Experiments in Art Making

"These are your tools to experiment with." Young children have no trouble exploring the infinite possibilities of art making materials. As we get older influences begin to limit our perceptions. During a recent class on value with my fourth grade students, I greeted them by simply saying, "These are your tools to experiment with." Their materials: a paintbrush, paper and ink. Each table had a slightly different value of black ink, from the purest black ink to completely clear water. The group had five minutes at each table to experiment with the provided materials. By rotating tables, each student had the opportunity to experiment with various shade of black ink. Many students were frustrated by the lack of direction (especially those that started out at the table with just water), but after a few rotations they really began to enjoy the process. I was fascinated to see the variety of ways each student interpreted the challenge. Some were satisfied with the tactile experience of saturating their paper with ink and water, while others worked hard to categorize their different findings. I was careful to limit my instructions, and asked my students to remain totally quiet during their experimentation. Of course it can be difficult to keep a room full of fourth graders quiet, but I simply warned them that the slightest peep might "ruin the entire experiment." They seemed impressed by this, and worked hard to keep quiet. Working like this allowed each student to make their own discoveries. Afterwards, we discussed our findings, and talked about the ways in which value can be used as a powerful art-making tool. 

Experimenting with art in this way opens doors to so many other curricular tie-ins. Here are some ways to continue the conversation about value in other subjects:

• Math - Using this same format of tables equipped with various shades of black ink, have students label the percentage of each cup’s value of black ink. For example, the cup with pure black ink would be 100% while the cup with just water would be 0%.

• Science - A similar presentation could be done for students to experiment with magnets. Have tables equipped with various pieces of metal (paperclip, aluminum foil, coins, etc.) and magnets. Each student should be equipped with a notebook, pencil and a plastic ruler. Allow your students to experiment with the materials and document their findings. After they have all had a chance to experiment with the various materials have them discuss their findings as a group.  

• Life Skills - This conversation on value presents an opportunity to have students share what they value most in their life. This could become a creative writing assignment, allowing students to fully understand the various ways this word can be used.