Drawing a la John MacPhee

Drawing a la John MacPhee
by Marie Meegan

 Last November, I participated in a drawing workshop conducted by
John MacPhee at Mass College of Art.  Even at that time I had it in
mind to share some thoughts about young students and drawing from my
art education practice.  But, the thoughts remained on my back burner,
so to speak.

    For a number of years, I had surveyed fourth and
fifth grade students during one class period to find out what they had
learned in art, and what they liked and disliked about what they had
learned.  I used a simple commercial form published by Frank
Schaffer. (Google the name.)  The most important question,
for our purposes, was one asking, “What would you like to learn in art
in the future?”  Inevitably, the answers would come back, “I would like to learn to draw.” 
It made me wonder what the students thought we were doing in art
class.  Was my program so clandestine that they missed the point
that they were drawing in every class?

    This morning I read an article entitled “Making Theories of Children’s Artistic Development Meaningful for Preservice Teachers”
by Mick Luebrman and Kathy Unrath in the May 2006 issue of Art
Education, (The Journal of the NAEA.)  The article led me to think
about this topic again.  Art educators know and understand the
stages of artistic development through which children pass.  We
need only refer to Viktor Lowenfeld, Al Hurwitz or Judith Burton to
review these stages.  But, apparently the students, themselves,
either do not know or do not accept the stage they are in during fourth
and fifth grade.  We have learned from the experts and from our
own teaching experience that this age level is very difficult to keep
advancing.  After drawing something, these children might look at
their work and say, “I can’t draw!”  

    What should art teachers do about this, if
anything?   Well, for one thing we can follow John MacPhee’s
imaginative approach.  John was able to give us simple materials
and continuous exercises to keep us focused and drawing for about three
hours.  He directed our work, but never “helped” us.  Using a
simple potato chip bag and its contents, he managed to get us to see
what was inside, to see the design of the bag, itself, to draw, to
remember, to consider texture, color, line, the designer’s intentions,
and the object from many points of view, somewhat like David

    If you have ever sent art work back to the classroom
to be finished, you will appreciate that, art and drawing require some
guidance.  I have had  regular classroom teachers tell me the
students did not know what to do next, when gentle encouragement to
follow their own ideas would have kept the kids working and on
track.  Questions such as, “What do you think you should do
next?’  Or, saying, “Try that.  You may like it.”  The
teacher can refer to line, shape, color or texture and send the student
back into action.  The teacher’s presence and attentiveness, while
not interfering, is important at these vulnerable ages. 
(9-12).   Drawing should not be simply a laissez faire event.  In other words, drawing is not “recess.”  It is hard work.

    To help youngsters stay on track in the middle
years, I would recommend reading up on drawing for young
students.  One of my favorite books is “Hooked on Drawing” by
Sandy Brooke.  “Drawing with Children” by Mona Brooke is also an
excellent title.  The same author has a more recent book for older
children and teens.  The following website “Drawing Encounters” will be worth book marking. 

Thank you, John MacPhee, for giving us a thorough and insightful lesson in drawing.  This older kid loved it.  

     Marie Meegan, Salem


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