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.

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