A Flower Provocation

by Roberta Pucci and Suzanne Axelsson


Have a look at the photo below: it shows a set-up or “provocation” that is sometimes offered to children in preschools, generally associated with the Reggio approach. What is your first impression? My opinion is we can’t state it was effective or interesting for children if we know nothing about the context the proposal was offered within.

Why suggest drawing a flower to children? What was the relationship between the children and that flower? And then, according to the answers, why choose those specific drawing tools?

If I have reached the point where a flower is to be drawn, then I would observe with the children first. If the observation shows that the children are interested in the different shades of the flowers, then I would probably not use pens but allow them to mix colours themselves, with more appropriate art materials (like tempera, water colors or even oil pastels or plasticine).


If the interest was the form, then maybe just an ordinary pencil, so the focus was seeing size and shape rather than colour. Or I would just let the children interpret the flower themselves – choose different art materials if they want, because maybe it’s about enjoying the interpretation instead.

If the purpose is to support a child who is struggling with art or communication or some other particular need, a suggestion might be suitable: when a limited choice can be of benefit and offer a necessary structure… but then it is a specific support of helping a child to learn how to select when they are easily overwhelmed, with this structure being removed when they no longer need it.

Thus, every choice is not good or bad in itself.

Beauty, the aesthetics, is also an important aspect, but a beautiful looking proposal can not enable a meaningful process if it does not connect to the real experience of the child.

You are welcome to share your experiences about similar proposals of a drawing setting with a flower (or vegetable subject): why did you choose it? How did the children react?


This post was inspired by the interaction between Roberta and Suzanne, in reaction to Roberta’s post The 100 is there.


It is available in five languages as part of the Grammar of Drawing project, in a collaboration between Suzanne Axelsson, Nona Orbach and Roberta Pucci:

Learning to see

The point is not only what you see but how you look at, from the smaller details of everyday life to the wider macro-systems. Let’s start from a very simple game everyone knows: looking at a spot and trying to see something on it, for example on clouds or ink stains. It’s a specific human skill, called pareidolia, meaning the tendency to perceive a recognizable shape on visual stimulus with an undefined form. However, ten persons will probably see ten different things in the same spot: it’s almost obvious and yet interesting, the proof that we constantly project some parts of ourselves on the world so that our perception has always got a “relational”, not objective, quality.

You can also unusually frame a picture and then look for a title. I like using leaves and shadows, but you can start from whatever you want.
For example, how would you title the picture below: the sun on the grass, a leaf in the sun or the house of shadows? What is the focus, the center around which the sense is created? Each answer could be right but the connected perception is very different.


Now take a peek from the windows of the box below: what’s inside? Try to imagine and draw the hidden object. It would be funny to compare many drawings, each different from the other and from the real object.⁣ Simple but not granted, it often concerns also other aspects of normal life, for example a discussion where you think that your idea is absolutely the only right one.

In his book The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy, Viktor E. Frankl uses the metaphor of ortoghonal projections for explaining the complementarity of the different disciplines, that are not mutually exclusive. All the points of view together can give us “a good enough” description of the object of study, by the interation of different specific focuses and approaches. How the unity of the object – Frankl wonders – can be preserved through its different, equally true, repesentations? The difference between a rectangle (frontal view) and a circle (top view) can not contradict the existence one cylinder!

 

What is said for vision is also true for knowledge, he wrote. We live in an age of specialists: men who no longer see the forest of truth because of single trees. Of course we cannot turn the wheel of history back, society cannot do without specialists… So what is the real danger? Are we sure it lies in a lack of universality? Isn’t it rather hidden in the claim to totality? What is dangerous is the attempt by an expert, such as a biologist or a psycologist, to explain a human being solely in biological or psychological terms.


Some years ago I had the chance to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Gerusalem. I was nicely speaking in Italian with a very welcoming monk in the Franciscan part of the Church. Around us, as in a labyrinth, there were many other chapels dedicated to different kind of Christianities, and outside the Church, many other Churches, Mosques and Synagogues all around. At some point, it was like I saw our two figures from afar and I got the impression to be inside a box that was inside another box, in turn surrounded by other ones. Each box had many windows, of different sizes and shapes, open on different shining details of whatever we call God – as limited still valuable attempts to glimpse something too wide for any overview. What amazing, prismatic picture from up there, fragmented and unified in the same time!

 

Now let’s imagine we are looking together through the same window: again, we would not see exactly the same picture. Our culture and language, our family and personal experiences, are all like overlapped filters through which we necessarily look at. Most of these lens are essential parts of us. Even while using our knowledge and theories for interpreting the world, we are metaphorically wearing a special pair of glasses through which we look at.
I find that all these visual metaphors can become interesting tools for playing with children and investigating important concepts: changing points of view, focusing on a detail and then enlarging the picture for seeing where the detail is placed, wearing glasses of somebody else and lending yours.


If you are aware to have several pairs of glasses available, you can choose the most useful one for every context, from time to time, maybe getting closer to the truth. Of course we need to take a stand, but far from making it inflexible. Let’s learn how to switch, not confusing one part for the whole and using our understanding for not getting trapped in it.


Finally… My heartfelt thanks to Nona Orbach, Eylon Orbach, Shari Satran and the unknown, gentle Franciscan monk, for the unforgettable Gerusalem journey we lived together. I can imagine Nona smiling while seeing “the Italian glasses” I used for writing this post.

The Creative Potential of Magazines

Magazines and collage

I perceive every magazine as a rich storage with many shelves full of different kind of characters, environments, objects, words, animals. Have you ever used or offered magazines as a creative material?

First, just immerse your eyes in this richness, looking for pictures that attract you, observing carefully the details, textures, shapes, colors. Choosing an image from a magazine is a selection “from the whole”, like fishing from the ocean of pictures an item that, for some reason, calls your attention.

Cutting with scissors makes this selection a concrete action, by isolating the image from its context. It is quite a powerful action, made with an effective, sharp tool. From that moment, the image becomes alive, aquires her own identity and personality.

The various images can interact with each other from a “visual” point of view, by following a kind of visual balance and associations, and so creating an aesthetic composition. Other possible connections are “narrative”: what would the images tell each other? But these two ways can also go together, weaving a story of words and images: what if a huge mouse meets a tiny cat? Or if a fish is swimming in a forest, through the trees?

An entire story could unfold from a picture that sounds especially meaningful to us. During an activity with magazines with a five years old group, I remember a very shy and delicate boy choosing a huge kangaroo that was standing up as a bold fighter, while a little girl that was usually smiling, talking and laughing, chose a sad, sullen, defiantly dark-style teenager. I wondered if these children were silently spoken to their cut-out figures. I invited them to invent a story. In fact, the kangaroo and the girl of the stories were quite the opposite of how the children were used to appear in everyday life. I am sure it was a significant process for the children, both creatively and emotionally.

Magazines, along with collage technique, offer an endless playing and creative potential, that we can use according to our specific context and goals. Combining cut-out images, the real proportions and usual contexts of things are often changed, creating new surprising worlds.

A creative activity I love, is exploring a theme or a subject through its variations. In the examples abow, the subject is a Christmas tree, while below it is my good friend Esther (you can find her at robertpuccilab YouTube channel). She generally has a pretty minimal look, but I wanted to make her have some fun using textures, accessories and fabrics cut from fashion magazines.

Even a tiny detail has got its own creative potential. Just put it on a sheet of paper: what does it recall you? What sign could complete it, what shape could it become part of? Take a pencil or another tool and try to draw it…

Another interesting visual exercise (or visual game) consists of observing an image only in its shapes and colors, regardless of what it represents; then selecting part of it and transform it into something else – that is giving a new meaning. In the couples of examples below, I cut out two portions of the same picture to create the faces, seen in profile, of two characters that somehow are interacting. Of course, in this game, the initial picture could turn in different shapes, depending on the observer’s interpretation. How many images are hidden and “contained” in the same image?

The only parts I added are the facial details (eyes, mouth, eyebrow), that I cut-out from the same initial picture and glued on the second one. Very unexpected personalities came out that I could not have imagined by myself, without the inspiration of the starting material! I put together a serie of these cards, that I called “Face to face”, as an invitation to combine them and invent a dialogue between the two. How many other ways could we play with these cards?

As with any other technique or material, I think that the initial exploration of the potential of collage – quite free and for its own sake – can become an increasingly focused tool to express one’s uniqueness, through one’s own expressive style. You are welcome to share your works and processes for enriching this collage repertoire. Enjoy!

#thegrammarofmatter

Identity Investigations

I have always been fascinated by variations: how identity can change and remaining recognizable at the same time? In other words, while changing, at what point that identity is no longer recognizable? And what is that make it recognizable through changes?
There are many ways to explore these questions using images and materials. Or even by playing with Esther. But who is Esther?

Initially, it was a paper strip, a processing waste of a paper work lying on my desk among other materials. It was casually folded in three parts and this folding gave to the piece of paper a special kind of balance so that it “seemed something”… I touched it softly: it began to swing and I began to see it alive. As its identity was taking shape in my mind, I tried to shape it with scissors and here she is: hello Esther!

Once her identity was defined, I just played with it. How does she move in the space, how many positions can she take? How can she relate with different shapes or contexts?

How can her characteristcs be transformed in order to create variations? For example: changing dimensions, material, texture, the shape of some folders or details…

In his book “Fantasia”, the designer Bruno Munari lists a number of creative techniques to transform a known object by changing its characteristics, in order to develop imagination. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • using opposites and antonyms (a fast turtle)
  • multiplying a part of a whole (a dragon with seven heads)
  • changing dimensions (a huge ladybug)
  • changing color (a blue bread)
  • changing material (a sponge hammer)
  • changing the function (a shoe used as a flower vase)
  • changing the context (a ship in the middle of a meadow)

The identity of every character will also evolve within a narrative frame, through encounters, stories, adventures. For example, what if Esther met a cat?

The topic of identity and its possible transformations through variations is also developed in many picture books for children. Here is an example of some pictures from “Hyppopposites” by Janik Coat, where the hippo identity is explored through different colors and textures.

The exploration of the possible variations of an object (of a character or an image) makes us investigate the limits, the potential and the essence of its identity: at what point of the transformation we can say that something has completely turned in something else? Which elements determine and affect one’s own identity?
Like Munari said, “a fish with horns is still a fish”?

Enjoy your identity exploration and don’t miss Esther Trilogy on robertapuccilab Youtube channel!