The Daughter Chronicles

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Art for the masses!

I decided to volunteer at Norah's school in the "Art Masterpiece" tutorials that they do. Across Phoenix, school districts have for years participated in "Music Masterpiece" and "Art Masterpiece" classes that the parents teach. The parents are trained and then they go into classes every other week for 20 minutes and discuss a piece of music or a work of art. They can talk about whatever they want about the art - they can focus on the artist and his/her world, they can talk about color, they can talk about the school of art in which the painting fits, or they can talk about the techniques the artist used. We leave the print we have in the classroom until the next session so that the kids can check it out on their own time. I don't know what they do with the music stuff, because it's hard to leave that lying around.

Norah has been checking out music and art since kindergarten, of course, but I was never involved. Earlier this school year, however, the principal mentioned that they were having trouble rounding up volunteers for the Art Masterpiece portion (the music goes in the fall, the art in the spring), so I said I'd give it a go. In November I went to the training sessions - three two-hour sessions over three weeks - and last Friday, I went into the classroom for the first time. Originally, I volunteered for the third-grade class that Norah is NOT in - they had a volunteer for that - but over the course of the past month or so, apparently the parent they had for Norah's class couldn't do it, so I told them I could do both classes. Fun!

I went to the other class first. The print I was talking about was Pieter Bruegel's "The Harvesters' Meal" from the mid-1500s. I began by telling the kids a bit about the 16th century and humanism, which I'm sure went right over their heads. Oh well. I talked a little about Bruegel, but I don't want to go into the artists' lives too much. When I was talking to one of the admins in the office who's done this before, she said the kids always want to know if the artists were married and how they died. I said that since they all had horrible personal lives and they all died of syphilis, this would be a problem. So I tried to deflect them as much as possible - I honestly couldn't find out how Bruegel died, so that was that. One girl, I swear, was totally trolling me - she wanted to know how he died, how many kids he had, and how many pets he had. I did tell her he had two sons, but I didn't know how many more kids he had, and I told her it didn't really matter how many pets he had. I know plenty of the kids in there, so I had some fun with them. I hope they learned a little bit, at least.

Norah's class got Renoir's "At the Concert," so I spoke a bit about Impressionism and what Renoir and painters of his ilk tried to do with their paintings. I also know a lot of kids in Norah's class, so I felt pretty comfortable with them, too. Surprisingly, they didn't care how Renoir died, which was nice. I talked to them about where they thought the ladies in the painting were (this was before I told them the title), and one girl answered that they were on a wagon, which I thought was a bit odd. We talked about texture and how Renoir tried to make that evident in the painting. They were fun - I don't know how much they absorbed, but I figure if they get a bit of it, that's probably good enough.

I enjoyed it quite a bit. I still love teaching, and at Norah's school, the kids are a bit more respectful than at other schools, plus the teachers have already made it clear that they need to shut up and listen, so I don't have to do the hard part of getting them to behave. I made them laugh a couple of times because I said "crappy," which I probably shouldn't have, but oh well. I freaked one girl out because I said "Hell" - as in, painters prior to Bruegel's era tended to paint stuff depicting Heaven or Hell - but if that freaks kids out, they need to toughen up a bit. Some of the kids spoke out of turn without raising their hands, but it wasn't too big a deal. The first teacher was impressed with the volume of my voice - I can get loud when I want to! I didn't yell, but I did speak loudly - that's just the way I am, man! Overall, it was fun. I'll have to see if they learn much over the course of 10 weeks (which is how long the program lasts).

Next up: van Gogh and Cezanne! Will I talk about van Gogh's ear (which, I'm sure, will be the only thing they remember)? We shall see!