This masterpiece is one of my favourites. It emerged authentically and early on in the year when children started to explore and share line drawing using chalk outdoors. Along with our guest atelierista, a very large canvas, a jar full of interesting brushes, and a set of acrylic paints, the children’s excitement was captivating! Working collaboratively, exploring colour mixing, line, and a variety of brushes, the children created their first collaborative masterpiece. Collaboration became a conversation in and of itself, with children enjoying how the word rolled off their tongues and exploring what it meant to be collaborative.
As children stood back and admired the piece, there emerged a kind of reflective conversation. Children made connections to their own experiences and understandings of the world. They shared personal perspectives, as artists, making meaning of a collaborative piece. Metaphorically, the conversation seemed to create a jumping-off point where the artists pondered their own interpretations of the piece while at the same time reflected upon the thoughts of the Other.
In their book, “In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching, and Learning”, Gunilla Dahlberg and Peter Moss introduce their book that is “about an extraordinary experience as seen through the eyes of one of [Reggio Children’s] leading interpreters, Carlina Rinaldi.” Dahlberg and Moss share that, “A ‘pedagogy of listening’ — listening to thought –exemplifies for us an ethics of an encounter built on welcoming and hospitality of the Other — an openness to the difference of the Other, to the coming of the Other. It involves an ethical relationship to openness to the Other, trying to listen to the Other from his or her position and experience and not treating the Other as the same. The implications are seismic for education.”
It is through listening to the children share their interpretations and perspectives, that I began to get a sense of the magnitude of the relationship between the pedagogy of listening, the Other, and this group of artists. The children engaged in respectful conversation and seemed to be building onto one another’s ideas. Without necessarily commenting directly on the thoughts of each Other, it appeared to me that they were building upon and extending ideas by bringing into the conversation their own experience, and viewpoint of the painting. As I recorded their dialogue, the harmony of conversation amazed me.
Each child spoke in turn, without interrupting, without a raising of a hand, almost as if rehearsed — although quite the opposite. Each child spoke only once and then silently each child stood looking at the painting, eyes set on it, exploring it, revisiting it with each reflection shared by the Others. It was something I had not witnessed before. It seemed to me that the children — regardless of whether or not their thoughts were shared aloud — were transfixed by the work and became even more engaged with it as perspectives were shared among the group.
As a listener, I realized that I was privy to something very special. The metaphors, the openness, the acceptance, and the reflections came about authentically as the children themselves engaged in the pedagogy of listening to the Other — indeed the conversation was captivating. “Look at the colours! They’re all waking up!” (whispering) “It looks like flowers in a very big garden.” “I feel like the brush is dancing in my hand.” “It’s like music all over the canvas.” “It’s kind of like a rainy day and looking through a window — and then, and then, and then — I see all the flowers — the grass mixing together. [long pause] I love it so much. It makes me very, very, very happy.” “I see the sun. I see the sun. Look! It’s the sun. Can you see it?” “I see it too! It’s shining through all the flowers.” “I want to go there. I want to go to that garden.” “It’s a garden under the sea.” “It might be coral. And the grass stuff that gets your legs — when you swim. Like at the cottage.”
As each child spoke, my sense of curiosity grew. I wondered about many things: each child as an individual; the relationship between art, creativity, and collaboration; the dynamics of the group; the language of art; and the hundred languages of children. How does collaboration impact artistic reflection? What is it about the pedagogy of listening that seems to invite intrigue for the thoughts of the Other? How does the language of art impact relationships between artists? As alive as respect, joy, wonder, and appreciation seemed to be in this space among the artists, these same emotions were awakened in my mind –the mind of the pedagogical listener — the mind of the educator being educated.
This piece continues to provoke my thinking causing me to reflect deeply on the joy and magnitude of the atelier and what emerges from within. It invites me to ponder the learning experiences of children and educators. It reminds me of the importance of the pedagogy of listening. It beckons me to look deeply at the shared experiences of artists. And it captivates me as I continue to explore how critical the study of relationships within the atelier are to uncovering how individuals, groups, spaces, materials, and mediums impact each of us through the language of artistic expression and what I call children’s ‘Languages of Learning’ (#languagesoflearning). I wonder how this ‘Legacy Piece’, displayed proudly in our atelier, might invite, intrigue, and inspire future works of art, collaboration, conversation, and reflection in our studio space?