On Art and Learning

Art and Learning for All

Scan Angelina age 4Scan 4 copyAngelina age 4

NO, art isn’t a magical, mystical privilege bestowed upon the select few who are born with perfect drawing skills.

In 2001, when I was pregnant with my second child, the Chair of the Fashion Department looked at my big belly, due in September, and said “why don’t we take a hiatus next year?”…. I was really upset, as I was five years into teaching draping, pattern making  in the BFA program at Parsons. Maybe I was too naive (and surprised) to take a stand for my career, or maybe I was relieved to think of a year home with my newborn and 1 1/2 year old instead.  In the following months I realized that the job that I loved so much had slowly turned into not- so -wonderful over time, as relationships sometimes can do  so gradually. I found myself teaching overcrowded classes in small rooms full of  equipment that didn’t work. And so,….

Looking back, it was the hugest blessing. A blessing that enabled me to be more present for my little ones, which in reality has been the richest gift I’ve ever given myself! A blessing that led me to a Full-time faculty position on two days a week a few years later (wonderful for a single mother of two!!)  teaching Illustration in the Parsons’ AAS Fashion Program -a fantastic position I was pressed by my my new and unsupportesuperiors to renounce again when having my third baby in 2009… (I digress again….. not my favorite topic…)

BOOK COVER FOR "SOCIAL MEDITATIONS" BY LOU LIOTTA, KRISTIE LIOTTA, ILLUSTRATED BY LAURA VOLPINTESTA
BOOK COVER FOR “SOCIAL MEDITATIONS” BY LOU LIOTTA, KRISTIE LIOTTA, ILLUSTRATED BY LAURA VOLPINTESTA, available on amazon.com

But one awesome blessing that came out of these events was that I became a trained Music Together instructor in 2001 and started teaching on 9/11. Not your average first day of Music Together, one Twin Tower had blown up when class started, and by the time class was over, the news had changed to two. Life would never be the same.
Music Together is a globally popular “mommy and me” music and movement “class”. Rather, let’s say group, aimed at birth-4 year olds and their caregivers (mothers, fathers, nannies, etc…).
Music Together was created by Kenneth Guilmartin and Lily Levinowitz to “give the songs back to the mothers” when Lily realized that most mothers in this country no longer sang to their children nor knew nursery songs and game songs. Beautiful concept! Each 45 minute session involves caregivers and children seated or dancing in a circle with or without instruments, voices, or body percussion.

What I learned from training and working as a Music Together instructor changed my way of looking at life and the arts forever.

The messages are powerful, positive and echoes what I believe we all know deep inside.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE ARE MY IMPRESSIONS OF WHAT I LEARNED, these words do not come directly from Music Together:

As you read them, imagine their implications as they pertain to the visual arts…………………..

1.If your mother sings to you, you don’t care whether it’s in tune. A baby loves to be sung to, PERIOD.

2. A music experience (this goes for art, too) is not to be overly verbalized, if verbalized at all. Talking and listening use a different part of the brain than participating in art and music do (I learned the same again goes for women in labor when I trained to be a doula. There is a sacred, internal, instinctual space that creation leaps from!)

3. We don’t “teach ” music, or the arts, in early childhood, (or ever). We CREATE EXPERIENCES. We dance together, move together, bang on pots together, or drums. We don’t judge it, it happens. It happens spontaneously, it is a pleasurable experience. We don’t have to perform. It’s a buffet. Take what you want. Leave the rest. There is no WRONG WAY to move to the beat.  And don’t move to the beat unless you are moved to do so.

4. We weren’t just creating these classes for the children. We were creating these experiences for the ADULTS, an opportunity to unlearn inhibitions and fears and old traumas around music, movement , expression, art. And this component is HUGE, a great gift and stretch for the parents.

5. Children pick up not only from their own instincts when the experience is provided for them, but also mimic behaviors that are modeled for them. If their parent is enjoying the experience and participating, they are even more likely to pick that up. If the parent forces them to behave a certain way, or clap a certain way, or control them, they learn fear and control around music (or art).

6. Finally, on the latter points, I realized that the children and the adults are not really all that different. This class wasn’t for “teaching kids music and movement”.  The child and adult benefit equally from the experience.  Only that the the adults have some UNLEARNING and healing to do, while the kids have a “cleaner ” slate.

7. My final favorite that has influenced my “teaching” (facilitating?) style EVER since: the value of the CIRCLE. Music Together classes take place in a circle. Samba de roda and Choro, Afro-Brazilian music styles I participated in, also take place in a circle. Each musician or participant can make eye contact with the others. Individuals can take turns improvising in the center of the circle. My fashion model drawing classes take place in a circle, as do all of my demonstrations and discussions. Community is KEY.
Of course, I , like you, spent my entire childhood in church and school sitting in rows of chairs looking at one leader in the front. I don’t believe in that anymore. I love CIRCLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And so , in visual arts as well as in music and community experience, we have some unlearning to do.

Once we start school, we learn to write, and then we confuse art with writing: (“this skinny little symbol-producing pencil is used to make art? How am I supposed to do it right?”)  and when we approach art, we are given watery Crayola paints with a really crappy brush, and we don’t like what we see when we apply these to paper.  REALLY good supplies don’t actually cost more, you just need to know where to find them.

Our art becomes symbols for things, not pure energetic shapes , lines, or colors. Every thing is judged and “representative”. There is a lot to be healed in the way we approach art and drawing in particular. Think of all of those coloring books: “perfect”, prescribed, flat, black lines, filled with color.
This is why my drawing classes aim to diminish the importance of line for some time before we bring the line back in to the image. It’s just too close to writing, symbols, and school. We are going to take those lines and unravel them, along with your nerves, into a glorious mess, that starts to take its own shape.
I am so excited to finally offer my art for beginners classes for this reason. I  aim my online fashion classes at beginners.  This is where it all happens.  I have had the opportunity to teach hundreds of beginner level fashion drawing classes over the years, so I am experienced with this, as well as working with students with lots of experience under their belts.
I feel so thankful for the gift of having the opportunity to work with so many amazing people over the years, and coincidentally, they’ve been 98 percent women. What I love about teaching outside of the university is that I can be more open about my experience of life and business as a woman. I feel that is my responsibility and a HUMUNGOUS step towards SUSTAINABLITY in fashion, art, industry,  and design.  My deepest wish is that we can create truly thriving lives, this is the goal of our creativity.
I can’t wait to hear from you!
Love,
Laura

by angelina, age 4 This piece is unnamed because it is UNREPRESENTATIONAL! IT is pure shape, energy, color. we don't have to name it. It isn't a symbol. It doesn't have to be.
by angelina, age 4
This piece is unnamed because it is UNREPRESENTATIONAL! IT is pure shape, energy, color. we don’t have to name it. It isn’t a symbol. It doesn’t have to be.

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