The easy win.
I received this letter from a Third Grader on the last day of art. The first line is what really gets me:
"Thank you for respecting my FNaF art."
In case you are not inundated with characters from kid land, FNaF stands for Five Nights At Freddy's. It is a video game that takes place in a pizza joint akin to Chuck E. Cheese and ShowBiz Pizza. The player is a security guard that uses things like security cameras to try and survive the night as the animatronic characters come to life at closing time and turn homicidal.
Being an art teacher to kids, I find out about all the current pop trends because they show up in classroom conversation and in my students' art. I am always on high alert to hear what they are excited about. In fact, it was during an art class a few years ago that I got educated, by children, on the characters of Five Nights at Freddy's, the story of the game, and the abbreviation FNaF.
The first half of the school year, my friend Maverick often got in trouble in class, and so I started to study him, trying to pinpoint something he was interested in. My thinking was if he had something he could be the expert on in art class then it wouldn't have to be just one more class where he gets told what to do.
With time I learned that FNaF and specifically Foxy from FNaF, was something Maverick was passionate about. I remember Foxy making his first appearance when we were drawing and painting red cardinals. Maverick's cardinal had a pirate hook and of course was painted red and black like Foxy.
When he brought it to me to show me I could tell there was some hesitancy with his classmates, afterall, he didn't follow the instructions. But this to me is the best time to connect a child to art. This is how the art actually becomes their own and the student becomes the artist. This was a teaching moment if ever there was one.
I complimented his process. He was creative while still honoring the lesson. I told his classmates, "No, no. Maverick did follow my instructions. He made a cardinal just like all of us, and this cardinal has a pirate hook. It is cardinal-ish," I said, referencing Peter Reynolds' book Ish which I introduce my classes to on day one of art. Sadly I couldn't find a photo of that cardinal with the pirate's hook to share here.
Throughout the rest of the school year Maverick started to shine in art class. Sometimes he would weave FNaF into the art project we were doing, like this painted paper collage where Foxy is eating pizza and drinking lemonade. (The lemonade was purchased from a lemonade stand that showed up in another girl's piece of art. It helped wash the pizza down.)
Also, if you look closely in the grass, he used the handle of his paintbrush (a method I taught them to create art like Eric Carle) to scrape through the wet green paint and draw the face of Foxy.
When we created our Kandinsky circles, he wasn't feeling it. He would have much preferred to be drawing Foxy.
"You know Maverick, abstract art like this can be in the theme of FNaF as well. Think about what colours Foxy is. Paint your circles in those colours and then you have a FNaF inspired piece of art."
"Oh yeah!" He said. It really could have gone either way, but he was able to catch the vision I was suggesting and he used it to enjoy himself.
As I am looking at this particular piece of art now, I can't help but wonder if the center circle is supposed to be a pepperoni pizza.
Sometimes he would finish his art project I assigned in order to get on to the "free draw paper" which the students get after they've done their work as asked. Maverick's free draw paper always received a rendition of Foxy, in whatever medium we were working with that day.
When we did our Asian scroll art we signed our names in red colored pencil, writing the letters vertically instead of horizontally and drawing a box around it to mimic the stamp that many traditional Asian artists use. Maverick used his free draw to draw Foxy long and skinny (to fit the scroll) and he signed his name in red. A couple of these free draw pieces of Foxy he gave to me. I would keep them in my teaching binder, and when he drew a new Foxy he would come compare it to the ones he had drawn before. "
"I'm getting better," he would say.
"I agree," I would tell him.
When we created our sunflowers we talked about how Van Gogh did an Artist Study on the subject of sunflowers. Painting them over and over again so as to improve his seeing and his style.
I told them, "When you draw the same thing over and over again you can see your progress."
At that point Maverick yelled out, "Like me and FNaF! I've gotten so much better at Foxy."
"Yes, exactly like you and FNaF."
On sunflower day we were creating art in their classroom rather than in the art room, and when Maverick moved onto free drawing he showed me his backpack with the FNaF characters. "I can look at this to draw," he said. Another student chimed in, "Or you can look at mine. I have a FNaF backpack too!"
In many ways, by the end of the school year Maverick was teaching my lessons for me. His enthusiasm made other students want to find "their thing" in the art. He became a leader in the classroom. He transitioned from a student that was put off by the art assignments I gave to one being fully engaged in the process because he had a vision for how his art could be uniquely his.
I have seen this happen with students before, but rarely do I think the child has enough awareness, especially as a 3rd Grader, to know what is transpiring between the teacher and student relationship. When I read Maverick's letter on the last day of art I was so shocked that he understood that allowing FNaF into the art room was a choice I made, and that I did it out of utter respect for him as an artist.
He went from a student that didn't respect me to a student that did, and I believe the change occurred when he realized I was open to his input in my art room. It was a gradual transition, but eventually, with a little help from his love of Foxy, he chose to think of it as his art room too, and consequently his art.
One more thing...
I wrote this post in between teaching jobs, and as I was walking to my car to drive to my next class I walked over this pirate hook in the parking lot. I smiled and said to myself, "Foxy."