Eric Carle is a well renowned children’s book author and illustrator. His museum in Amherst, MA draws visitors from around the world. The museum’s focus is on picture book art, because that’s what Eric Carle does, and he does it so well.
I went to the Eric Carle Museum yesterday; another museum trip that left me soaring, coming away with far more than I expected. The main exhibit was “Madeline at 75”, Ludwig Bemelman’s many illustrations of the Madeline books. Standing three inches away from the original art of books that I have read thousands of times to children was humbling. I could see every brush stroke, every pencil line, and even the texture of the paper. I was frozen and consumed. My husband had the look of, “Jennie, please do not cry or fall apart. I would be mortified.” I did not cry, and the next part of the museum took a remarkable turn.
In order to understand, I need to back up and tell you about the ‘Art Show’.
Each year my class creates an Art Show for the entire community displayed at the post office. Yes, just my class of preschoolers, not the entire school. It has become monumental in its value to the children and all the people who come to see it. When this show first started, we were studying France, and learned about the Impressionists (and so much more). That led to a school wide display, which was so remarkable that it was displayed for the community. Every year it grows in accolades and viewers. The guest book is jam packed with comments. Why is this Art Show consistently so successful and different?
I introduce children to all types of art. Good teachers do this. We learn that each piece of art is a masterpiece. But, I stop with each piece to say, “Chloe, you could do this.”, and talk about it. Piece after piece, I make it personal to a child. It doesn’t matter the type of art nor the child; bringing art into a real world for children is opening a door. I’m saying to them, “You can do this.” And they do.
We use real water color paints from tubes onto pallets. Children learn how to mix and use paints. They replicate brush strokes and colors. Art isn’t created in a day, so children return to their piece over and over until they like it. We always refer to their art as a masterpiece, because it is. They are empowered.
The final element is children naming their work of art. All famous artists gave their paintings a title, and so should the children. This is perhaps the most powerful part of making art. I never underestimate the creativity and deep feelings of young children. Many titles have left me speechless. I stand back and nod at weeks of hard work and interest. Giving a work of of art a title is like hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. Powerful stuff for children.
Then, they get to see their masterpieces on display. This experience is beyond words.
Back to the Eric Carle Museum, and ‘what happened next’. The new Caldecott winners for children’s books have been announced. I had my eye on The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art. I often use music to inspire art. Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ has been a favorite. I found the book at the museum bookstore, but I found much more at the museum’s exhibit of the life of Eric Carle. He returned to Germany in 1936, and in 1939 his art teacher showed him ‘forbidden art’, the works of Matisse, Picasso… and Kandinsky. I thought I would jump out of my skin! Here is the painter and the book I’m looking for, and he was one of the ‘forbidden artists’ who inspired Eric Carle.
I love museums. Learning and discovery never ends. Now, I am fueled up to inspire my classroom as we begin to create art and prepare for the Art Show. Kandinsky and The Noisy Paintbox will be a great introduction. We’ll listen to classical music, watch a symphony on the iPad, and learn about instruments. Did you know that Kandinsky named his pieces of art after music?
Books, music, and art are all intertwined. Each one inspires the other. Individually they are beautiful. Collectively they make a big impression and a powerful difference in the lives of young children. I see this and teach this.