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What do Man with a hoe, by Jean-François Millet and Starbucks have in common?
Being an avid follower of Van Gogh (who created a drawing inspired by Millet's Man with a Hoe), I recognized at once Starbuck's nod to these great artists. Brilliant.
Millet was a thoughtful artist who cared deeply about the dignity of the commoner. As I stood in line waiting for my pumpkin-spiced latte, I whipped out my phone to consider Millet's wisdom via Google and consider why in the world Starbucks would echo his painting (a painting that I've stood before on many a trip to the Getty). This is what I discovered:
This: "Sometimes, in places where the land is sterile, you see figures hoeing and digging." "From time to time one raises himself and straightens his back, ...wiping his forehead with the back of his hand." 'Thou shalt eat thy bread in the sweat of thy brow.'"
And this: "Is this the jovial work some people would have us believe in?" "But nevertheless, to me it is true humanity and great poetry."
And this: "To tell the truth, the peasant subjects suit my temperament best; for I must confess, that the human side of art is what touches me most."
And then Van Gogh's voice chimed in: "I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people."
And I thought: Persona Poem, yes, yes, yes!
Personae, in Latin, this form of poetry is a terrific opportunity for pretending on the page. Several years ago, when I was teaching the feudal system and medieval art, I had children pretend to be stationed in various social roles and to create persona poems to help them explore daily life in medieval times. The persona poems were brought to life in a collection of short films.
So, what do Man with a hoe, by Jean-François Millet and Starbucks have in common?
For me, two words come to mind: Important Work.
This year at the Guild our persona poems will be inspired by Millet, Van Gogh, and yes, by Starbucks.
During the summer of 1768, Captain James Cook sailed from England on H.M.S Endeavor's first voyage to explore the little known southern hemisphere. Eleven-year-old Nicholas Young was a stowaway on this voyage. True story.
Karen Hesse invites us to delve into this pocket of history alongside the stowaway and experience the astonishing adventure alongside Nick.
After reading, encourage your students to recreate the adventure in a meaningful and lasting way. Section 5 in our Literature and Writing Discovery Guide will present opportunities to move beyond mapping out the story details to identify the impact the story had on the heart.
My youngest son, Søren, spent significant time and effort researching the ship itself and committing his personal reflections to marks burned on wood. Creativity tied to a great story helps the reader retain and apply in ways where the essay falls short.
Captain Cook reminds us sky's the limit, "Do just once what others say you can't do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again."
Every time you finish reading a book, think tinker.
The word "tinker" comes from the middle English referring to people who engaged in the work of patching worn tin kettles. When I was young, tinkering was a crude, quick fix of any object regardless of the medium, be it tin, wood, brick, or fabric. My great-grandpa Ted was a tinker. I loved exploring the bits and bobble in his shop, creating assemblages of junk while he merrily tinkered. Back then tinkering was not considered an art form, it was something more akin to the household junk drawer. When I was young, tinkering was pretty much DIY before the acronym came to be.
Fast forward, I LOVE how the growing maker movement has brought a deeper meaning to this wonderful word. Nowadays, "to tinker" is recognized (rightfully so) as a significant step in the process of making, in the process of bringing shape to ideas.
What better way to deeply integrate and apply knowledge gleaned from great stories than to thinker an idea to shape?
So how to begin?
Think wire. Buttons. Tags. Cork. Think ric rac and ribbon. Paint Glue. Hooks and chain.
Think junk drawer and you are moving in the right direction for a tinker project.
After reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Jac began her tinkering. She decided to explore the theme "overcoming weaknesses" with a self-portrait assemblage of objects on a turntable. She wanted to display her strengths anchored to the base and her weaknesses as distracting creatures tangling her momentum unless she exerted significant effort.
And so she did. Exceptionally well, I might add.
So the next time your child reads a book, think tinker.
Write a poem incorporating an interesting fact you’ve recently heard or read. It doesn’t necessarily have to be concerned with the physical sciences, although that is a great place to start. Andrea Gibson uses this device in her spoken-word poem, “Letter to A Playground Bully”, using lines such as “‘Cause it is a fact that our hearts stop for a millisecond every time we sneeze / And some people’s houses have too much dust” and “It is a fact that bumblebees have hair on their eyes / And humans, also, should comb through everything they see.”
This Isn’t Happiness
They say that the average person laughs 15 times per day… each time I hear that, I wonder whether that includes the people whose cats have just died or who just spilled coffee on their blouse… I wonder whether if it includes those people who don’t really laugh, but exhale through their noses in unusually quick succession with laughter in their eyes… and I wonder whether those good laughs, the kind that rips your stomach raw and warms your eyes with saltwater, count as two (or maybe fifteen) of the kind of laugh you measure out during irritatingly semi-casual events.
Now, visit our Pinterest to explore the poetic potential of spongy bone. Can you spring from here to your poem?
Picasso was a master of line. Check out his one-liner owl on our Pinterest. Try to make an owl of your own.
Now, think poetry. One of the significant ABCs of poetry is sound. Try to write a poem using only this one element. Try to repeat one sound throughout your poem, write a poem based on a singlular sound.
hoo of an owl
frosted stars twinkle
and the hoo of an owl whittles
a tune on shadowy branches
-Kim & Constance
When I teach children to read and write, I begin with the ABCs—phonics to words to phrases to sentences and beyond. The possibilities are limitless.
When I teach children to appreciate and make art, I again begin with ABCs—line, texture, value, shape, and color. Again, the possibilities are limitless.
When it comes to introducing the potential of shape in visual art, French artist, Fernand Léger (1881-1955) is always invited to the Guild.
In art, we begin by looking. And for this Léger lesson we looked at one of his wonderful "studies" titled, Étude Pour L' Anniversaire, 1950 (pen and ink on paper):
And after a thorough session of looking and discussing all the wonderful integrated shapes, the drawing began:
The strokes were sketchy at first, until the apprentices were satisfied that their shapes echoed the original work.
Next, we inked in the drawing, erasing pencil lines as we went.
When the observing, sketching, and inking was completed, we stood back from our studies and discussed what happens next by exploring Léger works related to his study:
L’ Anniversaire, 1950 (gouache on paper)
Birthday, Two Women, 1950 (oil on canvas)
Birthday, Two Women, 1950 (oil on canvas)
Write a small story that describes the parts of an object or characteristics and memories of a person, in order to tell a story or reach a conclusion about a certain character, just as the fading parts of this rose imply a history of aging and weather without words—by showing, not telling. The House on Mango Street, Esperanza vicariously describes her family by describing her house.
Red Tennis Shoes
Every month, my mother tells me to throw out my red tennis shoes.
They’re about two sizes too small (left over from tenth grade, because tenth grade was the best year, this liminal space where you weren’t the school baby and you didn’t have to worry about WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO DO FOR THE NEXT FOUR YEARS because God knows that’s too much responsibility, and all you need to worry about is whether you’ll get an A or a B, or whether you look better with a red or pink lip.)
One shoe’s lacings have been torn into frayed ribbons (because of my brother’s dog who mistook my shoes for his red ball, and I would say that it was stupid except for the fact that he often couldn’t recognize one thing from another, like my handwriting from my mom’s or fun from fulfilling, and yet you know she still loved both of them for their eyes)
They’re still covered in dirt stains (from the time we went camping in the Appalachians and I saw trees burst into photosynthetic flame for the first time, and the image of a ring of massive trees blossoming into red around a stagnant lake is still so sharp)
Every night I go to the trash to throw them out, I turning back to the house in the distance with its laughing yellow light, dangling their relieved weight from my hands.
Write a vignette or poem that describes a concept or back-story by overtly describing a single object or event. Be the blind man who describes a snake while actually describing an elephant. Draw more inspiration from metaphor and synecdoche.
Think Caterpillar of Birds.
“The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop overtly describes the catching of a fish, but subtly describes the concepts of choices, the natural world, mortality, and beauty.
“Dropping a Plate While Washing Dishes”
I nearly caught it—
the plunge of dish from hand
frame by frame was frozen
as the slippery china slid,
still fleeced with shining bubbles,
from my gloves, and the wild waltz
of slippery fingers grasping
still failed to stop
its spiral to floor: one frame remains
still rendering in loops—
my heartbeat expanded into
throbs of meaty bass
the second when the runaway
nearly seemed suspended
above the unforgiving tile,
I stood staring like a friend
left behind on a train platform,
even after the floor burst
into a kaleidoscope, shreds
of blue glass.
As summer sizzles her sunshine, be inspired by a delightful collection of clever artists at our Write it...! board on Pinterest to write a poem or two. Write about some whimsical or fantastical creature from your imagination. Take inspiration from the creativity of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and William Blake’s “The Tyger.”
This one lived beneath the kitchen sink:
When I was a child, I could hear its
Subterranean gurgling from the pipeline guts
Of the basement. I could have sworn I saw
The tip of its fin peek out from the drain,
Or heard the snap of its jaws, with its many
Monstrously tiered teeth after turning the faucet off.
In the scheme of biological classification, butterflies and moths fall into the Order we call Lepidoptera. Typically speaking, butterflies are brightly colored diurnal creatures. Moths are nocturnal and lackluster. But there are some exceptions. Leave it to Van Gogh to lend his artistic curiosity to the Great Peacock Moth that began with a sketch, and ended in a painting.
We began with a close observation of the artists palate, imitating each color with acrylic paint. We stored the colors in pint-sized mason jars knowing that the paintings could not be accomplished in one sitting.
The apprentice painters began by lightly sketching the composition in pencil on canvas, all the while marveling at Van Gogh's marvelous composition.
Next came the brushes, the paint. The artists began with the lighter colors, blocking in the delightfully organic shapes, until layer upon layer, the moth began to emerge in its surroundings. The last colors to be painted were the deep blue-green outlines and the popping crimson accents.
I'd like to imagine Van Gogh smiling.
Metamorphosis is transformation.
Or an ordinary gardener
and her dog named Theo?
My dog is clever.
Not only does he enjoy
poking his nose in the warm
soil as I was plant seedlings,
he is also quite resourceful..
Write a poem inspired by your pet. Begin with one singularly detailed sentence. Break your sentence into lines to create a single stanza poem.
/ People who say that fish have no personalities / have never held a fish in their hands / while changing the fishtank water, / feeling the small body flail in such choked / desperation that you suddenly understand / what it means to touch a scream. /
People who say that fish have no personalities
have never held a fish in their hands
while changing the fishtank water,
feeling the small body flail in such choked
desperation that you suddenly understand
what it means to touch a scream.
Now, write another. Pets make great fodder for writing. Consider writing a poem after 16 writers and their cats.
-Kim & Constance
"I really didn't fudge around or erase or smear. The graphite went on quite clear."
Texture in drawing translates the sense of touch into the sense of sight.
This particular series of drawings by Celmins are drawing of the surface of the sea. While we did not have the luxury of sitting on the beach observing for hours and hours before diving into our drawings, we did close observations of photographs and film footage to explore the sea's texture. We used prints of the artist's work to study technique as we created our our own textural seas.
I've had the privilege of exploring his architectural scaffolding—Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species—with my apprentices during Science Discovery.
There are four types of sentences: Statement, Question, Exclamation, and Command. Teachers are famous for jotting that last type—command—in swarms on their chalkboards.
But imagine your science teacher marching into class and scribbling this on the chalkboard:
Devise a system for naming and classifying ALL living things.
Imagine the buggy eyes, the tilted heads, the groans, the tears.
Now imagine a time way before the technological advances that our computer age has to offer. Way, way back before our Declaration of Independence was conceived in the minds of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin there was a young man named Carolus Linnaeus. Born on May 23, 1707, in Råshult, Sweden, his father, a lover of all things botanical, introduced him to the joy of observational science. Young Carolus was encouraged to imagine possibility as he tended his very own garden over time. He looked back fondly on that garden as a place that "inflamed my soul with an unquenchable love of plants."
As Linnaeus continued to observe nature, he developed a passion for order. Over the course of his life, Linnaeus accomplished a great many things—research, publication of scientific papers, a medical practice. Greatest of all, he devised a binomial system for naming and classifying all living things... without the prompting of a teacher's command!
Way before computers, Linnaeus was an information architect.
It's taken the better part of the year to appropriate the great lessons we chip away at on a daily basis—value silence, process is a slow and steady pacing, your-ideas-matter, work works—but now, like a spring bloom, I marvel at the fragrance of their progress. In a few short weeks, you too will be able to flip through the Science Discovery Journals to experience the wonder of this important work.
So much of education is couched in the promise that technology will ensure success. But so much of what we really desire for our children cannot develop without the passion to care about an academic work at hand and the longitude to explore. Challenging children to engage in the work of idea-making and providing the time to Discover just what it takes to bring shape to that idea, time and time again, leads to Critical Creative Thinking. Truth is, technology is a tremendous asset of our age, but the art of learning is a low-tech endeavor.
Ideas of the original variety begin with a spark of curiosity, not a command, and rarely a click.
Remember the metaphor of the flying fish...? Here's another idea: click back to our Pinterest, the Write it... board. Scroll down to the boy flying through the air on the shimmering fish and put on your Poet's Cap.
Imagine that the bony on the flying fish of shimmering shades of orange takes you to a staircase pond of giant carp?
Take your somewhere imaginative.
Think pun. For example, let’s say that you were to write about the following pun: “I don't trust these stairs because they're always up to something.” What might those stairs be up to? Does it have something to do with the upper floor, or could it be something unrelated?
Sky's the limit when you travel by flying fish.
I Don’t Trust These Stairs
I don’t trust these stairs; they’re always up to something.
Apart from fooling around with the well-groomed
second floor, they make a point of tripping me
at least once every day in front of someone I admire,
or stretching themselves to seem higher and longer
during those days when climbing them feels like
scaling the frosty length of Everest: and, in particular,
they seem to find undying pleasure in the task
of making me think that there are more of them,
just when I think that I’ve finished counting the number
of flat heads and sharp shoulders on each flight.
The habit of observing is habit worth developing—a Habit of Being. Observation of simple objects is best when you begin your Observation Journal—a spoon, a clock, a marshmallow, an apple.Getting started is easy as 1, 2, 3...
Trace the edges with your pencil follow along with your eyes.
Begin your sketch, following the outline edges (very s l o w l y). Let your hand "see" all the curves and bumps that your eye sees as you look back and forth from your drawing to the apple. Don't rush. Making a connection between the eyes and the hand is a slow motion exercise.
Simple observational drawings can be embellished with a wash of watercolor. Add a wash of color. And always paint from a puddle, never directly from the pigment tiles.
When creating a wash of color for a red apple Sara reminds us that the red is not the red directly from the tile. "Red in nature is complex. Make a puddle of red and add a tiny drop of green." It's the same process for a pumpkin, add drops of the complimentary color into the prominent color of the object to achieve the natural complexity of the object's color.
As you complete the Observation, putting away materials and washing brushes and paint trays, reflect on what was gleaned. It's likely that what was gained is far more than art far more than science. Developing the skill of observing is a habit of being that invites us to imagine possibility.