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The joys of cutting.

After finishing a drawing, kids often ask for scissors. "May I cut it out?" With a cut, the art is freed to dance, become a doll or form a strand of play jewelry. "Now may I have some string? I'm going to wear this to show everyone what I made." Cutting takes a picture and makes it a toy. Children's pockets are homes for pictures, dolls and creatures they cut out. Young children love cutting and a pair of scissors is their magical tool.

With the power of scissors in hand, children freely scribble and cut through papers. If paper is unavailable, they will start on their hair. With scissors, children make selections and take slices from the visual world. Kids cut peepholes inside pictures to make places to stick their noses through. Scissor holes through the eyes awaken portraits. Kids value scissors as a fine chisel, drill and drawing tool.

In school, children are required to follow lines, cut on the line, color inside the line and write between lines. A school "genius" is able to demonstrate mechanical curing skills at an early age. The only place where playful scissor use is valued is in the art room.


Funny things happen when scissors are set out on art room tables. Waiting for the art teacher to finish her lecture, a student cuts "grass-like" fringe on every page of his notebook. When students officially begin the lesson, one child takes two pairs of scissors to cut paper from opposite sides. I watch the children to learn about their scissor art and begin art lessons with scissor plays and performances.

Scissors travel in children's hands as they cut new roads. Do you have a scissors driver's license? We drive scissors across detailed maps and cut around curved mountain roads. We follow the "tire marks," or dotted lines of tracing wheels, with spiral cuttings. In night driving, fast-paced scissors try to keep up with moving flashlight beams. Be sure to take along your canteen for cutting adventures across desert surfaces.

What is the name of your favorite pair of scissors? Scissors can be dressed, cast in parts and called by name. With bright noses and creative costuming, scissors become clowns who leave funny and unexpected marks. Scissors can have more than nine lives--cast as musicians for rhythmic cutting, or transforming into fierce creatures devouring a surface. Playing the part of a paring tool, scissors can peel away at a large shape, cutting corners and edges, and loosening the shape's geometry to create new forms.

Hug a big piece of wrapping paper and squeeze it into a giant snowball. Open and inspect it and you'll harvest gorgeous found lines. Fanciful folds, and unusual pleats and tearing provide inspirations for cutting. Not regular old school cutting, not cutting mechanically on a line! We cut with fire and invention, rediscovering the beauty of a cut line and how we felt about scissors as children.

CUTTING PILES My wife and I ponder each receipt at tax time, while creating tempting mounds of paper for our enthusiastic scissor-shredder. My daughter Ana patiently waits with her scissors in hand for the piles to swell, so she can cut several layers at a time, reshaping the unusual papers.

My art classes shop for unusual receipts, envelopes, printed forms and charts to staple into cutting pads. To feel our different curing moves, we stand up to cut. An elegant fallout of lines sail from paper pads onto large outline drawings of widescreen TVs, billboards and giant picture frames.

EDITORIAL CUTS "Were you all photographed out by the time I came along?" asks Aria. She is admiring her sister's photo album and leafing through her brother's, asking where all her baby pictures are. After a thorough search for all of her photos, Ana set out to reconstruct her childhood with her trusty scissors. She reshaped the edges of photographs, reframing them, and freely cut around scenes to focus on what she considered important, or to scissor-edit and people she did not want in her album.

No wonder "Operation" is my students' favorite scissor play. Wearing surgical masks, groups of students stand around a patient, a body tracing lying on a white paper sheet on their "operating tables." With lively scissor actions, students remove imaginary organs, cutting beautiful lines and forms from the patient. We also operate on well-known works of art, using scissors for art appreciation. We cut into a reproduction of a masterpiece, and dissect the work's lines, shapes and structure. Cutting up one's own art can also tell us a great deal about its construction and provide evidence of its design and details.

FAST CUTS The hungry green monster roared through its first road test, swallowing up my studio table cover and spitting out long, white paper lines. Ana found the green battery-operated electric scissors at a garage sale and could not wait to use them. With power and adjustable speeds, the electric scissors cut long flowing lines. The world's longest scissor lines became an art class challenge.

In class, to simulate power scissors, we attached fuel lines and power packs to civilian models. We unfurled long papers along the school hallway to extend our drag strip. After countdown, each scissor-handler added sound effects and took their scissors for a speed run. "Jet-Ski Scissors" made sharp turns and used small round stickers for speed control The "Fastest Scissors in the West" galloped while making legendary cuts, leaving a trail of dust behind him.

In speed-testing scissors, students try new ways to hold scissors, lightening their grip, or laying knuckles low on turns. We draw cutting tracks and raceways and dream up gears, remote controls and new scissor attachments. Students turn their scissors into figure skaters mixing speed and grace while performing on ice. Using scissors as dancers, students cut with twists and power, moving all over a surface.

DELICATE CUTS Brides of past generations turned their hopes into lace doilies that they made for their future households. As future guardians of the doilies of our family, our girls loved playing with these intricate works of art. Applying the most delicate scissors to the task, they cut paper versions for their rooms and playhouse. I proudly share their self-inspired art with my classes as examples of intricate scissor drawings.

To drill and cut into papers, students survey the art room for trash cans and backs of chairs on which to stretch paper canvases. Students drill test holes, tiny openings that can spread in all directions when cut into lacy placemats, delicate doilies or stencils. The droppings from the canvases are fine lines. From them, one student assembled an imaginary computer chip. We also play with ready-made paper stencils and doilies, cutting new openings and connections. In each cutting play, students are encouraged to collect and use what they cut and also what they cut away from, which is usually discarded.

ART APPRECIATION FOR SCISSOR ARTISTS To appreciate the beauty of cut lines, students try to lift and animate my enormous 1895 iron shears. We also imagine what it may have been like to have a door-to-door salesman come to our home in the 1940s with a case of shiny new scissors. From this vintage scissor salesman's case, students test sewing and cosmetic scissors. Scissors have a finger-print--a unique cut--made by their weight, shape and blade construction. Scissors have a wide range of marking ability, depending on the speed, direction and handling style of each user.

To feel the beauty of cut lines, we study the art of silhouette artists who cut fine paper profiles at the turn of the century. Wonderful scissor artistry can be found in old postcards, especially my antique Valentine collection. Paper dolls also cut an illustrious piece of American art history. Of course, we also look at the ailing Matisse's cut works. Some children lie down to cut elegant shapes from Matisse's famous bed, while others stand and act as his trusted assistants, waiting for detailed instructions for pasting the cutouts onto large papers on the wall.

THE FINAL CUT To be trusted with scissors is part of growing up and enjoying new creative challenges. Perhaps we have taken a step back in school, where kids now use safety scissors that make cutting safe, but not much fun. Cutting, like scribbling, is among a child's first loves and artistic explorations. Art class can again be the place where children have fun with scissors. Let the joyous cutting begin!

George Szekely is Senior Professor of Art Education at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky.
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Title Annotation:CHILDREN'S art diary
Author:Szekely, George
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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