Nicole A. Lee

3rd year, Art Education

Eight Kids and a Violin
collaborative work was done with graphite, charcoal, coloring pencils and inks

In the spring of 2014, I collaborated with eight students to create the series: Eight KIDS and a VIOLIN. I selected students at random from a group of the 4th Grade French Immersion class at Nesbitt Elementary School in the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie neighbourhood in Montreal. The school is one of the largest elementary schools in the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), with a majority constituency of Italian-Canadian students and students whose families recently immigrated to Canada.

At Nesbitt, art is not recognized as part of the student’s curriculum. Like many schools, Nesbitt has limited resources to hire an art specialist for the school. This group was fortunate enough that their French Instructor found creative ways of integrating the arts into the student’s curriculum through explorative art practices. As their student-art teacher, I wanted to share a project that I had planned for my DRAW200 course in the Art Education program at Concordia with the students from my teaching practicum.

This research explores the impact of music on gestural drawing among elementary students. The four pieces created by the participants aimed to represent the visual and multimodal collaboration between sound and image, as well as listening and drawing. Such work demonstrates an outpouring of experiment engendered by the use of play.

METHODOLOGY: This project explored the gestural work created by students while listening to classical or contemporary music. Students can uncover their intuitive approach to art making through play and collaboration. The students had two sessions of 45 minutes, that were scheduled a week apart to help me complete this project. Each session had two background music conditions: classical and contemporary violin solos from various artists. The children did not have access to the music being played. All the art making was carried out under the supervision of their French instructor. In selecting the students to participate, I aimed for diversity and inclusion: the children varied in gender, ethnicity, background, motor skills and learning profiles, including one autistic child. Each group was given one, 24”x36” partially-drawn still-life of a violin to complete (each drawing I had begun weeks before). The materials provided for this project included an iPod with speakers, colouring pencils, inks and a storybook.

I read to the students Kathy Stinson’s The Man and the Violin (2013) prior to the beginning of this project. My aim was to inspire and provide context to the nature of this collaboration before the art making began. Many activities helped prompt the children’s art making, their ability to collaborate and their confidence in creating. These activities included discussions about music/drawing, as well as demonstrations of and time to practice gestural drawing. I also organized team mini-games for the most outrageous, out-of-the box gestural interpretations of sound.  I wanted to encourage the students to have confidence in their drawing and to dive into the project without fear. Having created a lively atmosphere of visual and musical play, the students were able to dig deep into their feelings and perceptions of sound through gesture. Herbenholz states that “[w]hile a strong motivation can transform perceptions, feelings and thoughts into art form, the teacher provides the arena for the students to help them order their impressions and concepts […] children have the inborn capacity to transform their experiences, feeling, thinking and perceiving – into unique art forms” (Herbenholz, 1994). I asked the students to interpret and draw how music made them feel. They were encouraged to approach their drawing fearlessly and to have fun with the process. I invited the children to take the larger drawings forward in whatever way they wished; they were in control of the final outcome. Heywood notes the importance of “setting a direction for oneself – having ideas in the sense of creative intentions, and striving to realise them […] engaging in an exploratory, uncertain, to open-ended or unpredictable process of trial and error with materials and processes” (Heywood, 2009). In this sense, Heywood found that the unpredictable and risk-taking nature in art making can lead to the appreciation of the process. As I watched the children work together, music was playing in the background while beautiful responses to sound and colour filled the page.

My hope was that this experience created an opportunity for intuition, experimentation, and play to flourish. The results were that the children developed connections with their classmates, took pride in the collaborative work and connected to the work through the playful art making. Through this classroom art activity, students came together in a lively atmosphere of visual and musical play.