Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Artists of the Future

Artist of the future--Kandinsky would approve.
From the time I was an adolescent, I've always been a great fan of the future. I mean, where would we be without it? In writing in this space before, I've dealt with all manner of topics having to do with the future: Future Housing, Electronic Art, Futurism, Digital Art, and Science Fiction art, to name just a few. Having dealt with the art of the future, I think it only appropriate to deal with artists of the future. If you want to see the work of great artists of the future, look no further than your refrigerator door. That assumes you have school age children or grandchildren, of course. I don't often present myself as an "expert" on any subject having to do with art other than those in my book, Art Think, (available at right). However, having taught art in public schools and privately for more than twenty-six years, I claim, in all modesty, to know a thing or two about artists of the future. True to form, I do spend some paper and ink in my book discussing art education, so this will barely touch on the topic.
Kindergarten Canadian style, circa 1898.
Today, artists of the future begin their formal academic art training in Kindergarten. They've been doing so for almost two-hundred years now. Kindergarten began in Germany around 1837, though there were experiments with early childhood education dating as far back as 1779 in France, Germany, and England. Though the German term, kindergarten, meaning "children's garden," didn't arrive until the 1830s, such efforts to provide formal instruction to children from the age to two through seven were a logical outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution. When parents, especially young mothers, were working in factories, they needed childcare. Private nannies were expensive, and in any case, not the province of the new middle-classes starting to benefit from industrialization. Thus, what began first in Bad Blankenburg, Germany, within a century, had spread to virtually every industrialized country on earth.
Kindergarten, Germany, mid-1950s,
at a time when Kindergarten was not common in the U.S.
(Notice the war-torn school in the background.)
The next ??
Half work, half play.
Strangely enough, the United States did not embrace kindergarten as rapidly as did Europe. I didn't attend kindergarten during the 1950s when I was of the age to do so. In fact, I think it was not until the late 1960s before the movement spread to the "backwoods" of Ohio where I grew up. My son attended kindergarten in the 1980s. As a parent, I was startled to learn that, by then, kindergarten had changed. It was no longer the daycare year of learning and socializing through play. Kindergarten had usurped the entire curriculum of what had been the first grade when I was a kid. There was still the element of fun and games, even the proverbial "nap" in the afternoon (more a boon for teachers than the kids), but children were being carefully screened as to whether they were "ready" for Kindergarten. As a substitute Kindergarten teacher for a few days during the last months I taught, I quickly came to realize that Kindergarten teachers work their "butts" off and (to a somewhat lesser extent), so do the kids.
Kindergarten art history--Hans Hoffman.
(The Hoffman source of inspiration is in the center.)
Teaching placement of warm and cool colors
(detail from above mural).
Though it may not be too obvious in seeing their art, the work of these artists of the future is highly structured. A kindergarten teacher does not just plop down a wad of clay before a child with the instructions "do your own thing, kid." Though a very brave kindergarten teacher may still provide instruction in the fine (but quite messy) art of finger painting, most painting at this level is done with a brush, most drawing with a pencil, and most color instruction with good old Crayolas. Likewise, the kindergarten teacher is also responsible for providing inspiration and suggestions as to content for his or her art protégés. It might be as simple as a few stuffed toys arranged into a still-life or as complex and conceptual as an age-appropriate five-minute video or world hunger. Instruction as to drawing and painting techniques is usually minimal--"don't eat the crayons" or "don't drink the rinse water." I was heard to tell a student once, "Let's just paint on one side of the paper, okay?" The resulting art is always abstract--that is, reality, filtered through the child's hyperactive mind.
After Kindergarten, the art "guide."
Of course, artists of the future don't stay in Kindergarten but for a few months. For the next several years they find themselves participants in a race between their growing conceptual cognizance and their rapidly developing motor skills and eye-hand coordination. From kindergarten through the sixth or seventh grades, this is the time when public school art instructors tend to guide as much as they instruct. Creativity rules! However, once puberty sets in, art teachers rule! (sometimes with an iron fist). If the teaching of art in public schools is to be criticized, it comes down to too much instruction before puberty and too little after this life-changing period sets in. Before puberty, young artists thrive on freedom of expression. After puberty, they can often drown in it.
The highlight of every academic art year, the May "salon", often in the school library.
Freedom without drowning in it.
As anyone who has ever gone through it will tell you, adolescence is a difficult period in life. That's no less the case in terms of academic art instruction. There is a craving for the "how to" combating a rebellion in the area of "what to." Art teachers find themselves cast into the position as referees in this battle, introducing new skills daily while trying not to squelch six or seven years of hard-won creative expression. Then, by college time, the artist of the future is once more slipped back to an emphasis on creativity this time coupled with the added complexities of aesthetics. In choosing to pursue a "higher" education in art, these artists of the future are often startled to realize they are no longer going to be taught the "how to" of painting or drawing, but very often the "how not to" as their professors strive to break them free from the inevitable bad habits acquired since Kindergarten. All I can say is, good luck, artists of the future, it won't be easy.

All too often, at all instructional levels, the emphasis is on the product,
not the process. Then, after college, that emphasis is necessarily reversed.



No comments:

Post a Comment