Tuesday, August 28, 2012

New Art Education: Focus on learning and thinking for yourself

I'm sure most of us have fond memories of our elementary-school art classes.

Crayons. Construction paper. Elmer's glue. Mr. Sketch scented markers/gateway drug. Papier-mâché projects. Working with clay. Bringing your dad's old shirt for painting days.

I know my elementary-school art classes in Clayton, N.J., and Montoursville, Pa., were a blast, even if I don't have much left to remember them by.1

And so that brings us to today's back-to-school item — a staplebound 1944 book titled "New Art Education (Book I)," which was written by Elise E. Ruffini and Harriet E. Knapp and illustrated by Charles Clement and Thomas Davenport. The book was co-published by The American Crayon Company of Sandusky, Ohio, and Practical Drawing Company of Dallas, Texas.

What's fascinating about this book is its minimalism. It's not a step-by-step instruction manual for children's art projects. It explains its philosophy on the inside front cover:
"The pages in this book go one, two, three, as in other books. But we shall not use them as in other books. We shall use any page at any time that we need to! This will be more interesting, and it will be more fun. We shall look for the page we want when we want it.

"This book will teach us many new things. But we must not copy what see in the book. That would spoil everything. We shall learn to work in our own way. All girls and boys must learn to think for themselves. We must learn, too, how to design and draw and paint for ourselves. We must do things that way we think about them."
It's an interesting approach, encouraging children to experiment and discover on their own, rather than holding their hand through every step. There are no right answers or wrong answers in art, if you do your own work and let your imagination run free.

Here are some of the typical pages from the 68-year-old book:

1. I do still have this gorgeous clayware dish I made while attending elementary school in Clayton, N.J.:

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