persistence of meaning

In an afterschool program I am involved in, we have been continuing to look at the major themes in art as a means of understanding “why bother?” The kids I have are bothered by a lot of things in their young lives. I showed them some work by the Abstract Expressionists; and tried to explain how these guys insisted that art was for art’s sake alone; that it had no inherent meaning. The artists of this period had to use words to explain this insistence, for people looking at the random markings and collages, kept searching for meaning. I told the kids, “This is freedom day, your piece need not mean a thing, just tear the paper and. . .”

And here, I had to give some kind of guidelines for what makes a finished composition good (meaning?).

They started in. it was so interesting to me how even with freedom from meaning they kept trying to make meaning on their two dimensional panels.

The next time I came in, the theme for historical art making was “saying something that is true.” We looked at some important examples using Homer, and Grant Wood. How quickly the kids could catch the artist’s intent. Then it was their turn, continuing with torn paper. Their grasp on what is true easily focused on their own personal worlds, self portraits mostly. We only have about 45 minutes for the craft part of this curriculum. But they dive in and these are kids who feel little confidence otherwise. As we talked and worked they taught me a new text code: tmi=too much information. I laughed out loud at that, as I watched them work with their materials. Without words, without tmi, they were showing me in their constructions what was on their minds.


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