have to really concentrate in order to accomplish the skill.  Each child fills out a plan before they start, and part of the plan asks them to set a goal for what they would like to learn more about or get better at doing. This is where the true growth happens, so this is the stage where I would like to see many of my students working during class time. If they are at this stage I know they are working on something new, it requires a lot of mental effort, problem solving and time to work through the process. They get it and they are getting a handle on how to to it well.


The final stage is Unconscious Competence. This is when the new skill becomes "second nature" and often they can teach it to someone else. This is the moment all teachers dream about, but not every student reaches at the same time. This is why I really love the TAB format. I will have students at every stage of learning, but since they are each doing their own project and working on their own goal, I don't have to worry about leaving anyone behind or not stretching others far enough. Those who need the help at stage two can get it from someone at four. And someone at stage three may inspire or or open the eyes of a student at stage one since they are so focused on mastering the goal.

And just like me, trying something new for the first time, they will eventually go through all 4 stages. Then coming out the other end with a greater understanding, only to discover a new skill, concept or adventure awaits you and the process begins all over again.

Friday 10.23.15

Case Study: Throwing Bowls with Visually Impaired and Blind Students

From: Susan Loesl, MA, ATR-BC

We have had some interesting insights working with our visually impaired and blind students throwing bowls on the potter’s wheel the past few weeks. Overall, almost all the students seemed to really enjoy using the wheel to make bowls, except for one. She is a student who is completely blind and was a bit tacitly defensive regarding this process of making a bowl. She told us that she preferred to actually paint the bowl over making one. When she was engaged in making a bowl with coils, she didn’t mind working with clay too much, and liked the bowls she created. Introducing her to the texture of the clay on the wheel- much softer and lots wetter, she didn’t like it, but tolerated the process for one bowl.

Other students who were significantly visually impaired and blind were eager to not only try working on the wheel, but were quite excited about the “messiness” of the clay and the sound of the wheel. One of our younger students liked adding water to the clay and feeling the water and clay spin around. She was able to salvage one bowl, as the other bowls pretty much deteriorated on the batts as she worked with too much water. We have two standard wheels, and one tabletop “Pocahontas Pottery Wheel” that we acquired at a rummage sale. It is a small, plastic, battery operated wheel that runs at the perfect speed to shape bowls for smaller students with smaller hands. We use it like a transitional wheel, with the students starting to learn the process on that one, and then moving to the regular one with assistance from my graduate art therapy intern. It has made a huge difference in building the students’ skill and understanding of the process of making a bowl on the wheel. One of the youngest male students likes throwing on the Pocahontas wheel better than “the big wheel”.  I wonder if he likes this small wheel better as he can more easily access it on the table, it is very loud (he says it sounds like a train), and he can be more independent on this wheel from a safety perspective with only one speed.

In order to help the students learn to use the potter’s wheel, we centered the clay on the batts for the students to let them get a sense of the spinning clay and how it can be shaped. We described the process and motored the students through the finger and hand movements on a non-spinning ball of clay before we demonstrated on the wheel how to pull up a bowl hand over hand- their hands over ours. When they were able to feel and partially see the first bowl, we set up another pre-centered batt and motored the students through the bowl created hand over hand, with their hands on the clay this time. It was an amazing process to watch the students’ progress through the process and have success with throwing a bowl on the potter’s wheel!
One of the girls with only peripheral vision is our star student on the wheel! She took to it immediately -almost intuitively knowing how to pull the walls of the bowls out- she can throw 2 bowls in 25 minutes! Her attention and focus to create the bowls is so exciting to watch. She has even started helping clean the wheel when we are finished throwing bowls for the day, and might be ready to learn how to center the clay. We have been preparing 8-10 batts with centered clay before each group, as that skill is quite challenging for even an experienced potter. This pre-centering has helped the students be more successful in making their bowls. As you will notice in the images, we were able to bisque fire our first 35 bowls.


The students were very excited to see, feel, and hear the newly fired bowls so that they could glaze them.  They are so eager to see how their bowls turn out with the glaze! We hope that the students will allow us to use the bowls for the Spring Fundraiser. I wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep them all!   

Monday 10.12.15

Special Education

From: Susan Loesl, MA, ATR-BC

In my role as an Adaptive Art Specialist, I often work not only with art educators to assist them in their particular classes, but I also work with special education teachers and specialists. I am presently working on a collaborative project with two teachers of the visually impaired, a mobility specialist and a physical therapist to create clay bowls with students with visual impairments. One of the teachers of the visually impaired contacted me in Spring 2015 regarding her donor acquisition of two potters wheels, 150 lbs of clay and 12 bats. She wanted to know if I would be interested in working with her and her elementary students who were visually impaired and blind to create clay bowls for a fundraiser in Spring 2015. She primarily wanted to create bowls only on the potter’s wheel, but I convinced her that we should first get the students comfortable with clay building, and then work toward creating on the wheels. My graduate art therapy intern was quite excited about the project as well, and it turned out that she was the most skilled on the wheel.  She was instrumental in considering how to best assist the students with visual impairments to understand the concepts of making a clay pot on a wheel. After practicing a bit on the wheel, we all concluded that starting with handbuilding would be the best way to start becoming familiar with clay. We wanted to see how the students would react to the clay in various stages, as at times, some students with visual impairments can be tactiley defensive about materials.  That was not an issue at all with these students!  Our first technique was coil building. The goals were not only to create pots, but to also build fine motor strength and dexterity by manipulating the clay - rolling, coiling, smoothing, pushing, and supporting with the opposite hand. (I was informed by a teacher of the visually impaired students that the students often need to work on their fine motor skills to better develop the skills they will need to read Braille and use Braille writers.) The second technique was rolled out slab over the back of a wooden bowl and textured with various tools. Interestingly, this was not the favorite bowl technique, and the students have requested that we not make any more that way!  We also used the coils to make “snail coils” that we pushed into the inside of the bowls, smoothed out with tools, and then the “snail coils” left a coiled design on the exterior of the bowls. Last week, after 3 weeks of other clay work, we started throwing clay bowls! I will share that experience in the next blog. 

1    2    3
         Coil Bowl                    Slab Bowl              First Set of Bowls

Thursday 10. 1.15

October Focus: Adaptive Art/Art Therapy

From: Susan Loesl, MA, ATR-BC

It is truly my pleasure to be the Monthly Mentor for October 2015. As an adaptive art specialist for the Milwaukee Public Schools for the past 26 years, I have had wonderful opportunities to create art side by side students with disabilities from early childhood through high school. My role is to work with art educators with students in self contained or inclusive settings who request my support--I do not have a home school, and last year went to 48 schools over the course of the school year. I see myself as a facilitator for students to access the art making process by adapting the tools, media, and techniques so that students can be as independently creative as possible. At times, this has meant creating in the moment...a hand grip from newspaper and masking tape for a too thin handle on a paintbrush or putting art materials on a Lazy Susan or cookie sheet for a student with boundary and organizational issues. Other times, such as earlier this week, I saw myself as a support staff discussing with an art educator how to adapt an urban landscape painting lesson for a class with 3 distinctly different levels of engagement. I was thrilled to see her excitement when she now couldn't wait to try the new lesson plans, as her initial contact with me was frustration in how to best reach ALL of her students. I hope to bring that excitement to you this month as we explore opportunities for engaging ALL the students in your art room.

In my work with students, I have "collected" many stories of challenges, successes, and unique happenings. I will also share those with you this month. We all have those art moments that have truly touched our lives and made us smile proudly to be art educators, as well as moments that are truly unique to the art room! I have a first grade student student who is visually impaired and each time he comes to the art room lately, he asks "what powers are we going to use today?" He at some point decided that the art tools such as scented markers and textured rolling pins are "his powers". It is really a unique perspective for such a young child, who is almost totally blind, to consider the art tools as powerful. To him, he "sees" the power he possesses to create what he wants as he can independently make choices with adapted art tools. He has become powerful in making art.

Engle bus
During this month, share your successes, offer support to other art educators for your experiences, and request suggestions about challenges you are facing in working with your students with disabilities in your art classes. I look forward to engaging in discussions that help you further your potential as a facilitator of art making for your students with disabilities. 

Tuesday 09.29.15

Putting play in the process: Is play rigorous?

From: Stacey Salazar

As noted in recent reports like this one, many educators equate ‘rigor’ with pain, rigid thinking, harshness, and extra homework – a view that can cause curricula to become narrow and dull. In fact, understood this way, ‘rigor’ has little connection to the inquisitiveness, perseverance, and creative thinking needed for lifelong learning. However, I encountered an exciting definition for rigor in Maryland’s Howard County Public Schools, where I recently led a workshop for K-12 art educators.

Image-1_420A group of Howard County artist-educators use their bodies to create a visual metaphor for collaboration.

Using a slight adaptation of a definition published by Mindsteps (2012), Howard County says:

Rigor is a quality of instruction that requires each and every student to: construct meaning, impose structure on information, integrate individual skills into processes, operate within but be at the outer edge of current ability, and apply what is learned to more than one context and to unpredictable situations.

In reading this definition, it occurred to me that play is rigorous. Consider the following correspondences between play in the art classroom and Howard County’s definition of rigor:

Play provides openings for the players (students) to construct meaning through individual choice making.

Play affords opportunities for players (students) to integrate individual artmaking skills into processes.

Certain types of play, such as Pretend Play, encourage players (students) to work at the outer edge of their ability.

Since play experiences have no predetermined end, play might inspire players (students) to operate productively in unpredictable situations.

As your September Monthly Mentor, it has been my pleasure to share thoughts, strategies, and resources for putting play in the process. I hope these posts support you as you endeavor to structure opportunities for play in your art classroom – not only because play might be rigorous, but also because:

play is authentic to contemporary art making practices,
play is conducive to creativity and lifelong learning,
and play makes learning fun!

Thursday 09.24.15

Putting play in the process: “Wild and Safe” in the Art Classroom

From: Stacey Salazar

Ann Hamilton’s large-scale collaborative installation-performance is a provocative intersection of object, action, and context – creating a “wild and safe” sensation for participants. However, the more modestly scaled One Minute Sculptures by Erwin Wurm – which also engage object, action, and context – might more readily translate to the art classroom.

Image 1

When I was teaching at the high school level, and later in a pre-service art education program at MICA, my students considered the ways in which artwork like Wurm’s questioned cultural norms in museums, galleries, and other institutional settings.

Image 2

The students viewed Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers by Sounds Without Noise (which proposes a fresh way to engage with objects in the home) and Fred Wilson’s provocative re-installation of objects from the collection of the Maryland Historical Society in the City of Baltimore.

Image 3

My students then developed their own one-minute-sculptures based on the prompt: Choose an object from your everyday life, and act on that object so that the meaning of the object is altered, or so that the way you normally behave in the art classroom is changed. Ultimately students structured a collaborative performance of one-minute-sculptures that unfolded over several minutes of class time. The humorous and subversive qualities of such artworks appeal to adolescents and young adults, allowing them safe, imaginative avenues for challenging institutional and cultural constraints. And it seems to me that the object/action/context process is similar to ‘pretend play,’ which scholars like Lev Vygotsky, Michelle Root-Bernstein, and Stuart Brown have identified as beneficial to learning and creativity.

If you would like to facilitate “wild and safe” experiences using object/action/context in your art classroom, a good beginning resource is How to Be An Explorer of the World, by Keri Smith. Her prompts can be done individually or collaboratively, are easily contained within a sketchbook-journal, and might be inserted as brief exploratory lessons that complement learning units you already teach.

Image 4

For my next and final post, I will consider the relationship between play and rigor.

Tuesday 09.22.15

Putting Play in the Process: The Objects We Play With

From: Stacey Salazar

Stuart Brown, cited in my second post, says that curiosity about and physical interaction with objects can bring about a state of play called Object Play. I wonder, though, might the context in which we engage with objects contribute to a state of play? And how might the action the player takes also be significant?

Image 1
The Event of a Thread, a 2012 participatory installation by contemporary artist Ann Hamilton, was a situation that evoked a state of play through an incongruous alignment of object, action, and context.

Here is a wonderful video that captures the experience of Hamilton’s installation. I, too, participated by swinging on a swing, reclining under the floating fabric, and weaving my way through caged birds, spoken words, and wrapped bags. I also spent time watching other participants and listening to the murmur of conversation punctuated by squeals of pleasure. This was no ordinary gallery experience; the attendees seemed to be at play. The objects (swings) were an invitation to action (to swing) in a context (a gallery exhibition space) in which swinging – or even touching an artwork, for that matter! – is normally an unacceptable behavior. Hamilton's arrangement of the objects in space invites the viewer to break this cultural boundary. For me, mounting the oversized swing and gently rocking my body back and forth through the cavernous exhibition space brought about simultaneous sensations of risk and repose – or, as a participant quoted in the video says, feeling “wild and safe” at the same time. Perhaps this is also an apt description of being in a state of play?

For my next post, I’ll share a strategy and resource that might inspire “wild and safe” experiences in the art classroom.

Thursday 09.17.15

Putting Play in the Process: Exploring Materials

From: Stacey Salazar

As you may have noticed, the two “Packet Prompt” examples instigate exploration of materials within a set of constraints. Exploration of materials is frequently a way in which artists – professional or student – engage in states of play. In my contribution to Connecting Creativity, I note how artists Richard Serra and Richard Prince, and lighting designer Ingo Maurer, have described the way in which, as emerging artists, play brought about discoveries with a very specific material: lead (Serra), magazine images (Prince) and light bulbs (Maurer). Relatedly, sculptor Jessica Stockholder and painter David Hockney work within constraints that liberate them to explore a wide range of materials.

A number of art education scholars have advocated that the exploration of materials be an important – even essential – component for student artmaking. In July, Mary Image 01Hafeli, author of Exploring Studio Materials, visited the MA in Art Education at MICA and engaged the graduate students in an range of strategies for exploring materials.

Mary invited students to a “buffet” of materials, suggesting they explore a material with which they were not entirely familiar or comfortable within a very limited time period.

Image 02

Other exploration prompts followed, which scaffolded the students through levels of collaboration (pairs, small groups) and through diverse explorations. Ultimately, Mary challenged the more than 20 participants to collaborate on installation-as-process.

Image 04
Constraints included:

– a three-hour time limit and two rotating teams of ‘makers’ and ‘composers’ (process),

– a gallery wall in MICA’s Lazarus Graduate Studio Center (format),

– a shared sensation of a poem (concept),

– the materials on the “buffet” (materials),

– and a collaborative sense of ‘rightness’ to the composition (visual form).

The students were deeply immersed in the process: collaborating, making, responding, and composing – as the process unfolded over several hours. When the day concluded there seemed to be an even stronger sense of community and a shared sense of investment, elation, and accomplishment.

Image 05
The resulting installation remained on display for the final weeks of the summer.
Image 06
More on putting play in the process to come, next week!