Traditionally, visual art classes and exhibitions are segregated by age groups: young children, preteens, teens, and adults, for example. But I’ve wondered what would happen if these groups could be brought together using the same teaching techniques, possibly even exhibiting their work together?
Currently, I’m the artist-in-residence for Art & Ideas Contemporary Art Gallery & Studio in Plymouth, Michigan. As a TA here and in the public schools, I engage youth and adults of all ages, abilities and interests in art classes designed to open new modes of expression and thought.
Since the opening of the gallery/studio in December 2009, I’ve seen many students engage in my art classes. I’ve found it so exciting working with small kids one day, and then the next day working with adults who are artists, accountants, engineers, teachers, therapists, project managers, or retirees. My challenge has been how to engage all my students across the vast differences in age, experience and background.
I decided to experiment with the idea of transferring the same project across all age levels. I focused an acrylic painting class on landscape and still life, hoping to transfer it to the youth levels after teaching it to adults. I found my step-by-step approach in teaching the acrylic classes effective for the adults, witnessing their success and learning that occurred from start to finish.
I then decided to try this approach with my tweens (ages 9-12) program. I had questioned whether this kind of structure would squelch the students’ creativity, but was surprised how enthusiastic the kids were when I taught using this kind of structure.
Things were going so well with this new approach that I decided to propose an idea to the director. What about having an intergenerational art exhibition that reflected this exchange of expression between age levels? The idea that you would see a five-year-old’s work juxtaposed with a person’s in their 70s intrigued me. As an artist I utilize the technique of juxtaposition in my own art work, so the thought of using juxtaposition in an exhibition of people of different ages created an interesting parallel as my vision as an artist.
July 9th, 2011, was the opening night for the “Ages of Art Show” at Art & Ideas. There were 24 artists varying in age from five to well-past retirement age. Many had brought friends and parents, and it was one of the most meaningful nights we’ve ever had at the gallery.
At every opening night we typically have an artist’s talk or discussion. “Ages of Art” was no different. I knew that the participating artists might feel nervous about sharing their work. Many of the artists were nervous, and that was the most crucial aspect of their creating a meaningful presentation. Their vulnerability would create sincerity, and I knew they would be more honest about their work. The fact that their presentations were not polished brought authenticity to the evening and was a profound experience for all who participated. Each person expressed what it meant to create something that brought them closer their creative selves.
During this whole project I learned a great deal about creating programs that transfer lessons between generations. By creating an intergenerational show I was able to illustrate how juxtaposing artwork created by students of many ages can create a memorable experience. This experience was echoed by the artists during their presentations. Many of them shared emotional reasons about why creating art affected them, and how my approach as a teacher allowed them to access their own meaning.
My new approach also created unity between the artists through the emotional expressions of each presenter – some cried, some told personal narratives that linked to their art-making or life changes they were going to make. This taught me the value of hearing the students’ voices and letting them hear each other’s voices. This exhibition allowed me to see that there is a creative process in the sharing of artwork as well as in the making of it.
Shaqe Kalaj is project-based artist working in a variety of media with the end goal of conveying meaning and the idea of transformation. Shaqe infuses her work as a TA with her work as a visual artist. As a TA in the schools she is focused in on integration and engagement. Many of her projects in the school have heightened learning in other content areas. Her work outside of the school atmosphere is to engage the community in meaningful work that allows the individual at any age to experience their potential and to experience what it means to be a part of an authentic community. Contact Shaqe Represented by Art and Ideas Gallery Shaqe’s Website