Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Color Me Happy

Really enjoying work these days. I always enjoy teaching the color unit—it’s so cheerful and happy, it’s hard to be in a bad mood while doing it, regardless of the smears of paint all over the cabinets and the constant frenzy of “getready-getready-getready-paint-paint-paint-cleanup-cleanup-cleanup-collapse!!!!!” that my days fall to. We are currently working on color wheel mandalas in Art 1 and pantyhose sculptures in Art 2. Both involve the use of paints and color theory, and both are looking awesome right now. I walk around my classroom, awestruck at some of the things my kids—often kids with little or no previous art training—are doing.

I’ve got on display about 15 or 20 of the color wheel mandalas from last year, most hanging on the board like a color wheel quilt, but some resting on the chalk rail like little lean-to shelters, all awash in bright hues, tints and shades. It’s easy to get distracted looking at them, seeing how they seem to flow with their darks and lights, their brights and dulls.

We discussed at the beginning of the unit the use of the mandala—the prayer circle—the medicine wheel—the meditative labyrinth. How different cultures used them differently in practice, but for much the same purposes—to elevate your thinking to a different plane so that you could concentrate and focus your thoughts more precisely. We look at lots of different examples, from Tibet’s sand creations to early Christianity’s rose windows and labyrinths, through the Native American use of Medicine Wheels, to the fact that perfectly symmetrical, radially balanced objects exist throughout nature.

That being the case, I always find it interesting when the kids start painting the wheels to see how quiet the room becomes and how deeply the kids get engrossed in the project. They might talk quietly amongst themselves, but overall the room has a very quiet buzz that tends to rise above the petty gossip of most days’ workings. I hear the kids repeating to each other, “No, you start with the primary colors!” or “Wait, if you’re creating a tint, you’ve got to start with the lightest color—that’s white!” They get it. By the end, most kids can mix paints pretty successfully, and most have a working knowledge of what happens to colors when you mix them with black and white. It’s hands on, and it’s phenomenal.
It’s units like this that remind me why I teach. This makes up for the crappy texture unit I always put off teaching because I haven’t found a way to make it as magical for the kids—and for me—as color is.

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