This morning, Leigh (the museum educator) showed the children a variety of paintings from artists who used art as a way to stand up for what’s right. There was a discussion of voting rights, which is extremely relevant given the times we’re living in.
Here’s a look at what Isabelle and Ari created during the class:
My kids watched me get involved — by making phone calls, text banking, and writing postcards — during the 2020 Election and our local election last fall. Using today’s art session as a springboard, we will begin to talk about ways they can get involved to ensure that everyone who wants to vote over the age of 18 has the opportunity to vote easily. After all, no one is too young to be an activist.
It started before dawn when Ari woke up every member of our household, systematically, since he couldn’t fall back to sleep.
It continued when Ari refused to tell me what he wanted to eat for breakfast. He insisted on prepping it himself… until Ari realized he couldn’t reach the items he wanted.
It kept going when Ari refused to don his socks and sneakers without help. (He can do this independently.)
And it kept on going when he wanted to weigh every item at the grocery store — even the items that needed to be weighed.
And going… when Ari told Isabelle and I to follow him around the store looking for something to buy trying to convince us he wanted a scone (He doesn’t eat scones.) or a bagel (We have bagels in the house.)!
The drama continued as I unpacked the groceries and Ari refused to wash his hands. By this point, Isabelle knew enough to escape to her art room. As the mom, I couldn’t escape. I had to be present for the battle of the wits. (I won. His hands got washed.)
One hour, I thought to myself. I have one hour until I take that phone call. Two hours until I meet with that teacher via Zoom. How the heck amI going to look and sound professional when I feel so frazzled?!!?
I looked at Ari. I called his name? “What?!” he replied unkindly.
“You are behaving worse than any other morning I can remember,” I said honestly. “What’s bothering you?”
“Nothing!” he said, not meeting my gaze.
“How can I help you?” I asked.
“Would you like to sit down and color together? I could teach you how to use watercolor pencils.”
I expected Ari to say no, but he said yes. I expected Ari to take out his own coloring book, but he said yes to coloring a page out of mine with me. I expected Ari to stop after ten minutes, but he kept coloring for an hour.
As we colored, the first snow began to fall, but Ari didn’t notice. Instead, he concentrated on staying in the lines as much as possible. He experimented with blending colors. He talked to me in a calm manner, rather than continuing to be a grouch.
“You know what?” I said to him once a half hour passed. “I think coloring together has helped you calm down. Do you feel calmer?”
“Maybe next time, instead of being so growly, you can remember that coloring helps you calm down. Do you think you can remember that?”
“I can,” he said.
Moments later, Ari began asking — rather than directing — me if he could color the entire left side if I colored the right. I agreed. Together, we finished a masterpiece that we signed, dated, and will hang up. It’ll serve as a reminder of this awful morning and how we found our way back to tranquility together – one watercolor pencil at a time.
Things like Flair pens, folders, glue sticks were purchased when we took a trip to Target for back-to-school supplies this morning. But the thing the kids were most excited about were their new coloring books. (Isabelle purchased hers with her own money so that felt like a win to me!) In fact, it got really quiet when we returned home from Target since the kids disappeared into the playroom. I went in search of them. Moments later, I discovered them sitting side by side at the craft table with coloring books and a new box of 64 crayons. (Speaking of crayons, Isabelle thinks the sharpener that comes on the back of Crayola’s 64-count box is awesome. I told her they even had the sharpener when I was a kid. Her mind was blown. Apparently, she didn’t think that kind of technology would’ve existed in the 1980s!)
“Whatcha doing?” I asked.
“Coloring,” Isabelle and Ari responded simultaneously.
“Do you need me?”
“Nope,” Ari replied.
“Okay, I’m going to go and eat some lunch since I have a medical appointment that I have to leave for in a half-hour.”
“Okay!” Ari replied.
As I prepared my lunch, I overheard the kids talking. But they weren’t having a conversation. I listened closely. Isabelle was reading the directions on the activity pages of Ari’s new coloring book aloud to him. He was counting (e.g., the spots on a dog, the bubbles in a bubble bath) and then asking Isabelle for confirmation. She’d tell him, “Right!” or “Try again!” Then, as soon as the answer was correct, she’d tell him to “write that down.”
I smiled, came up behind them, and shot a couple of videos. Then, grateful to have a “teaching assistant,” I returned to the kitchen where I ate my lunch in peace while they worked together.
Even when I lived in DC or Rhode Island, I always found myself in Manhattan at least every six months. (More like every three months, but let’s say six — just to be safe.) However, I haven’t been to Manhattan since December 2018!
The first part of 2019 was about building a house and moving. I was supposed to go to Manhattan twice in late 2019: once for our wedding anniversary and once for Isabelle’s birthday. Neither trip happened after I broke my ankle. Surely, a few months after foot surgery I’d be able to go to Manhattan. WRONG! Two weeks into my recovery the world shut down due to COVID-19. Therefore, here I am, almost 30 months removed from my beloved Manhattan. I’m not going to lie… it’s hard. There’s something about that loud, overcrowded, filthy place that I miss!
Recently, I learned some of the city’s art museums offer virtual art classes for kids so I’ve signed Isabelle up for some. This past weekend, I took one, “Open Studio From Home: Jay DeFeo” with Isabelle. I realize it was meant for kids, but since it was a webinar I didn’t think I’d embarrass Isabelle by sitting beside her.
I was unfamiliar with DeFeo’s “The Rose,” which the museum educator taught us about during the first part of the class. I found it fascinating that DeFeo spent eight years working on this painting, which is sculpture-like. After learning about “The Rose,” we had the chance to create our own works of art, inspired by “The Rose.” First, we brainstormed memories and an image to represent the memory. Then, we were given some time to sketch. Afterwards, we learned how to create secret doors atop our pictures that would contain the details of our memory/story.
I chose to capture a hot dog, which represented times I visited Nathan’s in Coney Island with my father as a kid. Isabelle decided to draw a butterfly to represent one of our visits to Hershey Gardens.
While neither of us did our best writing inside of our secret doors, I will say we learned about a new process, which connected to “The Rose,” an artwork that contains layers of secrets (including, but not limited to stubbed-out cigarettes inside the paint) to the artwork we created. Isabelle and I agreed we could try this technique of creating secret doors atop a piece of artwork about a memory in the future.
I long to get back to Manhattan. (I’ll go after the kids are fully vaccinated!) Once I do, I cannot wait to get to some museums! Until then, I might just tag along at a few more virtual programs.
Isabelle read aloud to me and then she read independently. We practiced multiplication flash cards together. We took a virtual field trip to the Cincinnati Zoo for their Home Safari. We participated in day one of Writing Camp with Ranger and Hoppy. However, the real highlights of her day came when she was engaged with not one, not two, but three different illustrators’ virtual art lessons.
Since I’m still on post-op bed rest, I had to conduct “Mommy Home School” from bed. And since my duvet cover and sheets are light blue and white, I insisted on Isabelle spreading a beach towel on our bed so she wouldn’t get charcoal and marker stains on my bedding.
At noon, Isabelle watched Peter H. Reynolds read The Dot aloud and then watched him create a watercolor dot. Afterwards, she went to her bedroom and created her own dots. Reynolds writes some of Isabelle’s favorite picture books so she was delighted to watch him in person! Plus, she’s excited to visit the Blue Bunny Bookstore once we are eventually allowed to travel again.
At 2:00 p.m., Isabelle and I watched Jarret J. Krosoczka’s “Draw Every Day” live. He led a session on drawing emotions. It went a little fast for Isabelle so we had to keep stopping, rewinding, and pausing so she could keep up with her sketches. Despite her initial frustration with the speed, she said that the Collaboration Chaos drawing we did together was her favorite part of the day. (It was the equivalent of improv, but for drawing.)
After some outdoor play this afternoon, Isabelle returned for one more art lesson. This one was with Mo Willems whose books Isabelle has long adored. (Isabelle and Ari dressed as Elephant and Piggie for Halloween when she was in second grade. About a year before that, she attended his exhibit at the NY Historical Society. In other words, she’s a big fan.) What a treasure his class was! He doodled, talked about his process, and taught the kids how to draw Gerald. Plus, his tone was soothing, which was the perfect reassurance at a time like this.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ENDING TO THIS SLICE:
OPTION 1: Isabelle seemed to enjoy her first day of home schooling. Upon reflection, I believe it’s because she had THREE art classes today. (That’s like her dream.) When she could’ve had free iPad time this afternoon, she decided to do a third art with Mo Willems. I think that’s pretty amazing.
OPTION 2: I’m not sure whose drawing class(es) we’ll do tomorrow. But one thing is for sure, the KidLit Community is generous! I am impressed by how many authors and illustrators are reading their books aloud, doing online tutorials, creating printable activity sheets, and more. This is why authors and illustrators are my rock stars!
Isabelle has enjoyed doing art for the past couple of years. She’s taken a couple of art classes. However, despite the instruction, most of her masterpieces look like this:
I appreciate these pieces since they feel like modern art. However, there aren’t any discernable objects most of the things she creates. Ever since the ocular motor dysfunction diagnosis, I understand why she struggles. Therefore, when I picked her up at art class this afternoon, I looked at her oil pastel creation and felt tears prick my eyes. But they weren’t tears of sadness; they were tears of happiness.
“Is this a self-portrait?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she responded.
“Is this a picture of yourself?” I asked.
“Yeah, how did you know?” she replied.
“Because it looks like you, honey!” I responded.
Sure, her eyes aren’t that big nor are her lips aren’t that red. But I could tell it was a self-portrait prior to reading note the teacher sends home with each child.
“You should be very proud of yourself,” I told my daughter. “This is a masterpiece! We should hang this in your garage gallery.”
“Okay,” she said as a small smile spread across her face. “When can we hang it up?”
“We have lots of other pieces to hang up along with this one. Would this weekend be okay?”
“Yes!” she replied with more enthusiasm.
Progress takes time. Today was a reminder that she may be taking small steps forward, but they are, indeed, forward.
I looked at my watch. We had plenty of time to explore the gallery before heading home.
Isabelle bounded up the museum stairs and pulled opened the glass door to the gallery. I encouraged her to stop since the Philip Pearlstein exhibit was a new installation. I read some key parts of the exhibition overview, which made mention of the “human body,” aloud to her before she bolted off into the gallery.
First, I noticed some of Pearlstein’s wartime watercolors. Instead of focusing on the battle scenes, I encouraged Isabelle to look at the way he used his watercolors. A moment later, Isabelle took off. I looked up and no longer saw paintings of war. Instead I saw paintings of nude men and women. (Well, I was warned of that overview, wasn’t I?!!?)
Before I could say something smart, Isabelle called out, “Look! They’re naked!”
“They sure are,” I replied.
I had a decision to make:
I could go with the flow and let Isabelle take the lead and ask questions.
I could deem the exhibit inappropriate and leave.
I picked option one. After all, there’s a lot of nudity in art.
Today’s gallery experience with Isabelle brought me back to the field trips I took my fifth graders on when I was a classroom teacher. I remember them pointing and giggling — early in every school year — when they’d pass a nude statue or painting. Seeing as I took my students to about four – six art museums each school year, I always noticed how they’d stop snickering at the nudity by each year’s end. While we never examined the nude paintings with our museum educators, we always managed to walk by them. The repeated exposure took the awkwardness out of these art museum trips.
I’m okay with my decision to stay. Once Isabelle saw three or four nude paintings, she no longer commented on the lack of clothes. Instead, she wanted to know what kind of paint Pearlstein used and focused on the background colors in some of the photos.
So, yeah, my kid landed up in a gallery of nude paintings today. Not exactly how I intended to spend the time with her after her art class finished, but perhaps this first exposure to nude art will make her next encounter with it less awkward.
My supplies are being depleted! Specifically, my scotch tape supply. Isabelle has taken a liking to making scotch tape art. I constantly hear the pull of scotch tape coming out of the dispenser! In fact, she’s used three rolls of it in the past two weeks. It’s out of control. Click here to see what I mean!