working BIG for kids (and grown-ups)

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Working Big is a remarkable book about large-scale art projects for kids. Written in 1975, it is long out-of-print, but available these days as a free, downloadable pdf from Public Collectors. It gives an expansive view (with how-to’s) of discovery projects to do with your own kids, or fantasize about for your (grown-up) self.

Working Big’s essential premise is that kids and artists often take similar approaches in exploring and working with their environment. Its chapter titles –  “Kids’ Space Equals Artists’ Space” and “The Artist Shapes as the Child Shapes” – should be printed on tee shirts, or scrawled on walls. Pictures of kids working away with obvious pleasure are interspersed with images of works by notable artists, like Robert Smithson‘s earthworks, The Broken Circle and Amarillo Ramp. This inspiring book holds a lot of wisdom about kids AND the creative process in general:

“When nature itself provides the medium, children are eager and intuitive artists. They need no one to tell them that the moist grittiness of sand is just right for sculpturing or that damp snow can be squeezed into the most satisfying shapes. A pile of paving blocks immediately triggers construction ideas; discarded tires, an event…”

…Their enthusiasm for working big outdoors and their facility with whatever materials are at hand point out yet another example of how children on their own delight in ordering space in ways not dissimilar to those favored by many contemporary artists.”

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The book will guide you through Air Art (air tunnels, cushions, whips, and hot-balloons); Building Big with Cardboard…and Lights…and Working Walls (relief sculptures, murals, hand-rolled paper reliefs and 3-D stencils) to name a few…By understanding the basic logic of each project, kids can improvise and apply their own vision…

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Working Big just might change your view of what a kid is capable of, and set your own imagination soaring…

…As a grown-up of certain age, I think the quote, above, is much more thrilling if you change “children” to “we”:

“When nature itself provides the medium, children WE are eager and intuitive artists. They WE need no one to tell them US that the moist grittiness of sand is just right for sculpturing…”

3 Responses to working BIG for kids (and grown-ups)

  1. Pamela 01.12.2010 at 9:49am #

    My son is a fan of Andy Goldsworthy’s art-making, an artist who uses the natural world as both his tools and his studio. He has attempted to make his own stone or ice or leaf “installations” inspired from the images of Goldsworthy’s efforts. Which reminds me…

    I heard someone on NPR yesterday, talking about how, as children, we all raise our hands when asked if we consider ourselves artists. Fewer of our hands raise when asked the same question as adolescents and even fewer as teens. What starts out in us as an instinctive act — and also a highly pleasurable one — too quickly is replaced by a lack of confidence in the quality and perceived value of what we make. As a parent, it is a challenge to keep the natural artist alive in my child, but a worthwhile effort nonetheless. Perhaps he’ll return to it at some later time. I can hope…

  2. Penny 01.13.2010 at 3:30am #

    This reminds me of March 1983. Out here in New Jersey we had a ton of snow. Fresh from Southern California (it was our first year in our new house) My 2 year old brother and I (8 yrs old at the time) had a blast. We rolled a snowball until it was so big we couldn’t push it any more, then we left it in the middle of the lawn.

    Our dad came out, saw this snowball and got to work. With only a little help from us he continued construction and as night fell, there was a HUGE Snow Bunny. (Easter was in March that year) It was so tall that dad had to finish the Ears while standing on a step ladder. It had a basically carved bunny face on its head and legs carved in relief on that ginormous bottom snowball. He even sprayed it down with a coating of water, hoping that the ice would hold it together when things warmed up.

    We have pictures of that Snow Bunny somewhere in my Dad’s albums. We’ve never done anything that incredible or spontaneous with snow since then. It was our one and only snow bunny and I remember it fondly.

  3. Sally 01.13.2010 at 11:29pm #

    You speak eloquently, Pamela, about the challenge of keeping the natural artist alive in your child. In a way, I feel like some of what ‘the improvised life’ is trying to do is call out the artists in we grown-ups whose natural instinct to create and solve problems may have gotten lost or covered over…I don’t think it is ever too late.

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