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Art Making:

beyond the fine art perspective of art into the ancient world of clay and the wonderful life of child art.

The concert of ideas that play through this study are a mix of ideas taken from my reading this semester on art as a biological entity, art as behavior, extensive research studies on child art, clay in public school curriculum and a views on the nature of pottery. As they weave in and out of each other a web of ideas form together to create a unique perspective. An academic review of such varied ideas took place over a three month period. Through journaling and reflection I found these new ideas functioned as a mirror in which to adjust my understanding about why and how we create art.

The concept that there is a universal mantra familiar to our collective creative soul became part of this web of ideas as well. In order to see a unified purpose for art in every culture, I began to question the philosophy of my fine art training. The fine art world is established within it's own strict criteria of art. Proponents suggest that it is the only art world within which to discuss art ideas.
I would like to take a look at art from a different perspective than exists in the modern idea of fine art. The theories being considered here propose a universal reason why humans create, how children create in unique ways compared to adults and how clay is a powerful medium that connects all cultures. The fine arts have a place within those broader perspectives. To consider art only within the fine art perspective is a dangerous philosophy for an art educator.
Ellen Dissanayake (1992) takes a very close look at humans' an innate sense of creativity as a behavior. She calls humans' propensity for creativity "making special". It is defined as marking any expression or artifact as 'special' setting it apart from the ordianry.
She makes a contrast between how humans made "special" expressions throughout evolutionary history and the modern concept of "art". Art as an idea was born of and sustained by a commercial society that is only two centuries old. It is relative to the modern period in western culture. When compared to the idea that art is a human behavioral trait the modearn definition of art seems small at best.

The ideas of beauty and love death memory, suffering, power, fear, loss, desire, hope have been the subject matter of and occasion for the arts throughout human history. Contemporary theory looks at art as dependent on our current social context: art is trivialized, disguised, denied, ignored or banished. It would be a mistake to assume that the arts have always been dependent on those same human concerns." (p79)

The human desire to make special derived its power because we tend to choose what makes us feel positive. Arts "activities unite participants with one another, performers with their audience, the community as a whole. They facilitate a mood in which attention is focused, aroused, moved, manipulated, satisfied. Whether as ritual or entertainment, the arts enjoin people to participate, join the flow, get in the groove, feel good. In modern society where working to earn money in order to consume perpetually novel goods and experiences has become for many the purpose of life, these more ancient satisfactions are perhaps less evident than in premodern or traditional societies."

Those dynamics of creative expression touch everyone. Child art is the beginning of those experiences. It is very satisfying to experience focus and a consuming flow of energy during art making. It is also experienced by a child during art making. They have their own visual language that because they developed it, they understand it.

Rhonda Kellogg is an expert on child art. After observing more that 99,000 works of children's art she determined that children create innately corroborating with Dissanayakes' theories on human creativity. Her research cronicles the progression of child art from scribbles to shapes and diagrams. Child art work is a record of the seeing and acting of young humans, offering a way to discern more clearly their creative vision and mental processes. Aesthic sensibilities are developed as a child makes their art. She suggests it exists in a world that is understood by the child and sometimes seperate from the adult world. Teaching art to children takes on the role of facilitator rather than the traditional view that they are empty vessles to be filled.

"A child perceives and remembers the scribbles that suggest shapes; scribbles that do not suggest shapes are not so easily recalled. The shapes to be found in children's art evolve from the children's perceptions of their own scribbling."

Children progress through stages of scribbling from pattern stage to shape stage onto diagram stage, combines, aggregates mandalas suns and radials before attempting representational images. Memory plays an important role in the child's early scribbling. Evidence shows that two year olds are able to "make duplicate drawings in one sitting without coping and the duplicates show(ing) foresight and memory at work. By the time he can make Diagrams, the role of memory and the forethought based on memory is clear."

The correct response to child art recognizes it as a legitimate self-taught art form. It allows the child the space to develop their natural aesthetic sensibilities. To facilitate the process be aware that age five is often a time of crisis in child art. Their spontaneous art is seldom appreciated by adults unfamiliar with preschool work. The child's self-taught system differs from that of adults and many children abandoned art because of lack of approval for their natural child art.

The art class is the place children can learn to enjoy the inherent reward of creativity and satisfaction as creative individuals. A balance between creating their natural art forms and understanding why we communicate as artists in our culture is key in art education ideas. Modern art sophisticates expect to see something unexpected and understand it. Child art is unique and different. There is a universal expectation to see truth from child art. It is powerful because we all know and understand the energy and motivation of making child art.

Kellogg suggests the scribbles and the prepictorials of child art are the prima material of all art. The use to which they are put is determined by the emotional and artistic maturity of the user. Every individual possesses the images of child art, but only the artist uses them consciously and with discipline, bringing them to life as the formal aspects of his work with paint, pen or other materials.

In Victor Lowenfeld's text books for art educators.he organizes creative growth into stages and offeres up ideas about creative thinking in our culture. Creative and Mental Growth is written with an authoritarian aire leading the reader to believe that the creativity in people in our modern society is misdirected toward distractions in the form of entertainment. He contradicts his ideas that we are innately creative individuals.

In an opposing view I believe that individual reativity is like a mass of energy that doesn't wane, it just finds alternative outlets depending on the cultural norm and opportunities offered in our society, like going to the movies or buying decorative items for the home or visiting NYC museums.

Lowenfeld views aesthetic growth in children as a natural development that is shown by a sensitive ability to integrate experiences into a cohesive whole. He agrees with Kellogg on this point. He goes on to discuss the importance of creative thinking on society. "The development of creative thinking has tremendous importance for us both as individuals and as a society. It offers a change from what is and has been to what might be or what is yet to be discovered. " Creativity is constructive, productive behavior that can be seen in action or accomplishment and contrasts it with teaching methods that demand conformity to a single right answer. The value of the divergent question is that it requires the student to look in a content area from a variety of viewpoints and to participate in an imaginative way in answering the question.

He makes a division of the major teaching methods of art into depth vs. breadth with the depth of understanding creativity favored for developing aesthetic sensitivity and spontenaity. They should develop aesthetic awareness which means we educate a deep sensitivity toward perceptual, intellectual, emotional experiences as an integrated whole.

Some goals for good art programs in elementary schools make materials and technical skills follow expression not precede it. In middleschools the focus is on expressive need of adolescents as having something to say in art. Provide the opportunity for expressing feelings, emotions and sensitivities for the onset of adolescence.Rather than worrying about the development of skills in which nothing is expressed but it is well executed. Personal involvement of the individual and the opportunity for developing a depth of meaningful self expression. is important. High school is the right time to create opportunities to express feelings and emotions and feel their art is important to themselves and to others.

Creativity that is driven by love and passion for expression and the full experience of making art is a better goal than a duty to an academic requirement of a class. I believe that art as well as personal relationships should be driven by love more than duty. I mention this here because relationships are such a huge part of adolescents lives in school. This concept of as a teaching method mirrors the new focus on interpersonal relationships in students lives which are driven by choice.

One of the goals of my research this semester is to review the importance of using clay in creative development and proper teaching methods specifically for pottery. Bernard Leach and Edumnd Burke Feldman have shared their invaluable experiences on the subject. Both declare clay to be an "anarchetypical material connecting human time and experience on earth back to its origins and forward to the launching pad of mans future.

Bernard Leach was British, born in China and studied in England and Japan. He and his friend the Japanese potter Shoji Hamada were two of the most influential men on contemporary American ceramics. Their visits to the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana are mentioned in every account of the development of contemporary ceramic history in the US. He begins his 1930'S book for potters with a chapter on standards. and continues from there with his philosophy on art, education and art in the community. Reviews of his work find him dogmatic and inflexible and a little idealistic.

He tried to find a lasting spirit and standard of beauty which applied to both east and west. "...there are hardly any schools or teachers in this country who are introducing boys and girls to the kind of making which involves real beauty. The sort of thing that goes by the name of art and craft in most schools, including many art schools, the next generation could very well do without."

Leach's suggestions for teaching children pottery is by experiencing it from its origins. His views on methods for teaching children parallel Dewey's theories on process as the key to learning. "They enjoy finding and digging their own clay, building their own kilns and making their own colours and glazes as potters used to do before the machine age. Shoji Hamada recounted to me once how when he was a boy in a Japanese village he took part as a matter of course in making half the things used by the villagers with the consequence that he grew up knowing out of his body the nature of wood, of cotton and silk, of metal and clay and foodstuffs. Local tradition was still pure enough to provide a standard of form, pattern and colour which embodied that deeper wisdom of beauty in articles of daily use which we have almost lost."

Leach gives us an historical perspective that reflects the previous ideas of Dissanayake especially regarding the loss of purpose for art in the modern era. "Ideas we have adopted and used have been molded into conformity with a conception of life in which imagination has been subordinated to invention and beauty to the requirements of trade." His direction and guidance is received as gospel from a sage, an historic figure. On a closer look, if we hold to the ideas that art exists within each individual we find that the human spirit continuously strives to find beauty. In our culture it is a difficult commodity to find.

The philosophy of beauty and function found in ceramics is supported by the art educator, Edmund Burke Feldman. He strongly suggests that the separation of function, and form debases art reducing it to mere style. To Feldman the function of the form is so crucial to the work that any separation of the two does not allow the work to be called art. The ideal model of industry always includes the artisan's aesthetics which is called the "clay model". It is a cycle of human need, the design of useful objects, organization of work, rational distribution of what we make, and the satisfaction of consuming beautiful products. A standard for art can come from the clay model. If it is true to itself. Is it created from a deep understanding of the culture in which it exists? Is it produced with function and design integrated together? Is there a desire for beauty within it?

An anthropomorphic metaphor for glaze made by Leach enhances this web of ideas about human creativity and the role of clay in art.."The essential element in a glaze is the fluxing agent: the substance, be it lead, borax, soda, salt limestone, magnesia or wood ash, which causes the other ingredients to melt or flow. It might be considered by way of analogy as the life blood of the glaze. In contrast to it is the hard, heat presisting silica, generally in the form of flint or quartz, which also plays an essential role on all glazes. This may be called the bone of the glaze. To these two a third element, analogous to the flesh of a glaze, may be added, but as it is not always present and is obtained from more varied and complex substances, such as frits, feldspar, tin oxide and clay, it cannot be adequately described in a brief statement. To it is due the fatness, depth and subdued brilliance of glazes which one feels instinctively have most quality. Art materials which mirror our biological makeup.This perspective brings our look at human creativity to a microscopic view.

In our individual school communities we have a duty to teach a standard for success which relies heavily on the students abilities to be an expert of their own experiences. We have an mandate from Leach, Dissanayake and Feldman to reveal the resources that exist in students who reside in rich cultural traditions of modern cities or small rural communities and elevate them as the stuff that art is made of.

Students' success is their creative endeavors. When they design, execute, distribute and commune with the people in their communities they accomplish the purpose of art. A philosophy of art that encourages growth of local artistic communities in every area of our country is a worthy endeavor I will continue to persue.


Dissanayake, Ellen 1(992) Homoaestheticus, where art comes from and why, Maxwell Macmillan Canada, Inc. pg 41-42, 24, 31-32

Abbott, John, Terrance, Ryan, 21 Century Learning Initiative, Learning to Go With the Grain of the Brain (1999)

Higby, Wayne, A Case For Clay in Secondary Schools, The Studio Potter, 16.2, June 1988 pg66

Kellogg, Rhonda, (1970). Analyzing children's art, National Press Books, Palo Alto, CA

Lowenfeld, Victor, (1987) Brittain, W. Lambert, Creative and mental growth, Macmillan Publishing, New York

Leach, Bernard (1973) The potter's handbook, 17th edition Transatlantic Arts Inc. Great Britian

Feldman, Edmund Burke Clay: Arguments For and With, A Case For Clay in Secondary Schools, The Studio Potter, 16.2, June 1988 pg 18

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