IDEA #46. Find someone in your community who makes art or high-quality craft objects, and ask if you can just hang out for a while and observe. Ask if there is anything you might do to help out.
Every town or neighborhood has its artist or craftsperson. Even if the person is not “public” with his or her creative enterprise, chances are someone knows about it, and it may be that he or she would welcome a suitably quiet and respectful audience or even, depending on age and other factors, a helper.
]Long gone, for the most part, are the days when apprenticeship was the path to expertise in the arts, just as it was in most other fields. School arts programs—or what are left of them in the age of No Child Left Behind—provide students with few opportunities to watch someone else’s creative processes at work. While good arts educators emphasize that creation is largely a process of problem-solving and decisions, our culture’s obsession with product (and often with genius, as if Picasso or the Beatles had somehow been exempt from the “one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration” rule, which they were not) often obscures this. For a young person to observe at close hand the act of creation—of false starts and re-tries, of reflection, of consciously altered perspective—is to learn that craft and polish proceed from effort and deliberation.
The artist or craftsperson who is willing to model this for a young observer is performing a service that is an age-old part of the human condition as well as a sophisticated educational act. Where else can a young person see the extent to which technique—even of the most subtle and expert sort—is above all the servant of thought and imagination?
If there truly are no opportunities of this sort close by, an alternative is to find a museum or some other site that specializes in historical reenactment; even a large craft fair could suffice. Look for the people weaving, or making brooms, or blacksmithing, and have the child make a point of watching for a long time, and of asking questions. Observe the motions needed to produce the object, yes, but take account of the pauses, the minute examinations, the deep breaths as well. Even the act of turning a bar of iron into a coat hook, while the smith may have done this a hundred times, requires attention, judgment, and reflection—habits of mind that will serve in every circumstance.