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Disguise artists. (Children's art diary).

You can't see her, but I have a busy partner at my desk watching me type this article. Post-it[R] note packs disappear as my daughter tries on new noses, draws new mouths and designs new facial features. Ana occasionally glances toward the mirror reflecting on each new face. The tiny camera on top of the computer is turned toward her so I can replay the scene for my students tomorrow. In the meantime, I am off to shop for more Post-its and exciting stickers ... makeup for the next art class.

There has never been a better selection of interesting sticky items to cover children, the original Band-Aid[R] and Scotch[R] tape artists. Sticky labels that read "Paid," "Sale," "Received" and "Confidential" are painless instant disguises, and are available now in many solid and glowing colors. The joy of early "peek-a-boo" continues to build into adventurous face-changing experiments. Our art class Post-it and sticker faces encourage kids to further explore uncommon makeup. I follow the children's lead and bring in oranges for the class to peel, after recognizing a classic mask created by a child placing orange peel shapes on his face in the lunchroom.

HAVE YOU WATCHED ME SHAVE? Judging from Ana's enthusiasm, I should sell tickets to this special event. "Can I squeeze out the soap? Let me put some on my face," she begs. More exciting than soap bubbles, shaving cream forms a rich, white beard and a variety of changeable face wrappings. Children love to watch and be invited to participate in morning facial magic. Stayed tuned for the evening play, when Mom puts on her night creme.

Touching, rubbing, massaging and feeling our face is a basic portrait activity. The new pastel colors of shaving cream, fluorescent suntan lotions and silly string, contribute to the popularity of this artistic play. To learn about the richness of the face as a sculptural form, and not just a gathering of cartoon features, we play barber and become makeup artists. We invite explorers of peaks and valleys, plains and forms of faces. To build a touch of familiarity with face lines and textures, a prerequisite to informed portrait drawing or painting, we smooth fun things over faces. To follow the action, a variety of mirrors are available.

LOST IN THE AISLES It is not negligent parenting that requires the frequent lost-child announcements in a store. It is simply that kids easily wander away, drafted by shopping ideas and the temptation to try on everything. When secretly following young shoppers in a store, yes they will try on sunglasses and clothes, but they will also model things that adults would not think of wearing. (Don't tell Ana that I saw her trying on a lampshade.) Children will playfully get inside pillowcases, wear a paper "diaper" or mold aluminum foil to their face. To learn about objects, kids "get into them" and, as a result, discover the most interesting headgear.

How do you prepare for an art session on disguises? By modeling your best finds, of course. In an art class, you may be surprised at what you see modeled in a mask fashion show. With desks pushed to the side, the long, carpeted runway becomes prominent. Young faces peer from behind field-hockey racquets, plastic bins, unusual fly swatters, car cup hold ers and tool caddies. Each student takes the spotlighted runway walk and provides a colorful description into the microphone.

The underlying theme of the "parade" is to see masks as something contemporary, an art made of forms that are constantly discovered and invented. Students discover that even mass-produced objects leave telling human imprints of faces stamped on them--an art waiting to be discovered. When students leave the art room feeling that anything can be auditioned as a mask, new finds continue to arrive throughout the school year. A good art project should never go away, rather contribute to a permanent awareness.

DENTAL SOUVENIRS For some children a sticker and a lollipop are enough to conclude a dental visit. Others want it all ... the plastic mirror, the floss and the new pink dental mask. I was surprised to find a big mouth with smiling tooth drawings in my rearview mirror, as Ana retouched her souvenir dental mask. I made a quick demur on the way home to the medical supply store to get a box of paper masks, just in case Ana or my other school artists required them.

You would not believe what appeared on the heels of our discussion of contemporary masks. Students brought in a beekeeper's mask and a variety of swim and diving masks. We held a show-and-tell about masks for hockey goalies and baseball catchers, tried on a fencing mask, safety goggles, a gas mask and a gel-filled night mask. To study these exciting forms, we traced them, played with their shadows, and wrapped each in foil and cellophane. Of course, many drawings were made on the way to designing our own originals.

A mask exhibit was held in our school entitled, "American Masks in Work and Play." Unfortunately the show will never be a definitive one, since students keep bringing new mask examples to class. My favorite mask collection started in an attempt to preserve family history, by saving the masks our children wore for Halloween. Today, I add to an extensive American children's mask collection, by browsing on e-bay, the art teacher's favorite class prop store. Under the key word "mask," an exciting Web "soup" of mixed masks from all cultures and periods appears, many affordable enough to start any art-class museum.

AFRICAN MASKS IN A KMART CULTURE Children gather before Halloween in our home to share their disguises. Ana is readily accepted in the group of Kmart masks, even though, this year, she decided to wear an African tribal mask from my teaching-prop collection. Some of the kids ask to try on other exciting tribal masks. The result is an incredible cultural summit, a timeless meeting of old and new disguises, affirming the great universal spirit of this art.

As children bring to class the masks they found most interesting in stores this year, they are surprised to be greeted by their art teacher wearing an old tribal mask. The occasion made an interesting comparison of the ceremonies and uses of masks in other time periods and cultures. Discussions covered differences in theme, manufacture, material and design.

Making "totem poles" from toilet-paper rolls or "African masks" from papier-mache doesn't easily forge cultural connections for students. Instead of trying to imitate examples from past cultures, we need to look for clues to universal meaning and shared experiences, which are often found in children's art interests. Children maintain a culture's timeless appeal for celebrating in disguises, sensing the magical powers in wearing and discovering new forms of face coverings. Exposing students to old tribal masks is an affirmation of a living artistic path to which children continue to discover contemporary extensions.

CLOSING THE MAKEUP BOX I watch Ana open her new makeup box, with its palette of colors and big, soft brush. She tests every color on her face, with the joy of self-transformation shared by anyone who has ever put on a mask, makeup or shaving cream. Kids are in touch with the basic power of the artist to change, the ability to create someone else, to try on new characters on a personal canvas. Playing with disguises in the art class preserves timeless artistic mysteries and incentives for making art.

Professor George Szekely is Senior Professor of Art Education at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and is on the Arts & Activities Editorial Advisory Board. Currently, he also serves as President of the Kentucky Art Education Association, and Vice President of the National Art Education Association.
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Title Annotation:art projects
Author:Szekely, George
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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