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Art and decomposition: allies or enemies?

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

​​A young child may paint a red fire engine with black wheels going to a fire, then paint the fire encompassing it in flames. Their end result is a brown puddle of paint, but the product is not important to the child. The story occurs in the process.

Whereas intentionally ephemeral art is new to many adults, it is natural for children, who are almost always process-oriented with their art. Art is about their thoughts and ideas, not about products. The process, in turn, is a window into children’s minds, best understood through sharing their dialogue about it. Art is children’s most important form of expression, along with block building and fantasy play, before they can write. This fall at Peregrine School we are encouraging both making and decomposition as parts of an art cycle that can be observed, encouraged, and celebrated.

Philosophically at Peregrine we do not cut out a fish for a child to color. It does not matter if their fish looks like a fish, although representational art will generally come with time. What matters is the “fishness” the child experiences while working with materials, and their ideas which can be shared with and recorded by adults. In Reggio-inspired education, we are not concerned about children becoming artists, although some will. We believe that all children can become creative thinkers and problem solvers, using artistic and other materials as props in the process. We are also concerned with children becoming scientists through predicting, observing and questioning, and with children exploring outdoor environments. All of these ideas are served through De-composition: the theme of this year’s Arts Festival. Our studies have always been process-oriented, but this art installation extends beyond ourselves by inviting outside forces, plants, and animals to interact with our art.

Artists and curators, parents and teachers, generally try to preserve artwork—to make the finished product last. But, De-composition turns preservation around. When pieces made of natural materials like clay, pine cones, and plants are placed out in the elements, they will change: predictions to be made about what might happen and illustrative surprises will occur.

This artistic process ties together Peregrine’s SOAR mission: Science, Outdoor Education, Arts, and Responsibility through the creation of art pieces made both by children of all ages in their classrooms and by parents and community members at our Arts Festival itself. After the Festival, we will watch over time as our pieces decompose naturally in our gardens: as they are inhabited or eaten by birds and insects, eventually weathering and collapsing into the soil, where they will feed our plants.

De-composition is inspired by an historic exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D. C. called Always Becoming by Nora Naranjo-Morse. Naranjo-Morse is the first Native American woman to create an outdoor sculpture in Washington D. C., where countless permanent statues and monuments dominate the landscape. As a native of Santa Clara Pueblo, it is her “intent for Always Becoming to purposefully erode over time, reflecting the message of growth, transformation, and Native people’s relationship with the land, in which it is common practice to leave clay utilitarian or ceremonial pots outside to melt back into the ground.” Always Becoming involves five large pieces made of adobe, bamboo, and other natural materials, which the artist and a team of curators observe over a ten-year period on the museum grounds, where plants grow over them, pieces fall off, birds create nests in them, and more.

Another Peregrine goal is to create cross-generational opportunities for creativity and exploration. In this spirit, all are welcome to attend our Arts Festival to see natural creations by all classrooms interspersed in our gardens, and to join in making more natural art that day. The Arts Festival will be October 20, 2018, from 10:00 AM-2:00 PM at Peregrine South, 2650 Lillard Drive, Davis 95618. There will be hot dogs and soy dogs, baked goods, and drinks served. Please join us and picnic in our gardens!

If this piece interests you, please send us your thoughts. We are always eager for dialogue.

Check out Always Becoming by Nora Naranjo-Morse, Gail Joice, and Kelly McHugh at:

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