Friday, February 18, 2011

"A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words"

This week's post is written by Marcia MacRae, our Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist.  Marcia shares the process of creating a new exhibition in our Good Show Gallery, Chagall Memories.

Young children have the ability to powerfully communicate complex thoughts and deep emotions when given the right vocabulary.  That does not always mean that their message is verbalized.  The incredible artwork in our current Good Show Gallery exhibit clearly demonstrates that, for children, a picture can be the right "vocabulary" - and worth a thousand words.

Work by kindergarten through fifth grade artists at Longwood School in Indian Prairie District 204 vividly demonstrates the importance of quality arts education and experiences for children.  Over 200 students rose to the occasion while exploring the art of famed artist Marc Chagall.  The thought processes they shared while working revealed the deep, personal meaning behind seemingly simple images.

The children understood that the figures symbolically floating through Chagall's paintings were his way of illustrating the characters and traditions that floated through his life.  They used the same visual language to talk about the people, events and ideas that define their lives.

Chagall frequently painted fish as symbols of his father, who worked in the herring business.  Intently referencing their parents' work and hobbies, children portrayed roses, ambulances, fish and books.  A third grade girl drew "Golden light coming out of a church" to represent her mother.  A fourth grader showed herself looking into a mirror, but the mirror showed her mother's reflection, indicating how much of her mother she carried inside of herself.

Children, like adults, have their share of love and joy, fear, anger and sadness. Many choose not to talk about the difficulties in their lives, even if they have the vocabulary to do so.  Utilizing Chagall's joyful, symbol-filled work provided a new vocabulary to express themselves.  Quietly, one girl asked, "Can I do a sad memory?"  The second grader proceeded to draw a rather unhappy scene, but that is not what she turned in at the end of class.  She turned her picture over and completed a happy picture to hang in the gallery.  The fact is, she did not need to complete the sad picture, but she did need to start it.  The process of working out her feeling on paper was more important than the finished product.  Art can give children a powerful vocabulary to stat the thoughts they may not want to speak.  Over the course of nine art periods children drew anger, sorrow, memories of lost relatives and pets and a great deal of happiness.

The rich, thoughtful work in the exhibit did not come out of the blue.  Longwood Elementary is fortunate to have a high-quality art education program.  The children were already accustomed to using a variety of materials to express thoughts and ideas.  All children deserve and need the opportunity to express their thoughts in a wide variety of voices.  Art is language.  Visit Chagall Memories and see what these young artists had to say.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Is Mars/Venus Philosophy True for Children Too?

Yes, men and women are different but when do these differences begin?  Which has a greater influence - genes or environment?  Until recently, most gender studies were conducted on older children and adults.  With today's scientific advances, we are beginning to identify sameness and difference right from the moment of conception.  You would be surprised what is being discovered!

Having grown up with only sisters, and having raised two daughters, I thought I was an expert on female gender strengths and weaknesses.  That is, until I read neuroscientist Lise Eliot's book Pink Brain, Blue Brain:  How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps - and What We Can Do About It.  Eliot argues that "infant brains are so malleable that small differences at birth become amplified over time, as parents, teachers, peers - and the culture at large - unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes."  For instance, it has been said that boys are smarter in math than girls. In fact, boys' brains are better wired for certain kinds of spatial reasoning, an attribute needed to be proficient in geometry.  However, if girls are given the opportunity to play with toys that encourage spatial reasoning, such as puzzles, then the slight difference is null.  Some of us may believe, on the other hand, that a girl's brain is wired better than a boy's brain for communication. Interestingly, it is the combination of infant fussiness and caregivers' communication skills during infancy that most influences how good of a communicator each of us becomes. 

The Museum, in partnership with Hobson Cooperative Nursery School, will be hosting a Just for Grown-ups presentation with Dr. Eliot on Monday, February 28.  She will share the latest research and give practical advice for what parents and caregivers can do to help children reach their fullest potential.  Click here for more information or to register for this event.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Encouraging Creativity like Marc Chagall's

Do you have a budding artist in your house?  Perhaps our new exhibit, Chagall for Children, has inspired someone in your family to express themselves artistically.  When children are given art materials to explore their own creativity, they have the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings through a variety of mediums.  Using art materials also helps very young children develop their fine motor control.

Homage to the Past 1944, Chagall
The Explorer Store, DCM's unique toy store, supports the Museum's mission to stimulate curiosity, creativity and problem-solving by making materials related to exhibits available to take home. For example, in conjunction with our new exhibit, Chagall for Children, The Explorer Store is selling art materials to support your child's creative explorations.  Like Chagall, your child can choose a variety of art materials to work with.  Chagall's 1944 painting Homage to the Past depicts him painting at an easel.  Easels are a great way to inspire the young artist in your life.

America Windows 1976, Chagall Art Institute in Chicago
The Explorer Store also offers easel paper, paint and an assortment of coloring mediums.   In addition, there are creativity kits, such as this Stained Glass Paper Frame Kit. Chagall used stained glass in his America Windows, made in honor of USA's 200th birthday in 1976.  The original hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Challenge the creativity in your child through our varied selection of art supplies.  Sales from the Explorer Store support the Museum's operating budget.  For more information about the store click here.