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Dress-up artists. (Children's art diary).

As I walk near the school bus stop, one sister shouts to the other from an opposite street corner, "If you insist on wearing what doesn't match, I told you I wouldn't stand on the same corner with you. The crazy pieces you picked--Mom told you not to wear them together!"

It seems that critics are everywhere, always asking us to tone down our choices. As I continue on, I approvingly admire the young fashion innovator's bold color sense, personal style and refusal to blend in with the crowd. But how long can young, independent dressers sustain themselves without support? I wonder if their art teacher would praise their bold design choices and say, "I love the unusual colors you decided to wear today."

Do we recognize budding fashion artists entering our room? As art teachers, we have the unique opportunity to liberate young artists from what fashion dictates has to go with what and encourage personal design experimentation on the primary canvas of ourselves. Without art-class support and exploration, bus-corner monitors quickly close in.

Art teaching can provide support for originality and respect for children's choices. Clothing decisions are among the most serious art choices made by kids daily. Even during adolescence, kids discuss clothing decisions with friends in lengthy conversations, using vivid descriptions. Through clothing selection, kids develop a sense of design, taste and style.

LET'S PLAY DRESS-UP Although it's "official" on Halloween, dressing up is a year-round occupation. Kids create exciting fashion shows, testing their ideas of style on pets, dolls and themselves. They try on Mom and Dad's clothes, and each other's clothes, in many combinations.

For students in an art room, it can always be "Hat Day," lending a bit of the Halloween dress-up spirit to each day. If teachers notice students' fashion choices and seize the opportunity to share and talk about new fashion finds, any art room can become the center for dress-up art. On rainy days, umbrella shows are held. On cold winter days, gloves and unusual mittens pose. Summer days we look at children's sunglass designs and create outrageous swimwear ideas for twistable fast-food figures. We admire fashion ideas worn to class--as seen in decoration with key chains, stickers and buttons, over sneakers, and on jackets and backpacks. I frequently display my daughter Ilona's jean jacket, which she resurfaced with medals and pins in the style of military generals.

We provide the white canvas of socks, shoelaces, tennis shoes, shirts and painters' caps on which to create future school-fashion trends. In art class, we resurface found garments and also create original fashion from household objects and materials with no previous fashion lineage. To showcase new art, our art supplies include unusual fabrics and the latest in flea-market clothes, fashion forms, mirrors, play microphones and runways.

THE ART OF WRAPPING After a bath, children create great turbans and body wear, commandeering nearly every bath towel in the house. They explore draping art on many forms, from dolls to cut-out figures, pets and stuffed animals. Children play out art ideas by dressing play figures in original and ready-to-wear outfits. Doll clothes made from scrap fabrics, foils, wrapping paper and bubble wrap make up the most ingenious and daring dress designs. Children come to art class with vast experiences in wrapping bodies on all scales and with a genuine love for fabrics. Kids cover the world, dressing not only the human figure, but all kinds of objects, from pillows to pencils.

A fabric table is a standard fixture in our art room. It wears official store signs, announcing daily sales and inviting students to touch and sample. Yards of exciting colors, textures and patterns are always tempting opportunities to uncritically mix and match personal palettes. In art class, trunks filled with found objects also remain open and challenge students to lift fashion boundaries by showing fabrics and objects generally not considered for wear.

Down our art-class runways, students originated the parachute dress, the diaper and paper-tablecloth shirt, the Lego[R] vest, the lampshade hat and pocketbooks made from pencils, jean pockets and bubble wrap. Our models are dolls, teddy bears and vintage mannequins poised for draping by fashion designers who play and train here.

THE ART OF CLOTHES SHOPPING A sign of artistic growing up is a child's interest in clothes shopping and a desire to have a say in what to wear. We often see the artistic exuberance of young children, touching and uninhibitedly trying on everything in a store. It is too bad that cooperative clothes shoppers are easier for parents to deal with, and kids who allow themselves to be dressed are more inclined to be rewarded than those who wander away and seek new aisles in search of their own style.

Clothes shopping is serious business for kids who compare styles and colors more freely in stores than in a museum or gallery. The willingness of parents to risk, to allow kids to choose and find support for their taste and experimentation, is one of the clearest signals of faith in a child artist.

Art rooms should always be set up to invite individual shopping adventures. A fabric store, clothing store or an exciting yard sale can serve as models for the art room. I collect used store fixtures, signs, cardboard display racks, antique hangers and old labels for store playing. In our class there are always interesting vintage bowling and Hawaiian shirts, scarves, Deco ties, and patterned vests to mix and match. We "sell" Shoe World magazine as art news and pay attention to the latest ideas on all fashion fronts.

WEARING CLOTHES HISTORY Most parents keep scrapbooks or photo albums of their children. I saved my children's childhood clothing. I have Jacob's race-car driver and space-suit pajamas and his moire-patterned slippers with changing drawings. I share with my students the tiniest shirts featuring the Fonz, Batman and the Jetsons. Then I move the show to large teen shirts, including the Turbo Cello Rock Tour shirt Jacob painted and other concert souvenir shirts documenting his changing musical taste. These tangible souvenirs of growing up are also inventive art objects I admire.

Did you ever show your own childhood clothes to an art class? Students love to view other aspects of the teacher's art, and so I share my own clothes from childhood along with photos of my boyhood Halloween costumes. From our attic, I resurrect my grandmother's old wedding dress for the class. Class dress-up artists can try on the dress, her old ballroom gloves, and funny 1920s shoes and bonnets. Students are fascinated with a personal presentation of clothing history when it is presented as art.

It's fun when grown-up kids join in the show of their childhood clothes. They are amazed to discover what was saved, "Oh, I remember Hat Days in school. It was the only time we were allowed to wear them, and we made sure we had the most unusual hats." Kids' hat selections are an important part of shaping future interests in sculpture forms.

Vintage makeup bags, red suitcases and old handbags are used to house my collections, each labeled--kids watches, mittens, umbrellas, belts, purses, Halloween costumes. Interesting containers invite exciting opening ceremonies and future collections. Sharing art history through family clothing personalizes the art form and extends an intimate invitation for appreciation.

END OF THE RUNWAY Highlighting kids' clothing and fashion promotes a connection to other art interests. The teacher's collections are always fun to share, being wrapped in many layers of anecdotes. Suitcase museum items can be tried on, World's Fair souvenir scarves, and old valentine handkerchief sets are art to wear. Clothing art is unforgettably expressed through sharing sessions involving students' zany sweaters and hair ornaments, their family's scrapbooks, and the teacher's collections. When readily discarded clothing tags are saved and carefully preserved in an art class, it becomes a significant suggestion for taking a second look at all the unheralded aspects of fashion art around us.

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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Author:Szekely, George
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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