Tag Archives: art

A Bittersweet Day in May

simon talking to groupArt is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Edgar Degas

Today is quite a bittersweet and emotional day in the Dinnerstein household. An exhibition of Simon’s monumental 14 foot wide painting, The Fulbright Triptych, opened at the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York on April 29, 2011.


more moving crate

a. The Fullbright Triptych

It stayed there until June 10th and then moved to the German Consulate at UN Plaza where it remained until it was packed up today. It’s going to travel to the Law School at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville where it will be on exhibit for one, possibly two, years. Saying goodbye to it was difficult. Simon began the painting in 1971 when he had a Fulbright Fellowship and we spent the year in the little town of Hesse Lichtenau about a half hour away from the city of Kassel. Our daughter, Simone, wasn’t even a thought in our minds at that time. However it took him three years to complete the work back in Brooklyn and along came Simone, so into the painting she went.

8.Simone I’ve watched people looking at this work for more than an hour. It’s like reading a novel. Actually, it’s like a memoir, recording some significant moments in our marriage and even before we wed. Starting at the top of my panel are some photo machine pictures taken in the Staten Island Ferry terminal on our second date!13 There’s been an amazing amount of articles written about the painting since the Tenri exhibit opened in addition to a book totally devoted to this one work. It’s all been quite exciting. A real standout of this time, however, has been Simon’s experience of sharing the work and some of his other work with a variety of school children. At the Tenri Gallery Simon invited a different class of children to visit the gallery each Tuesday. The youngest class was a second grade class from P.S. 142 on the lower east side. The teachers had wisely introduced the children to some of the work back in class by projecting images on the SmartBoard so the children were, in a way, continuing a conversation in the gallery. The concentration of these seven-year-olds, most of who had never been in an art gallery, was admirable. After the children had time to wander the gallery on their own, Simon gathered the group around one of his Palette Paintings and explained to the children how he began this work with an older palette and painted his image into it, incorporating the palette into the composition. Angel, a precocious, animated little boy looked at the picture intently and then confidently remarked “So, Simon, you started with a palette, painted a picture onto it, and now you have this picture. Is that right?” Simon said, “yes, that’s it” and Angel replied, “Wow, that is SO creative!”explaining palette painting

InDreamsBeginResponsibilities copy

Fifth graders from East Flatbush, high school students from Red Hook, fifth graders from Park Slope, classes from the Bronx, and second-language learners from East New York all spent time visiting the gallery. Simon brought in his engraving tools to show the children how he worked on the engraving plate that is at the center of the painting, giving the children opportunities to hold the tools and ask questions.simon explaining plate

15-The Fulbright Triptych - detail #4

At all of the visits the children had time to sit before the painting and to draw…to copy parts of the work that interested them or to draw their own compositions and to share these with Simon.

carefully drawing drawing

girl standing

looking up closePerhaps the most moving experience occurred shortly before the end of the exhibit at the German Consulate. A friend visited the gallery with his very talented, bright, thirteen year old son who has some learning disabilities. Rafaell was so taken with the painting that he asked to be brought back to see it again. At the second visit he spent one hour almost emotionally communicating with the painting. We were quite impressed with his concentration. But that was not the end. Back home, his father heard him talking with his younger brother, explaining that this amazing painting was going to be leaving New York and urging his brother to go and visit it. His father was so impressed that he, in fact, did return to the consulate with both sons to pay homage to a remarkable work of art. Fulbright Triptych- rightRaphael's drawing-4Simon Dinnerstein  by Rafael, 13 years old

It was so exciting to see how this work of art spoke to the young children and the older teenagers. Each brought their own life experiences along with them as they interacted with the work and each, I’m sure, brought away something personal that hopefully will stay with them forever.


Awakening Joy in Creative Expression

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college- that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, “you mean they forget?”
Howard Ikemoto

Returning home from a school after discussing what is and is not ‘art’ with a group of teachers, I asked my husband, an artist, how he would define art. After a bit of thinking, he said “an intensely personal, charged, poetic and transcendent response to life”. In my discussion with the teachers, I said that to me, art represents an outlet for a unique and personal form of expression.

When my daughter was four years old, my family moved to Rome, Italy. The wife of the director of the American Academy very highly recommended a local nursery school, so my husband and I eagerly went to check it out. Everything was spotless and cheerful-looking. The walls were covered with children’s art – but all looking the same! Something was very wrong with that picture! We quickly said “thank-you” to the teacher and rushed outside, not knowing if we should laugh or cry. Luckily, we soon discovered a lovely school right near our home, where my daughter happily painted, drew, sculpted with clay, and returned home beautifully messy and full of stories about her day.

Now, more than thirty years later, it disturbs me when I go into classrooms and see walls filled with identical images of flowers, with pieces of colored paper pasted onto a teacher-made flower template, decorated ‘bubble letters’ representing a so-called artistic approach to learning the letter of the day, or row after row of colored-in worksheet pictures of farm animals. What do children take with them from this type of experience? Why is it that teachers still feel the need to control the outcome of what children produce when using paper, paste, glue, scissors and crayons? I’ve been told, on some occasions, that this type of activity is planned because it teaches children how to use scissors and to color inside the lines.

In discussing my thoughts about this type of proscribed activity with a wonderfully eager, yet anxious, teacher, I presented an alternate lesson for supporting young children as they learned to master the use of new art materials and tools. I suggested that children might each pick a square of colored paper and also be given a scissor. Before giving out the materials, the teacher would model how she cut squiggles and shapes from her own paper and also how she could tear shapes using the tips of her fingers. Then children could be invited to try it out on their own papers. While they are cutting and tearing, the teacher could gently show individual children how to turn their scissor to make the cutting easier while she marvels at the multitude of shapes that are being created.

Scissors could be collected and each child could be given a zip-loc bag labeled with his/her name and told that they were going to get their bags back tomorrow for something very exciting. Children could then return to the meeting area to share their responses to the activity and their ideas about what might be happening tomorrow.

The next day the teacher could return to her own zip loc bag and another colored paper (different color) and demonstrate how she arranges and rearranges her cutouts to make different kinds of designs, reacting out loud to her various designs so as to publicly share her thoughts with the group. Children could then each pick their own second sheet of colored paper, be given their baggies filled with cutout shapes from yesterday’s activity and go off to make their own arrangements. Talking, sharing and laughing at work tables is encouraged!

Once again, the shapes are returned to baggies, paper collected and children reconvene at meeting to discuss their experiences. Tomorrow they would get their baggies back for something very exciting!

The third day, the teacher could once again model arranging and rearranging her shapes but this time she would decide on one that she was particularly pleased with. Now she could demonstrate how she takes each shape, one at a time, and glues it to the paper so that she has a completed work of art. Children are now challenged to find their most pleasing design and to glue it to their papers.

If this work were displayed for the group to see, the discussion would probably be so much richer than any discussion about a series of identical flowers. The children have had experience cutting and pasting without the anxiety of keeping within the lines or making something look ‘just right’. They also would have had the pleasure of creating and sharing art that is uniquely their own.

Classrooms should have a neat and well-stocked art center that children can use independent of the teacher. All that is needed is a bookcase (I’ve sometimes used four milk crates tied together when I didn’t have a bookcase available) containing selections of paper, scissors, glue, crayons, perhaps some colored yarn, small mirrors, interesting found and recycled materials, chalk or pastels, watercolors, a basket of books with art reproductions, a small container of attractive art reproductions and museum postcards. New materials could be added throughout the year. If the teacher takes time, when needed, to introduce new materials or some strategies for using materials (i.e. paper-folding, clay creations, wood sculptures, collages, crayon etchings…) children can visit the art center at Choice Time and have the opportunity to go on their own artistic journeys. In this exciting classroom, the teacher takes on the role of a travel guide, encouraging children to make discoveries in an environment that invites experimentation and creativity.

Investigative learning can be messy, filled with trial and error experiences. It can be frightening for a teacher to give up the control that comes with whole-class, directed lessons that have clear, expected outcomes. Teachers who encourage inquiry and investigative play are always actively observing and assessing the progress of children. They take time to plan carefully for centers that both welcome and challenge children’s intellectual, social and academic growth. Bumps or turns in the road are welcomed as indicators of curiosity and are seen as wonderful possibilities for enriching and extending the curriculum.

If teaching is indeed an artful profession, then as Albert Einstein so wisely said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”

In my next entry, I’d like to discuss some ideas for employing Choice Time centers for exploring one inquiry topic. I welcome ideas and stories from your classrooms!

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