Thursday, September 15, 2005

The question of copying.

sorry to get all cutsy on you with that last photo post. i just really enjoy that picture.

in the process of planting the gardens....yesterday two of my classes planted, and after school we had huge rainstorm...i think the newly planted herbs were probably very happy.

update on private lessons with S.: she finished her painting. now we're working on crayon batik.

as some students i know have been taking lessons from a man who leads them in copying actual paintings by established artists, i've been thinking a lot of my philosophy of art education. (there are also several classical schools i know of who have their students copy great works for art class--and this seems to be the majority of what they do. i have, exactly once, had my students copy a winslow homer watercolor.) what, exactly, IS the value of having young children copy works of art in oils and essentially present them as their own? certainly there is much that can be learned of color mixing/matching, and surely replicating something in this way is in some ways akin to drawing anything---realistic sketching is, after all, essentially doing copywork from reality. (taking from reality, though, is a key difference, in my opinion.) and copying great works, has, in the past, been a means for students to learn technique.

ALL THAT BEING SAID--i asked one of my students what taking lessons from this teacher was like, and she said he drew her horizon line and said 'okay, paint aquamarine above this line.' i have to say, her story really has been bugging me....then i've been thinking about why it bugs me, which leads me to this art education philosophy rant. ;)

with this particular art teacher, we aren't talking about making one copy, but a child going to an art class and making multiple copies of paintings by different artists on large canvases. now, i don't know this teacher and perhaps he sometimes does creative projects with his students. but it doesn't seem like it, based on what i've seen on walls in homes.

so, while i accept that copying someone elses' paintings has some value in learning technique, i have to say that i doubt it's developmentally sound for children....the child isn't painting his own imagined image, or story, or idea, ....there is no process of learning how to translate an idea into one's own visual reality.....i think it may encourage artwork that is purely product-oriented, which i believe stunts creativity. to me, it seems performance-driven. the paintings are, after all, very impressive looking.

the truth is, if a child is guided through a true creative idea process, a sketch process, then a painting process, wherein the child makes creative choices, the PRODUCT will not look as good as copywork. (after all, if you copy cezanne, you get the composition, color palette, and subject matter of a master) but in my opinion, the PROCESS is a hundred times more valuable, especially with children. i guess this is a more Victor D'Amico understanding of art education (Kate?)--that is, really respecting a child's ability to create and giving him the encouragement and skills and direction so he can express something of his own. this emphasis on "creativity" and the ideas of a child might sound flaky, but i've read D'Amico's writing and it really seems sound. He writes of helping children find their own creative subject matter--home, school, city street, imagination--and then training them to handle different media in order to create.

"Children are born persons." --Charlotte Mason

i would love to hear from Liz and Roxana and Steve and Kate about this, and anyone else with an art or child development background. or anyone else who has thoughts!!!! thinking about such things is my love.

VERY inspiring post jana! I can still hear you saying "it's the's the process"--when I talked to you about Van Gogh's 'starry night' for the Explorers.....

i definitely see your point with the child's inability to visually create their own interpretation of a thought, idea, or feeling onto a canvas if they have been limited to "dot-to-dot" painting persay.....

very interesting....have to think about that one.....

by the this the art teacher who one student painted a huge 'starry night' for their family's living room????
i don't know, but one of my student's taking from this teacher is currently copying starry night, so i'm thinking probably!! :)
Ok, so I'm not an artist nor a teacher, but I reallly enjoyed your post. I remember that there was a poster in the Trinity art room that said "Art is Learning to See." I don't know why that stuck with me, but I do know I didn't understand it at the time. Now I translate that to mean that process your're talking about. How do you take what you see in your mind (your idea, the landscape in front of you, etc.) and translate that to the end product? I, for one, was always a good copier and a horrible artist. =)
you guys, thanks so much for your thoughts. lindsay, i've never forgotten that poster at trinity either!!!
i would have to agree completely. i used to be able to copy cartoon characters exactly the way they were drawn, but it wasn't until someone asked me to draw a moose head (Klingman) and think about space on my own that i was really challenged. (my first moose head looked like Alf. remember jana?) in art school i always got a lot out of doing a project that used the same PROCESS as someone great...Dunkerley (my photog professor) used to have us do projects like taking pictures without looking through the camera (it's harder than it sounds to produce a good photograph) to create a photo like some of the great street photographers. we'd study the work of people who had done great work and try the process for ourselves. i loved it!
and if you think about copying in terms of photography, i don't think i've ever heard of that. it would seem kind of silly and illegal to try to have a student take the exact same picture that someone great had already taken.

just a thought...
Ok-I can possibly see the value in copying art as a younger student of art, but I think this should be moved away from pretty quickly as a child or adult student begins to gain skills.

This teacher definitely sounds like he is product-driven. (But lots of parents want to see products-they think, "isn't that what I'm paying for?")

I could see the benefit of copying a great work of art as a study, but nothing more. Copying art probably forces the child to take an even harder look at the work, but it sounds like this teacher is being paid (probably very well) to create paintings for the living room!

On the other hand, I remember walking through the Louvre and seeing groups of students copying works right from the gallery walls! So maybe I'm missing something.

It's one thing to say we are going to look at Seurat and attempt pointilism, or Rembrandt and do self-portraits, but I have trouble seeing the value in having kids just mimic what they are seeing.

By the way my art class begins this Wednesday morning and I have 5 students! YEA!!!
yea liz!! i'm excited for you!! thanks liz and rox for your art/arted. opinions...yeah, there's definitely a historical precedent for copying great works as a means of improving technique. but i don't think it nurtures the imagination of the child...and just....creative RISKTAKING, you know? like, "i have this great picture in my head, and maybe i was inspired by various works my teacher showed me, and also by other experiences i've had, and my teacher is giving me the courage to help me make it a real picture on paper. no one has ever made a picture like this before, even though great artists have fed my imagination and inspired me, and my teacher has guided me and showed me how to improve the technique of my picture." that's what i think true creative process should be like for a child...then, i remembered that i had my kids pick out an o'keefe print this summer and do a chalk pastel copy. hypocrite that i am. i had totally forgotten about doing this! duh. but, it WAS a warm up to teach them (by doing)how 0'keefe arranged a flower in the extreme foreground. then we started working with viewfinders and fresh flowers on the table. so i guess in that case, copying a work was a very helpful introduction before moving on to create an original work INSPIRED by an artist.
I think you've made a great point about the copying situation. I don't believe that imitation is the best way to foster a creative spirit. Childhood experiences I can remember that have had the greatest impact on me were those that encouraged an authentic and personal creative response. Athough I completely agree with your comments about copying and performance (particularly how parents may abuse this relationship), I have some questions about children who may not have the same creative inspiration that others do. Does copying a master's work offer these creatively defficient children a way to do well in art classes when they otherwise would not? What are your experiences with children having varying levels of artistic ability and creative capacity? How do you approach the issue of leveling the playing field creatively? I'm inclined to think that creating a performance oriented environment is generally not positive. It could very well be that protecting the art classroom from imitation and performance far outweighs the consequences of a creatively uneven playing field. I believe that the most important aspect of the creative process is one's ability to express some authentic aspect of their experience in a way that is meaningful to the artist. I totally agree with your thoughts about developing a child's imagination before developing their skills.

...i like this conversation, and i had thoughts from a couple of perspectives:

First, as an English as a Second Language teacher, i've been surprised myself at the value of memorization. I never used it at first; it's sort of UnAmerican, almost ;) ..but having my 2nd years memorize one of the balcony scene soliloquys from Romeo and Juliet has really opened my eyes.

The kids are overwhelmed by it at first, but by the end, they've mastered something difficult which is very empowering. More than that, though, they've injested Shakespeare - even though they may not understand all the individual words,they get a sense of how the words feel in their mouths, how they fit together, and they can start to glimpse how mood, tone, and theme are developed from the physical weight of the words themselves.

I think copying paintings must be something like that. If you've read My Name is Asher Lev, he describes this kind of ...shaping from the inside ... happening as he copies Guernica at the museum.

As a [blush, roll eyes] poet, physically copying other people's poems into my journal helps me understand and internalize them so much better. As a kid, I tried to write poems in the style of Nikki Giovanni or Langston Hughes, and I think that really helped me start to think about how they acheived what they did. I don't think it hurt my creativity; on the contrary I think it was a great education for me.

Is this that different than singing songs you love before you start writing your own?

...anyway, i like your blog, Jana.

-lil sarah mc b :)
I think you make some great points, Sarah. Thanks so much for your thoughts. What an interesting perspective you have as an ESL teacher.....and I appreciate your point about Asher Lev.....I love that book.
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