Monday, February 22, 2016

Different Kinds of Conversations

I read an article this week about my first drawing professor, Richard Crozier.  The article originally appeared on the UVA Today website and can be accessed here.

The part that interested me the most was Crozier's response to being asked "What do you want to communicate to your students?"
"I want them to realize that art is something they can do.  I want them to keep their mind open, to look at art. For the rest of their lives, no matter if they become doctors or businessmen or anything really, if they continue to look at art then we will have accomplished something.  They will think that is something I did.  One looks at art in a very personal way when one has drawn and painted.  There is a real conversation taking place."
This idea of conversation has been on my mind a lot lately and feels central to what I hope that creative practice offers.  I love the idea that having drawn and painted gives one the capacity to interact with work by another.  To look differently, maybe even to empathize with the maker in the experience of viewing the piece.

I shared this quote this week with a group of parents and teachers gathered to reflect on creativity with children and one parent, Robin Wilson, wrote this to me in response.
This helps me flesh out some thoughts I've recently had about music.  I studied music for 7+ years with mixed feelings in the end.  Since then I haven't needed any of those skills (reading music, keys, transposing from a clarinet or harp to the piano, etc.) & it has crossed my mind if I "wasted" that time.
But my daughter's been very interested in singing & music, & I finally found a songbook with more than just lyrics- it had the music as well.  It dawned on me those skills I learned are doing more for me now in that I can make music accessible for her.  Maybe we don't always need to learn something for ourselves, but to give that to someone else.
We were at a park one afternoon and there were some sticks on the picnic table where we were sitting.  I started tapping rhythms and then my daughter joined in and we both led and followed (which is now a dearer afternoon to me after our discussion yesterday) and then other kids came over.  It was all simple rhythms I remember from very early on in my music education, but it was fascinating to see the kids respond!
So for about 15 years these skills lay dormant & now they are finding their place again.  My conversation with music needed a period of quiet, & now it's time to resume speaking.
I wrote my last post about an activity with materials that seemed to be a conversation without words. There was a back and forth and opportunities for leading and following.  Robin's story and connection to music now make me curious about what other ways we offer chances to practice intentional listening and sharing.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Practicing Conversation....Without Words...

I have an activity I often use to begin talking about observational drawing.  It involves working with a partner with a set of blocks.  Each person has the same blocks.  They take turns as leader and follower; one person makes something and the other person recreates the creation.  The only rule is there is no talking.

I introduce this activity to focus on observing.  Before we add any mark making materials we do this activity to spend some time observing.  

Over the last few months I have done this activity more often with adults. What I notice is that it is as much about interaction as it is about observation.  When we talk about how it feels at the end, people comment on the peace of really just focusing on one thing with another person.  As the outside observer, I notice a gentle back and forth as participants check in with each other with eye contact, a nod, a smile.  

The photos above are from a parent education night focused on drawing with children at home.  It was the comments from this thoughtful group of parents that first brought my awareness to how much more was happening than just an exercise in observation.  There is observation but also mirroring and responding - and - a very focused sense of presence to another person.

A week or so after this I tried this activity as an opening for a group that focuses on lay pastoral care. It led us into conversations about attention to another person, pacing, and non-verbal communication.

This week we began our book discussion of Children's Imagination: creativity under our noses with a similar opening activity.  This offered participants a chance to get to know each other first through a conversation with materials before we moved on to more traditional introductions and discussion of the book.  

In this group, we also had fascinating discussions about how it felt to lead or to follow - some felt leading was harder while others felt following was more challenging.  Leading felt to some like pressure to perform while others worried about getting it right as the follower copying another's design.  I noticed the slowness and care people took in their building and also in checking in non-verbally with partners.

I'm curious if others can think of instances that feel like conversation but with action or interaction rather than words?