Week 3 – abstract art and rhythm

Didn’t quite go as I’d hoped. I didn’t bring in an object for the students to draw or paint, so KT played some music from Mali and I asked them to paint (watercolor) any images and colors that came to mind. After the class KT suggested that was probably way too abstract for them to relate to.

The response to the art and music ranged from laughter at the music, to total disbelief as to why we would want to play it, and what did I mean by “drawing colors from music”? They spent most of the art segment idly talking, painting a little but not really getting into it. After I tried to demonstrate, they didn’t know “what” to paint. They didn’t understand the concept of “seeing” color to music with the imagination. (Later I felt maybe a visual like a Kandinsky video would help). After I asked them what they would rather hear they named popular rap artists (none of them with clean lyrics). So we mentioned they could bring their own music in to see what happens. Last week, one student came up with a pretty complex beat on KT’s bass drum we all liked from a popular song and we asked him to bring the CD with him this time but he’d forgotten.

The drumming segment turned out great; a flood of choir students from the Milwaukee High School of the Arts (my alma mater!) poured in near the end of our session to practice for a Black History program and they joined in with us. KT has some audio for that – we’ll post it soon. The students were definetely more rythmic this time around and we were able to groove for a good 20 minutes or more, coming up with several different rhythms.

After the class KT and I had our “debrief” talk and she suggested something they could draw from in life, an object like the plant we did last time. I remembered she has this shelf full of natural things she and her kids have collected over the years, like a bird skeleton, rocks, fossils, crystals, plant matter, wood and pine cones. Some were delicate, others not so delicate. She said she didn’t mind bringing in the bird skeleton even though it’s fragile; her family has had it for awhile and if it gets destroyed she felt it would be time for it to go. I thought that was a fabulous idea sure to generate some type of interest.

One night, at an Artists Working in Education meeting (an organization I contract with that partners artists with schools)  about project planning, I talked to a friend about her experience working with the high-school demographic. She mentioned they self-criticize the most, so I have to “drive the ship” and let them use the oars. Giving them to much reign opens up the space for “I don’t paint”, or I don’t do that” or “mine is ugly”. This self-criticism easily erodes a project and ones self-esteem. Her work comes from a therapeutic approach, which is why I can relate to her and want to build more with her on that to get some ideas.

It’s difficult for me, this stage of the game. Building concrete ideas around how to support self-esteem building in a tangible way. I mean, I know how to nurture it, but too much plain nurturing can lead to… well, they don’t want to feel patronized or pandered to. They want to feel empowered, that something they do is appreciated.

That led me to the thought, well, maybe I need to pose the question to them “what do people appreciate about something it is that you’ve done, or  do?”. Then, if they can recognize something within them that they already can do I can build from that. Because right now, I get the impression that they haven’t thought about what it is they can do that people actually appreciate.  90% of their life is probably reinforced negatively by the way they behave in society.


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