Thursday, June 13, 2019

TAB Teacher Roles: The Art Trap

"If things don't work well, do it differently. Be the scientist in the laboratory of learning."
K. Douglas 2019

At the 2015 NAEA National Convention in Chicago, Nan Hathaway presented a concept she described as the "art trap." Nan's idea took many TAB art teacher's breath away. I know it did mine. The art trap is a method of gaining a reluctant student's consent to participate freely in an art activity or in the creative process.

The art trap is a way of providing students with fail-safe creative learning activity that has a high probability of enjoyment and success.

As Diane Jaquith explains, "An art trap is a simple provocation, something unusual and unexpected set up in an area where students will happen upon it and choose to engage or not engage."

One of our favorite art traps at New Palestine High School is the "sacred square." I will have introduced the concept of symmetry and the square as a structure to facilitate symmetrical mark making in a previous lesson, however, I will not impede students desire to utilize asymmetry or other design concepts if they so choose.  Our favorite material for this art trap? Cardboard.

This student chose to experiment with value, space and form.
After making one sacred square, this elevated her practice, wanting to create many, many more. Her work figured significantly in the completion of the wall pieces as she gained confidence in her abilities to initiate art.
As I do with all my classes, I observe which students might be reluctant to participate in art activities. There are numerous opportunities to make art or engage in research or self-reflect. Unfortunately, there are students (for reasons I will not discuss here) who choose not to participate in art making despite my efforts at inculcating this activity. I often have informal conferences with them. I do not want to draw attention to them, but in our classes, I am having conversations with all of our students throughout the week as much as possible.
If six squares look good together, what would happen with 36? Now we begin to play with the concept of emergence.

The "sacred square" art trap begins with me walking up to the unsuspecting student, and dropping off a water bottle cap of tempera paint, a skinny brush and a 5 to 9 inch square near the vicinity of their seating area. Then, I walk away. I have observed, the invitation rate for painting on the cardboard square is quite good, about 90%. Sometimes the child becomes very competent at painting squares, and the cardboard square becomes their new go-to activity.
The painted cardboard squares look great hung as 2-D images grouped together. What would happen if we used the square as a sculptural module? 
These modules will look better if they are connected systematically.
With direct instruction, students can help glue the modules together.
There are other configurations we can explore.
The more we build, the more students want to paint squares.
Another view of two sculptures made entirely of scrap cardboard squares painted by students.
What's next?
What are some other art traps that teachers might conceive of to help students overcome their fear of failure or reluctance to create art?
What else could emerge from a TAB laboratory of learning? Are outcomes fixed in a TAB classroom? How did the concept of emergence figure into this kind of activity?

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