Letter to Ardina: 4th Graders Make Aesthetic Decisions | Mark Dzula

Dear Ardina,

As January began, we found ourselves right in the middle of our residencies at PS 48. With ten classes over and only ten left, what do you notice developing in your students? I am excited to see our projects’ groundwork bear fruit. At the beginning of the year, I instituted a five-minute independent work period at the start of every class when students do whatever they want. I have noticed that during this time students develop their own affinities; they often share the results with friends and delight each other with their inventions. One particular gem surfaced the other day:

Unprompted surprises like this can’t help but inspire me. From what I’ve seen, kids are often talked to throughout the course of their schooling. As teaching artists, we are not beholden to the same strictures as the teachers we collaborate with; as a result, I think we are permitted the pleasure of witnessing a more emergent education, the kind of education that comes from the students as opposed to a curriculum to be inculcated into them.

A modest doodle inspires this pedagogic rambling? Not surprising to you, I am sure. Happily, a similar sense of exploration and discovery has been evident in the students’ collaborative prints. We are exploring the following question: “What makes the strange familiar and what makes the familiar strange?” In other words, how can we sense the world in unexpected ways?

We’ve been making prints with everyday objects, or what is left of them anyway. It is difficult to identify what the tools once were.

In our last class, the students worked to crop their work. “Crop” became the latest in a line of exciting vocabulary words, including: Re-contextualization, Non-Objective (I stole this one from you after I heard that you introduced it—it is simply too delicious to pass up), and Aesthetic Choices. My goal is get the kids comfortable enough to talk about these ideas based on their experiences with art making. So far, so good. We’ll see for sure when we move into our reflection phase.

There are two reasons for the cropping exercise. One is to get the students to collaborate and make aesthetic choices together. What will they choose to include, and why? What will they crop out? The other reason is that we have to submit artworks to the museum for the year-end exhibition and there are severe size-limitations this year. The exhibition is in a new, smaller space and we have been working with the administration to make the most of it.

I enjoy this process; constraints often act as catalysts for work. I know you will be working with some constraints. What are they and how might they inform your work with the students? We’ve talked about this a little together, but I am sure all of these nice people would like to hear about it.



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