An Education Workshop with Juan Delgado
I hope you enjoy my workshop: “Six-Sided Stories: Creating a Poetic Cube”
I’d like to begin by acknowledging Emmitt Conklin and all the folks at Beyond Baroque for allowing me this opportunity and for making this workshop possible.
In creating this workshop, I thought about my audience. This workshop is designed for children and their families. I have worked with many 3rd and 4th graders over the years, but these exercises will hopefully engage children of all ages and adults as well. It would be great if the family unit participated in one or two of these creative activities.
I also have a second audience in mind. K-12 educators! As we know, remote learning has forced so many of us to be tethered to our computer screens. I am hoping my creative activities will get students away from their computer screens. I hope my creative tasks can provide teachers with ideas for developing their own assignments that will engage their students in the learning process and provide them with other meaningful ways to acquire knowledge.
I want to give a special invitation to all my friends at the Garcia Center for the Arts in downtown San Bernardino and to all my Native friends who support the Dorothy Roman Learning Center in Banning, CA.
Before we begin discussing the creative tasks, I would like to talk about the philosophy behind my workshop, “Six-Sided Stories.”
I know there are many experienced and thoughtful educators and parents who are doing a wonderful job and share some of the same views that I have about art education. I hope my following commentary encourages and supports parents and older siblings who have been put in the position of teaching for the first time because of this pandemic. We are truly facing challenging times. I hope my commentary assists people who have been put in the position of teaching art for the first time.
Like others, I believe that art happens by us, not just through us. We are consistently reflecting on the decisions we make, for example, when selecting the colors we use, the images we draw, or the names of characters in our stories. Throughout the creative process, I urge participants to reflect on their decision-making process. If you are a parent or teacher, please get in the habit of asking questions that encourage children to ponder and examine their own artistic decisions. Instead of evaluating or making a value judgment about the artwork, poem, or story, try to focus on self-examination; ask the children to explain why they painted the eyes green or how they held the pencil in their hand to get that particular dark line. I am urging you to focus on their decision-making and their unique process for constructing a story or image. Don’t forget to assure the child that it’s okay to develop her own path and way of interpreting the creative tasks and putting them in action.
Besides developing a deeper awareness of the children’s creative process, the creative tasks can serve to encourage conversations about academic values such as persistence, independence, risk-taking, open-mindedness, humor, elaboration, and curiosity. For instance, we might have a child who keeps adding words or images to her cube, complicating her artistic vision. This might be someone who is open-minded to complexity. If you have a child who is creating complex stories for the first time, keep urging the child to take risks and explore the possibilities. Let me give you another example of the importance of these academic values: I would encourage the child who keeps rewriting and reworking her artwork until she feels it is completed—this might take longer than your given deadlines or it might mean that she starts her art project over a couple of times. Persistence is a wonderful trait to have as an artist and student. So many of us learn more from our miss-steps or when things do not come together effectively. Exploring what went wrong with our ideas or our execution is a great way to support a child’s ability to examine their process of creating and making decisions.
I encourage participants to focus on these key areas: Give more consideration to the artist’s decision-making processes and to the ways the artists embody their ideas or feelings. In other words, how did they physically construct and represent their ideas and feelings on paper, on wood, on cloth, etc. In addition, see if you can place the activities in a larger context of the values being practiced and learned such as curiosity or risking-taking.
For the teachers and parents, I want to mention that we can also use these creative activities as ways to question some educational agreements that we might accept too quickly. For example, we should question the notion that there is one way of thinking or learning, we should question the practice of making learning a competition, and we should not privilege perfection during the beginning stages of creating artwork.
Here are some other educational topics that we can discuss as the creative process unfolds:
Every participant is creative and has an active imagination. We should not privilege the ones who seemingly were “born” artists or who are “naturally” talented.
Every participant has a rich history and culture, and hopefully the creative tasks bring the participants’ histories and cultures into the creative process and into our learning sites.
Our creative space should be safe, fun, and relational. Parents and teachers should listen and talk to the children, establishing educational bonds by asking questions about their creative process and decisions. This is another reason why it’s so important to use the activities as way to learn the children’s unique way of interpreting the creative tasks, of making artistic decisions, and of constructing their art projects.
I hope to introduce participants to non-traditional or non-European ways of teaching such as learning to think and create the way Difrasismos are formed in Nahuatl. I’ll talk more about Difrasismos when I discuss the Creative Tasks.
We should encourage collaboration. We should also make sure that we share what they are doing and what they are learning from each other; the group or family should be invested in constructing meaning together. Less focus should be placed on individual-based learning and more on family or group based learning. We should encourage participants to share their work with others. Sometimes, we end up developing educational or artistic tasks that isolate or separate children. For instance, if learning becomes a competition, we could pit child against child or we end up rewarding only the “best” art project. As a result, we could disengage children from the whole process. Unfortunately, some children have been given the idea that art is about competing with others to produce the “best” or “winning” entry. We want to avoid these approaches and provide other ways of seeing and experiencing art.
You can create your cube out of paper or wood; the cube can be an old shoe box. You can use a block of wood, a 4 by 4 that’s been cut and sanded. You can make your own cube out of paper or use the take out boxes that carry our rice after we order take-out from our favorite Thai restaurant. I urge participants to recycle and transform a cigar box into something new. In fact, finding the right cube and experimenting with material can be a big part of the creative process. You can make it a fun process by having the children participate in deciding what makes the best material for your art project. Of course, you can create a number of different cubes, using a variety of materials. The materials and the learning site are two key features that can greatly impact the creative process. These factors play key roles in the creation of your art project and can determine the ways you might interpret each of the creative tasks. So please give special attention to your selection of material and to your learning site, which can be a kitchen table, a garage, the floor of your living room. What kind of learning site are you creating and establishing? Do you have any spoken or unspoken rules? Is it more like a playground with expected ways of playing or imagining? Or is it a play-scape, more like a child’s secret play area or backyard where the rules are not as prescribed?
Lastly, you might ask why I am having you create cubes. Well, I am big fan of Concrete Poetry for a number of educational and artistic reasons. First, it gets us to write and create art outside the traditional dimensions of 8’’ by 11’’ white-piece paper. Maybe it gets us to create a story in different way besides a linear way. Maybe using the cube might complicate our way of thinking of a story as having a beginning, middle and an end. I also find Concrete Poetry brings other art forms and traditions into the process of learning. It also has a long history of collaboration. Lastly, I think one of the key features of Concrete Poetry is its international scope. I think Concrete Poetry goes beyond national borders and languages. As you can see, Concrete Poetry aligns well with my educational practices and activities. With Concrete poetry, you can think of your cube more as a sculpture. Of course, you can focus on the visual aspect of texts or on the audio. For instance, I have had students use QR codes that allow us to use our phones to scan the cube and takes us to digital sites or listen to song, etc. You can use material that provides someone with a tactile experience. Please explore all the different ways to create art with your cube. Check the website for photos and additional information and examples for the cubes. For a working definition and vivid examples of Concrete Poetry, please go to the link I’ve provide:
“What is concrete poetry? Concrete poems are objects composed of words, letters, colors, and typefaces, in which graphic space plays a central role in both design and meaning. Concrete poets experimented boldly with language, incorporating visual, verbal, kinetic, and sonic elements.” (https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/what-is-concrete-poetry/)
The creative tasks give you pathways to tell your six-part poem or story. Hopefully, one of these options will appeal to you.
Creative Task A: Use your cube to create a riddle for us. Give us clues, images, stories, so we can guess if you are describing an animal, a song, a person. Your cube is a puzzle for us to hold in our hands and ponder.
Creative Task B: Draw and tell a story about where your footprints have been, where they mostly stand now, and where they will be in the future. Use your six-sided cube to represent your footprint journeys.
Creative Task C: Create a portrait of your childhood—What activity do you see yourself doing? What site or sites best describe a key feature of your childhood? What sounds do you hear? What colors define an aspect of your childhood? What tree or other landmark (natural or manufactured) is in the center of your childhood activities?
Creative Task D: Select a phrase from your native, ancestral, or home language and translate it for us. Provide drawings and definitions of key words. You are creating a colorful and personal dictionary on your cube. Also, please use the phrase in context or put the phrase into action.
I have additional suggestions for this last creative task:
Do a little research and find the native language or languages of your local area and use it for your cube. For instance, it would be great to see and hear a cube featuring Serrano and Cahuilla, the native languages in my area.
If you are interested in different linguistic communities, you can use your cube to create your own personal Difrasismos,* which means creating semantic couplets. People who speak Nahuatl have a unique way of thinking when they pair two elements to create or express something new. For example, in Nahuatl, speakers bring together “water” and “mountain” to refer to “the city.”
If you have studied Old English Poetry, you are aware of this kind of pairing of two nouns or kenning. In Beowulf, one will come across “whale-road” for “the sea.” In Nahuatl, scholars tell us that this kind of compounding was a special practice in that the Pre-Hispanic people who gave importance to a word by bringing two words that had a special meaning in their culture. For example, “heart” in Nahuatl brings together “eye” and “face,” thus combining two essential ideas. For them, the “eye” and “face” suggest “perception” and “emotion,” which for them equals the heart. What two words represent the heart for you? What two words best represent your city?
*Difrasismo is a term coined by Ángel María Garibay Kintana. Please read Dr. Mercedes Montes de Oca Vega’s explanation and examples of “Diphrases or couplets in Náhuatl.”
These books below are useful and informed me in developing my workshop.
Rudolf Arnheim’s Toward a Psychology of Art
Susan Daniels’ Raising Creative Kids
Alfred Hoyuelos’ The Ethics in Loris Malaguzzi’s Philosophy
Laura Rendon’s Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy
Emmitt Williams’ Anthology of Concrete Poetry