On Being an Atelierista: 100 Languages, inquiry, poetic thinking, media and materials

Part of what I've been trying to do with this blog is define for myself what this job of Atelierista is, and what it can be. Lately I've been working on a document that defines the role of the studio in children's inquiry all over the school.  I'm trying to hone in on the particular media and materials that come out of the studio, the ways of making all kinds of thinking visible, the poetic as well as the more concrete. From there, I want to be able to say what media children will have time with in each classroom, and when, from pre-school through 8th grade. It's a big job!

I started writing about 2-d and 3-d representation, and media like ink, clay and watercolor, which are pretty traditional forms of showing what you think. 

As I worked, I kept running into exceptions to the 2 and 3d designations, such as the use of clay or wire as a drawing tool, which changes the way we think about these media (from 2-d to 3-d).

Within the traditional category of 3-d media, children might represent by building with cardboard, sculpt a face with clay, or weave string around a form, creating texture.

However, there is another way that children use these materials, which incorporates design, movement and physics. Making things that move, like robots, machines and other contraptions seems to be separate from the usual 3-d representative work, but is still a way children show their ideas and test theories . So, is design and tinkering a potential language?

Moreover, things children are using around the school now, like light and shadow, movement, nature, video, sound and other more interactive categories of representation seem to have more to do with the dimension of time than how flat or round they are. Children (and artists) use them to represent ideas, but the works are fleeting, lasting as long as a light shines on them or until the sound fades, the person moves, or water washes a structure away. 

Borrowing from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Art, we can think of the designations 'design', 'surface', 'space', and 'time' instead of the old 2 and 3 dimensional categories of representations. Schools really need a new way to talk about the media and materials in our new digital and interactive world. Called 'new media' in contemporary art, I think the more conceptual ways of communicating ideas will become more and more common in schools as technology becomes cheaper and the innovative work of Reggio Emilia and other cutting edge schools becomes more known. After all, mirrors and light tables were something new when I first          started teaching, and are now commonplace in classrooms.

 here are my categories of creative languages;


Except...At the risk of driving the whole school crazy with my pondering, it seems like there is an area of inquiry called 'story', which incorporates theater and bits from writing, doesn't it? What do you think?

"Good, he did not have enough imagination to become a mathematician".
 Professor David Hilbert's response upon hearing that one of his students had dropped out of the mathematics program to go and study poetry.


  1. Having two story tellers in my home and seeing plenty during my times at Sabot, I think story is definitely a category! Loved this post - thanks for re-envisioning/exploring your role and the role of art for children...

  2. and thank you for reading it, pal!

  3. Anna - I have several thoughts about this very meaty post. First, I note that your thinking on this is of such depth and such long standing that it must take great patience to bring the rest of us along! I am also looking forward to your documents about the role of the studio/atelierista and thoughts and intentions regarding media. Thank you for this...better reading than today's NY Times!

  4. Great post Anna.
    Is story/Narrative a part or separate from your above list? I'm not sure.
    Just as I am not sure if light and qualities of light is a part of many of your categories or separate.
    It is wonderful to think about all the possibilities.
    Are senses about surface? Abut sound? The same as music or a different category?
    The more I try to figure this out, for myself as well as to discuss with others, the idea of transdisciplinary languages becomes so clear. Let's keep this conversation going!

  5. Hey, the blonde kid in the last photo is really cute. ;)

    How would the color exploration of the Meadow Room children (mixing colored water in test tubes) fit into these languages?

    I am thinking about my own children and their interest in cooking. I'm not sure it's so much about the actual chopping and stirring and eating as it is about breaking a process into steps. Is that tinkering? Is "process" a different language?


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