create (with kids): what is art?

By freshlyplanted - 5:04 AM

I love when the fine line between object and art becomes blurred. Such as Christo wrapping an island in cloth, here. Or Warhol filling an art gallery with look-alike Campbell's Soup boxes, here. It's so easy to begin to limit art. To start thinking that all art needs a frame, or even an objective for that matter. And forget how fun it can be to just create, using whatever you have on hand. Like a raisin box.


Our first step to this project was painting the box white with acrylic paint. Isia wanted to know why she was painting a box of raisins. Can't a box be art? I asked. She wasn't sure, but she was happy to paint it to see what would happen next. Then she wanted to get her hot glue gun out (see the beginning of her hot glue adventure, here). These pop-off lids, collected by our friend whose a nurse, worked perfectly. She was collecting them for a collage project and was nice enough to share with us. They're a great assortment of colors and sizes. Isia enjoyed selecting which ones would be "just right" for her box. 

Then she wanted to add some color, so we got out the tempera paint.  As you can see, the only colors we own are yellow, red and blue. I find it's easy to mix any specific we need for a project or- even better- let her experiment with mixing her own. I've recently re-discovered that plastic lids make great palettes. They're a nice smooth surface to mix paint on and easy to clean up afterwards. 

By the end of the project, there was no doubt in her mind that her box was now art. She had claimed it as her own and was eager to give it to someone. That's the highest mark of artwork around here, wanting to give it away as a present! 

This project, to me, opens up that age-old discussion of "What is art?" Did the raisin box become art when Isia decorated it, or was it already art in the first place? If you enjoy pondering this question- and around here we do- there's a great book for you, "Puzzles about Art: An Aesthetics Casebook." It's a little highbrow at times, but definitely engaging and thought provoking. For example it presents the case of Betsey the Chimpanzee in the Baltimore Zoo who uses paint and paper to produce various products. The book inquires as to whether these are paintings. "Is Betsey's work art? Is it art only under certain conditions of display (e.g., at the art museum, but not at the natural history museum)? If it is (at least sometimes) art, whose art is it?" (1). Translated into more kid-friendly language by the Mama, we've had some good beginnings-of-dialogue. And some good giggles too- especially imagining how different animals might create art!

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