when art is criminalized

Israel-Hernandez-Llach-600x600-300x300Graffiti (described as the un-commissioned word or image in public space by Alison Young in “Criminal Image, The Affective Judgment of Graffiti” in the journal Crime Media Culture ) is illegal in many places. Graffiti artists, championed by galleries and their work celebrated at prestigious museums like the Tate Modern, must bear the risk of their art working as they do with the ever present possibility of arrest.

On Tuesday 17 year old Miami Beach graffiti artist Israel Hernandez-Llach was tasered by police and died. The young man was an award-winning artist, his work exhibited at galleries and museums in the Miami area, and he was a gifted art student at Miami Beach High School. He had been spray-painting a boarded-up McDonalds.

We need some major public discussion about our culture that tolerates abandoned corporate storefronts and punishes – with his life – a graffiti artist who uses them as a canvas.

photograph from praag.org

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IKEA dollhouseWhoa! Dollhouses are in the news these days. Designer dollhouses, dollhouse expositions, and now IKEA is into the business (left; I love the flowered wallpaper).

Dollhouses have been a mainstay for play therapists for years; an article by play therapist Janet Courtney describes how her quest for the perfect dollhouse led her to create her own.

Titania's palaceAnd here is a new book about Titania’s Palace, an elaborate dollhouse begun in 1907 by cabinetmaker James Hicks & Sons, commissioned by Sir Neville Wilkinson when his three year old daughter Guendolen announced she had seen a fairy running under the roots of a tree and fretted that they had to live underground.

Why not encourage children to make their own dollhouses? Here are two from our Summer ArtBreak program. Notice the details: clock on the wall, a braided rug, stairs. The children making these took them back and forth between home and ArtBreak to continue working on them. Moms reported they were played with for days in a row.


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sewing: surprisingly relaxing

Sewing is one of the few media we use in ArtBreak that works across the span of the Expressive Therapies Continuum.  Designing, taking measurements and cutting out fabric are all second and third level activities that require cognitive and creative skills. The rhythm of hand stitching is a first level (kinesthetic) activity that both boys and girls are usually surprised to find very relaxing – and sociable when done in a group.


9ecc96949c26b5aa0bda0a107a16d279.jpgWe use basic stitching tips from the Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, available on the Alabama Chanin website here. For instance, we use needles double threaded with button craft thread and let our seams show because we are proud of our stitching.


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Captain Underpants

Figure Captain UnderpantsAs children enter kindergarten years their drawings begin to move into art educator Viktor Lowenfeld’s schematic developmental stage, characterized by among other things figures.

This summer children in both ArtBreak locations made art featuring cartoon figures (Captain Underpants and BMO  from Adventure Time), figures depicting a friendship (Sammy and Doris) and this stalwart red and blue figure under a blue sky.

Figures BMO and friendsFigures Sammy and DorisFigure Red and Blue

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channeling Calder

sun moon stars mobileThis is a sun, moon and stars mobile made by an eight year old girl in our Summer ArtBreak, for her dollhouse (also made in ArtBreak). It reminds me of Alexander Calder’s Circus sculptures.


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freedom and order

Face Big SmileEarly in our Summer ArtBreak sessions we noticed children working with great concentration and care on faces.  In this creative expression they are engaging in what Judith Rubin (author of Child Art Therapy) calls the integration of freedom (spontaneity and contemplative action) with the complexity of order and discipline required to select and use art materials. I love her instructions:

What seems most critical is the recognition that in creative expression there can be no true order without some experience of genuine freedom, and that the provider of art for children must make possible a productive and integrated relationship between the two.

Enjoy this little gallery of children’s portraits!

Face red and yellow

Fierce Face

Face Collaged face, with hairFace Phoebe

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finger painting: a joyful mess

IMG_2492Finger painting is a great way for older children  to re-visit, relax, and enjoy what Viktor Lowenfeld called the Scribble stage (common to ages 2-4), in his book Creative and Mental Growth. We did quite a bit of expressive finger painting in Summer ArtBreak with children ages 4-8.

The joyfulness of the mess is part of the point of finger painting. Just keep calm and follow these tips: 

1. Put a double layer of newspapers on the table (or have the children do this). It can be simply rolled up and thrown away. 

2. Each child should don a smock. See my post on June 4, 2012 for how to make inexpensive smocks from t-shirts.

3. A damp washcloth next to each finger painter will allow children to wipe their hands and remove most of the paint before using the sink for a final wash-up. 

4.  Demonstrate how to use the paint: how to open and close the cap, squirt small amounts at a time. I keep the containers in a tub and have the children work from there. We use only red, blue, yellow and white and suggest that children try mixing the colors, inviting them to begin with two. They never fail to be delighted when they make green, orange, purple and pink. Color magic!

5.  Have a bucket by the sink for children to deposit their used washcloths and smocks. I just carry the bucket home, put the contents through the washer and hang on a rack inside or outside to dry.

6. Have the children wipe up any paint on the table.

7. Finished paintings can dry on a rack, if you have one, or on newspaper spread on the floor (hallways are great for this in a school). 

8. Re-teach prep and clean up when it’s needed.


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