I love to surprise people with my art. Sometimes by making surprising art, sometimes by putting art in surprising places. The other night I left this little guy for my dad to discover on his computer monitor.
I like being sneaky. There’s a tension and a buzz in the air when you are trying to keep a secret or plan a surprise. Kids get to have fun at being sneaky all the time. Adults should seek out opportunities for good-natured sneakiness more often.
I love to surprise people, but I also love being surprised. Tonight on my drive home, my owl prank came full circle as one of these gorgeous birds of prey swooped in front of my car and took my breath away. Well played, you wise, sneaky old bird.
A first year graduate student in my arts management class presented a paper this week on arts labor economics. Her undergrad degree was in acting so she had never delved into the topic formally. She certainly understood through anecdotal observation that there is an imbalance between artist labor supply and artist opportunity and that artists are often paid less than their peers in other fields (to put it mildly). Among the factors she considered was that artists are often willing to work for low or even no pay because the joy of doing the work is payment enough. In concluding her presentation, she posed a rhetorical question that I paraphrase here:
How can we make this vicious cycle of artist oversupply and underpayment stop?
Following this presentation, I returned to my office and this email:
I want to reach out and see if you have any film students that…
We all do lots of things. One of my roles among my “lots of things” is as director of student ministry in a small-town Methodist church. Yesterday and today I attended the Real Ideas conference, a gathering of pastors, church staff, and volunteers who are looking for a little inspiration in their ministry. I took in many presentations and looked at the backs of many of heads. (Which, oh joy of joys, I will share with you!)
When I am a part time church staff member I do not cease to be an artist. Throughout the conference I collected people mostly via blind contour drawings (drawings where you DO NOT look at your paper). Here are some of my fellow conference attendees:
Why do we remember tiny details about the games we play, but can rarely recall details about worksheets we’ve completed?
Is it just a matter of how invested we are in the present activity?
Is it because our bodies are more engaged when we play?
Is it because no one wants to hear stories about the worksheets we’ve filled out, but will gladly swap stories about games? Is that why we remember them…so that we can retell them?
Play has a kind of order and structure to it, one that lends itself to good stories. There is sequence. There is cause and effect. But there is also chaos, which make things very interesting.
Do we remember the things we learn when we play because there is an element of surprise, there is excitement in not knowing what comes next?
How can we create an environment in our schools that feels more like real life?
Completing a series of worksheets, readings, and tests feels so contrived. Like a sad little shadow of life. But how can play and surprise take on a role in our learning process without introducing complete chaos?
How do we as educators create the balance between spontaneity and structure?
This St. Paddy’s Day I’m still on a quest for my pot of gold. I need a solid research question upon which to base the rest of my studies in the UFARTED program. Help from an alchemist, leprechaun, or scholar would be most appreciated.
Hopefully some of these questions are more answerable. The tricky part will be inserting research methods into my madness.
1. What makes an art activity “play”, “work”, or both?
I want to research the difference that fun makes in learning, but perhaps I could narrow it down by trying to pinpoint what makes an art activity “play”, “work” or both.
I imagine doing this by creating several art assignments, implementing them, and asking students whether what they just did was play, work, or both. I would also ask what parts of the assignment were “play” and what parts were “work”. I would also ask the students for their definitions of “play” and “work” and collect a list of adjectives and connotations for each.
2. How can an art educator build curriculum around the human drive to play?
The product/answer to this research would be a curriculum created in response to research in the literature about play, learning, and art making. It might also involve observation of free play and lesson plans structured around the tendencies of students engaged in free play. Lessons would be executed and qualitative data about the students’ experience would be gathered.
3. Does playful art making engage a student’s emotions, and if so, how?
First I would need to develop lesson plans that encourage playful art making. Through observation, I would gather qualitative data to determine whether or not a student has engaged in play during the art lesson, then interview them about the things they felt as they completed the lesson. This is something that I could alternatively test out on myself by engaging in playful art making and assessing my emotional responses throughout.
Humans are driven to play.
Play and work can happen at the same time.
Playful art making probably engages one’s emotions.
Play should be embedded in the art classroom.
Play and learning are connected.
1. How does “having fun” influence art making, play, and learning?
2. How might understanding the relationship between play and learning influence art education curriculum?
3. How can art educators use playful art making to help their students live joyfully?
To begin research for my literature review, I kept an absurdly detailed little journal filled with personal working definitions. I had pages defining play, art, learn, work, create, destroy, fun, happy, develop, etc… Once I began looking for articles that addressed these issues, my definitions helped me engage with the material. The philosophies and theories about the relationship between learning and play were interesting to me, especially when I began to see historical cycles of their popularity. This also helped me narrow my focus because I realized that I didn’t want to just be another educator on another historical “play” bandwagon, so I began searching for literature that I felt could help me form enduring ideas about using play as a fundamental part of learning in the art classroom.
After researching, I understand much more about the biological and developmental functions of play. I have been made aware of many different schools of thought about the relationship between art and play and discovered some contentious grounds! Some scholars suggest that art is a form of play, and other scholars wholly refute this claim. I have enjoyed discovering the source of these philosophies in Schiller’s writings, but I’ve been even more excited by all of the hubbub responding to his philosophies. I have gotten the sense that while playful art making is widely acknowledged as beneficial for the field of art education, it has not yet become a fundamental part of curriculum of teaching techniques. Individual art educators (like George Szekely) and philosophical pockets (like Reggio Emilia) have embraced these ideas, but these philosophies seem contained…they do not influence mainstream thought.
AND THEN IT HIT ME. I was reading over Arthur Efland’s article on the School Art Style when I realized an unintuitive bias that I’m going to have to fight against throughout my research. Many people have an favorable definition of play. They believe that art making is merely recreational, therefore, playful. I’ve been getting confused looks from my friends and family when I explain that I would like to infuse my art curriculum with playful activities because they assume that we are already playing. Because it’s art class. And that’s what we’re supposed to do. What I will have to prove in my research is not “play=good”. The hardest thing to prove is that play=learning. Play=valuable.