“What children do NOT care about when studying French Fauvist painter George Rouault:”
To begin with they do not care that he’s a Fauvist. They kind of care that the word “Fauve” is French for Wild Beast. They really care that “Fauvist” was termed by critics to make fun of his art style. But I digress…. back to what they do not care about.
They do not care that he was born in 1871 or died in 1958.
They do not care he used black outline to accentuate shapes.
They sort of care that he was born in France.
They do not care that he filled the whole space and took his time. They yawn when I remind them that he always signed his art.
Children DO care that Rouault painted clowns, homeless people and prostitutes (brazen teachers don’t talk about prostitutes in First Grade but you get the idea.) He believed they deserved attention in Art just as the privileged and wealthy. They care he used Art to criticize societal stereotypes about poverty (I use smaller words.) They care that he himself grew up very poor. That his first job was painting glass. They care that after becoming a painter, he used black outline to drag viewer eyeballs around a work of Art the same way a stained glass window does.
Kids care about magic. They care about the heart of things. This isn’t just a kid thing, it’s a human thing. In dreary days of gray Ohio winter, I admit I’m forgetting about magic. As I prepare a First Grade George Rouault introduction, I scowl as PTA parents transform my Art room into the Holiday Fair. My Art tables become platforms for chintzy inflatable toys and plastic knick knacks… teaching young people to consume for happiness is also part of their education after all. Hey, it raised money for our school. I apologize for failing to hide bitter undertones.
I prepare to wheel a cart of art supplies to the First Grade classroom… “Only Art teachers get displaced for fucking Holiday Fairs,” I’m thinking. My eye catches a Crayola crayon stuffed toy for one dollar. It’s these moments I forgive the universe for granting me so few organizational abilities… creative juices it was generous with. Thirty seconds later I have bought a stuffed crayon, and an entire lesson intro idea.
When we learn about Rouault, students use heavy black outline to do self portraits. I could droll on about how age appropriate it is for children to learn to divide shapes, and distinguish space. But where’s the magic in that.
I plan on outlining student faces with the new over-sized stuffed crayon. The soft toy tickles 6 year old ears, and student eyes follow the huge yellow crayon as I trace the head of one of their peers.
“Look at where Logan’s eyes are… not the TOP of the head… the very middle.” I point the tip of the yellow crayon at Logan’s temple. “Oh shoot.”
Logan gives me a smile. “What??”
“Well I don’t want to scare you, but I put some magic Art powers into this crayon on the way to class, and I just pointed it into the side of your eye. You might start seeing amazing artistic visions now. Just don’t be alarmed, it will go away in a few minutes.”
“NO WAY” murmur others… “Do you see artistic visions Logan?” they ask.
“I… I DO…” he announces proudly.
“Don’t make him talk about it,” I say. “Remember talking is mostly a left brain activity, and Art is mostly a right brain activity. If he describes them, they might go away.”
Students nod in complete agreement. Hands shoot in the air… “Miss B, I want some Artistic visions!”
“Well, let me show you some more about outline, and when I give you some art powers you can use outline to draw your vision.”
In 5 years of teaching this lesson, I’ve never seen such self portraits.
By the end of the day the crayon has done many more miracles, and I’m starting to forgive PTA for having the Holiday Fair in my room. During my last class I turn an especially attentive ,direction listening, second grader into an “Art Ninja” with my crayon.
“Only don’t karate chop your neighbor, ok?” Kids giggle.
The last student I turned into an Art Ninja couldn’t handle the powers and I had to take them back. With great power comes great responsibility.”
“Spiderman…” echoes TJ. I smile. Thank you Spiderman.
A shy new girl named Kayla approaches after studio time has begun. She leans in close:
“Miss B,” she whispers, “is there really magic in that crayon?”
And thank you God, Universe or whatever higher power is out there giving me the words…”Well the thing about magic is, if you believe in it, then yes, this crayon has magic. If you don’t, then it’s just a stuffed toy.”
She smiles, looks me right in the eye, gives a satisfied nod and heads to her desk.