art | education
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STUDIO WONDERINGS AND WANDERINGS

Studio is a place for thinking and making sense of stuff: a place of study. Studio is playing with ideas, materials, words, and movement. My studio is times of wondering and wandering in playful lands of artistic explorations with people of all ages. Here's my travel log.

 

AERA 2018: Graffiti in the toddler room

I'm very lucky to work with Emmanuelle Fincham and Tran Templeton. These fantastic educators and researchers help me rethink stuff everyday, and today is not an exception. Tran, Emmy, and I are presenting our research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting this morning; we are excited to share our ideas and hear your thoughts.

We will be presenting in a round-table. This is in many ways an excellent format, but in this specific setting, as we have discovered, it does not afford many possibilities in terms of viewing and discussing images and videos. So we decided to share our images and captions here, for our discussion peers to take a look while we chat. Let us know your thoughts!

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 Let’s get the “final product” out of the way. This image you see of a large canvas wall graffitied my toddlers, exhibited in an art gallery, is not the final product at all. That thing we call “product” is but a by-product of the relational experiences it entails and provokes, that are constantly being updated as each new interaction takes place.

Let’s get the “final product” out of the way. This image you see of a large canvas wall graffitied my toddlers, exhibited in an art gallery, is not the final product at all. That thing we call “product” is but a by-product of the relational experiences it entails and provokes, that are constantly being updated as each new interaction takes place.

 Exhibiting stuff in a gallery may make us look at it differently. Just like when we put a plexiglass barrier on a image sprayed onto a wall - what was once a vandalized building, is now an art site warranting protection.

Exhibiting stuff in a gallery may make us look at it differently. Just like when we put a plexiglass barrier on a image sprayed onto a wall - what was once a vandalized building, is now an art site warranting protection.

 In the fall of 2014, the three of us came together in the context of a toddler classroom, Emmy and Tran as head teachers, Marta as the center’s art studio teacher. During that semester, graffiti came into our work as the toddlers ended up immersed in a graffiti exploration and we all experienced a disorienting shift in the ways we were thinking about materials, curriculum, artistic practice, teaching, and so on. Graffiti became a metaphor for thinking about disrupting our own practices.

In the fall of 2014, the three of us came together in the context of a toddler classroom, Emmy and Tran as head teachers, Marta as the center’s art studio teacher. During that semester, graffiti came into our work as the toddlers ended up immersed in a graffiti exploration and we all experienced a disorienting shift in the ways we were thinking about materials, curriculum, artistic practice, teaching, and so on. Graffiti became a metaphor for thinking about disrupting our own practices.

 In our attempts at interrupting, we’ve worked in a very multi-theoretical space, as we wonder about what could be. What possibilities are there for us as teachers to “see” the children’s engagement in curriculum? For us to “see” curriculum? To challenge our own habitual practices and ways of seeing, thinking, and perceiving? In the art studio, we question notions of artwork, art materials, and artistic engagement. “This used to be a plastic fork, now it’s an art material, right, Marta?” one of the the children asked as he was rummaging around for a stencil to graffiti with. What happens when you spray paint through a plastic form? Is that an art tool? Will graffiti take that as an transgressive practice? Will the classroom?

In our attempts at interrupting, we’ve worked in a very multi-theoretical space, as we wonder about what could be. What possibilities are there for us as teachers to “see” the children’s engagement in curriculum? For us to “see” curriculum? To challenge our own habitual practices and ways of seeing, thinking, and perceiving? In the art studio, we question notions of artwork, art materials, and artistic engagement. “This used to be a plastic fork, now it’s an art material, right, Marta?” one of the the children asked as he was rummaging around for a stencil to graffiti with. What happens when you spray paint through a plastic form? Is that an art tool? Will graffiti take that as an transgressive practice? Will the classroom?

 Guiding Questions: - Considering the individual who expresses herself through graffiti, what happens when graffiti is encouraged as an artistic practice with toddlers? What happens when the unsanctioned is sanctioned though? - What does it mean to take up graffiti as a metaphor for curriculum? Especially when we still contend with larger structures (administrations) which may not be on board… How might it divert the course of the classroom? But always with the sense that we don’t see all of what there is to see… and perhaps always with a reterritorialization when it becomes sanctioned. - And how does it shift the teacher’s gaze when acts viewed potentially as vandalism then are re-inscribed as desiring-encounters?  When we started to ask these questions, our teaching practices shifted dramatically. Children’s acts and behaviors that we might have stopped or redirected before were now fascinating us in new ways as we saw these as a means for children’s expression of self.

Guiding Questions:
- Considering the individual who expresses herself through graffiti, what happens when graffiti is encouraged as an artistic practice with toddlers? What happens when the unsanctioned is sanctioned though?
- What does it mean to take up graffiti as a metaphor for curriculum? Especially when we still contend with larger structures (administrations) which may not be on board…
How might it divert the course of the classroom? But always with the sense that we don’t see all of what there is to see… and perhaps always with a reterritorialization when it becomes sanctioned.
- And how does it shift the teacher’s gaze when acts viewed potentially as vandalism then are re-inscribed as desiring-encounters?

When we started to ask these questions, our teaching practices shifted dramatically. Children’s acts and behaviors that we might have stopped or redirected before were now fascinating us in new ways as we saw these as a means for children’s expression of self.

 The toddler “graffiti project” served as an impetus for us to think differently about the opportunities we afforded the children in our daily co-constructions of the play-based, emergent curriculum. Driven by endless “what if” questions, we actively reimagined our practice, the classroom space and materials, and the curriculum as we sought to interrupt our repetitious ways of seeing the work of our teaching (Holmes, 2010). Entering this more nomadic space disrupted habitual practices (Clark, 2012; Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), as we began to see the possibilities in conceptualizing curriculum as an opportunity for “getting lost” (Block, 1998). For instance, rather than trying to keep the walls clean when the children adorned a clandestine corner with stickers, we offered more and admired the way the layers of paint peeled when someone removed the gooey remnants of the adhesive backings. We held ourselves back from regulating the children’s spaces, even as the walls and lamp became targets of spray-paint. Or when the walls and lamps invited the spray-paint, as another way to think of it (to give agency also to the materials and not simply the children).

The toddler “graffiti project” served as an impetus for us to think differently about the opportunities we afforded the children in our daily co-constructions of the play-based, emergent curriculum. Driven by endless “what if” questions, we actively reimagined our practice, the classroom space and materials, and the curriculum as we sought to interrupt our repetitious ways of seeing the work of our teaching (Holmes, 2010). Entering this more nomadic space disrupted habitual practices (Clark, 2012; Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), as we began to see the possibilities in conceptualizing curriculum as an opportunity for “getting lost” (Block, 1998). For instance, rather than trying to keep the walls clean when the children adorned a clandestine corner with stickers, we offered more and admired the way the layers of paint peeled when someone removed the gooey remnants of the adhesive backings. We held ourselves back from regulating the children’s spaces, even as the walls and lamp became targets of spray-paint. Or when the walls and lamps invited the spray-paint, as another way to think of it (to give agency also to the materials and not simply the children).

 Concurrent to the graffiti project and in the time since, modes of inquiry including teacher research, reflexive writing (Pillow, 2003; Richardson, 2000), and ethnographic practices intensify our understandings of how “graffiti” can be taken up as curricular practice. Drawing on materials produced as part of or in response to this inquiry, we work to conceptualize new ways of thinking about what young children can do or should do in the context of their early childhood schooling experiences. Through the act of teaching, producing classroom documentation, and unexpected graffiti walks, we continue to explore the ideas of the vandal artist subject position, non-places (Augé, 1995), tagging, and anonymity, and how these aspects of graffiti allow us to theorize toddler curriculum in new and unexpected ways.

Concurrent to the graffiti project and in the time since, modes of inquiry including teacher research, reflexive writing (Pillow, 2003; Richardson, 2000), and ethnographic practices intensify our understandings of how “graffiti” can be taken up as curricular practice. Drawing on materials produced as part of or in response to this inquiry, we work to conceptualize new ways of thinking about what young children can do or should do in the context of their early childhood schooling experiences. Through the act of teaching, producing classroom documentation, and unexpected graffiti walks, we continue to explore the ideas of the vandal artist subject position, non-places (Augé, 1995), tagging, and anonymity, and how these aspects of graffiti allow us to theorize toddler curriculum in new and unexpected ways.

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 Holmes (2010) wrote that from one side, graffiti artists “deface and vandalize” while from another side they “highly aestheticize and politicize landscapes marking boundaries that are both territorial and ideological” (p. 871). Seeing children as taking up the position of vandal-artist, moves us to rethink the space of the classroom, which is so often constructed as “children’s space.”   At the same time, so many early childhood classrooms are separated into centers where certain materials belong to one center or another, and children are rarely able to ‘mix materials’ -- in other contexts, where materials can mix, it is often in the service of creating more elaborate ‘readable’ structures/play scenes. When children’s scenes are not readable (or their acts/art/moves), we are less inclined to “pay attention” or when we do, we want to try to make sense of it. In our classroom, we were allowing for that movement between what is sensible and not- without trying (or at least trying not to try) to consider a child within any one position or another.

Holmes (2010) wrote that from one side, graffiti artists “deface and vandalize” while from another side they “highly aestheticize and politicize landscapes marking boundaries that are both territorial and ideological” (p. 871). Seeing children as taking up the position of vandal-artist, moves us to rethink the space of the classroom, which is so often constructed as “children’s space.”


At the same time, so many early childhood classrooms are separated into centers where certain materials belong to one center or another, and children are rarely able to ‘mix materials’ -- in other contexts, where materials can mix, it is often in the service of creating more elaborate ‘readable’ structures/play scenes. When children’s scenes are not readable (or their acts/art/moves), we are less inclined to “pay attention” or when we do, we want to try to make sense of it. In our classroom, we were allowing for that movement between what is sensible and not- without trying (or at least trying not to try) to consider a child within any one position or another.

 What happens when we, teachers, re-frame the classroom (or other public) space as a “nonplace” (Augé, 1995)? Can a child’s unconventional or desiring use of space be accepted as an “aesthetic presentation of “self’” (Holmes, 2010, p. 872) rather than an illegal act in the face of a teaching practice steeped in developmentalism?   This idea of a “nonplace” came into our teaching as we thought about where we allowed children to make their marks, both with artistic media and their physical presence. As children made marks outside the boundaries of a teacher-prepared canvas, our initial instincts as teachers was to articulate those boundaries and encourage them to contain their work. However, as we began to see the possibilities in allowing stray marks to define new spaces, which were previously non-spaces for art, these spaces became inscribed, were given new meaning, and were claimed by the children as they were given the opportunity to define their spaces. Throughout the classroom, we saw this concept helping to shift the way we saw the children’s use of the predetermined classroom spaces.  Outside the classroom, we began to think about the playground spaces that are so clearly defined by rot iron fencing and gates to contain children’s bodies and play.  Considering the “enactment of graffiti as a risky pleasure” (Holmes, 2010, p. 872), we began to take risks with our outdoor curriculum, leaving the ‘safety’ of these fenced spaces for children and venturing into “nonplaces” like the woods adjacent to a walking path or the concrete structures of nearby churches and memorial buildings. Venturing into these places with the children claimed them in new ways and made them spaces for children when they had not been before.

What happens when we, teachers, re-frame the classroom (or other public) space as a “nonplace” (Augé, 1995)? Can a child’s unconventional or desiring use of space be accepted as an “aesthetic presentation of “self’” (Holmes, 2010, p. 872) rather than an illegal act in the face of a teaching practice steeped in developmentalism?


This idea of a “nonplace” came into our teaching as we thought about where we allowed children to make their marks, both with artistic media and their physical presence. As children made marks outside the boundaries of a teacher-prepared canvas, our initial instincts as teachers was to articulate those boundaries and encourage them to contain their work. However, as we began to see the possibilities in allowing stray marks to define new spaces, which were previously non-spaces for art, these spaces became inscribed, were given new meaning, and were claimed by the children as they were given the opportunity to define their spaces. Throughout the classroom, we saw this concept helping to shift the way we saw the children’s use of the predetermined classroom spaces.  Outside the classroom, we began to think about the playground spaces that are so clearly defined by rot iron fencing and gates to contain children’s bodies and play.

Considering the “enactment of graffiti as a risky pleasure” (Holmes, 2010, p. 872), we began to take risks with our outdoor curriculum, leaving the ‘safety’ of these fenced spaces for children and venturing into “nonplaces” like the woods adjacent to a walking path or the concrete structures of nearby churches and memorial buildings. Venturing into these places with the children claimed them in new ways and made them spaces for children when they had not been before.

 We now relate the actions of the children and the arrangements of materials they leave behind as a kind of “tagging” akin to the graffiti writer. Reframing children’s acts as artistic expression allows us to see beyond classroom practice inscribed by developmental psychology that narrows our teacher gaze to look for a child’s representation of thinking and how they are progressing through developmental stages.  These arrangements / tableaux that children assemble have no perceptible traces of a narrative, but they are indicators that some kind of thought, or perhaps sensation, has ‘occurred’  Or what if a narrative is not easily told through traditional modes of telling, such as the genre-blending (Mitchell & Reid-Walsh, 2002, p. 91) scene (above), which includes a pair of reversed shoes, a Dora sun visor, a plastic chair, a sorter, a long plastic block, a tiny baby doll, a small pink fence, and a couch pillow turned so as to expose its less flattering side. The children’s tableaux manage to escape any ability on our part for categorization.  They escape the typical boundaries that dictate children’s free play and construction.  They happen when we are least aware.  We may see the child wandering the room for minutes, seemingly without direction or motivation.  However, her eyes scan and analyze the scene.

We now relate the actions of the children and the arrangements of materials they leave behind as a kind of “tagging” akin to the graffiti writer. Reframing children’s acts as artistic expression allows us to see beyond classroom practice inscribed by developmental psychology that narrows our teacher gaze to look for a child’s representation of thinking and how they are progressing through developmental stages.

These arrangements / tableaux that children assemble have no perceptible traces of a narrative, but they are indicators that some kind of thought, or perhaps sensation, has ‘occurred’  Or what if a narrative is not easily told through traditional modes of telling, such as the genre-blending (Mitchell & Reid-Walsh, 2002, p. 91) scene (above), which includes a pair of reversed shoes, a Dora sun visor, a plastic chair, a sorter, a long plastic block, a tiny baby doll, a small pink fence, and a couch pillow turned so as to expose its less flattering side. The children’s tableaux manage to escape any ability on our part for categorization.  They escape the typical boundaries that dictate children’s free play and construction.  They happen when we are least aware.  We may see the child wandering the room for minutes, seemingly without direction or motivation.  However, her eyes scan and analyze the scene.

 Banksy talks about anonymity as born of a desire to elude - in the graffiti artists case, the police; in the toddlers case, we think of it as eluding the teacher/authority, the observing eye. Do we as teachers and researchers mistakenly assume our presence and documentation is welcome? Do entanglements of the ‘I’ move us into a space of anonymity? Or at least, allow for that space as we think about our own work and the work of the children in classrooms?

Banksy talks about anonymity as born of a desire to elude - in the graffiti artists case, the police; in the toddlers case, we think of it as eluding the teacher/authority, the observing eye. Do we as teachers and researchers mistakenly assume our presence and documentation is welcome?
Do entanglements of the ‘I’ move us into a space of anonymity? Or at least, allow for that space as we think about our own work and the work of the children in classrooms?

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This work by Marta Cabral is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.martacabral.com.