Two years ago, thanks to Eclectic Mama, I attended a demo class at Soho Art in the US. During the demo class, the parents had to sit through a lecture on how they teach art. I fell in love when they mentioned that the children are only provided with 5 colors to work with: red, blue, yellow, black, and white.
Unfortunately, the class is an 1-2 hours drive away and at 5pm. Plus the cost was very high for 1.5 hours. So I vowed when I get back to Taiwan I’d sign the kids up for the class. (They started in Taiwan and now have classes in China and the US.)
Taking the Class
In our branch in Taiwan, you have to take 16 introductory classes, where for 8 of them (啟蒙) parents need to sit through a video presentation on how Soho Art teaches art. After the class, the teacher will also call all the parents in to tell them what the children did this week. Part of the goal is for the parents to know how to talk to their children about the art they’re doing.
Classes are taught at 5 or 7pm Mon-Fri, and Saturday all day. However, they may be willing to start a class for you at an earlier time if you get a minimum of 5 kids.
The cost is $5900 for the first 8 classes (啟蒙班), which includes a portfolio and smock. Subsequent classes (進階班 and 常態班) are $4400. In 啟蒙 and 進階 they learn to mix colors, work with materials, and how to do self portraits. In常態班, they work on a topic for two weeks. For example, they will study “chair” and use two different material (watercolor, clay, Chinese brush) to paint chair. For Spring and Summer breaks, they have special classes like oil painting.
I’ve sat through 4 lectures so far, each one on a different artist: Da Vinci, Matisse, Picasso, Warhol. I LOVE LOVE LOVE these lectures. I’ve learned more about how to look at art from them than my college art history class. But the teacher at the front desk says that I’m the only other person who has paid attention in class and laughed at what I’m watching; the other woman being married to a German All the other parents are looking down at their phone, which is kind of sad. I guess maybe because these are Western artists and I have encountered them a lot?
In any case, with 4 lectures, I’m getting a much better general sense of what the founder’s philosophy is. She repeats, week after week in the lecture, how as far as technique goes, Da Vinci perfected it with his Mona Lisa. You see this perfection in technique in tons of Classical/Renaissance paintings.
Modern art is about doing things different to stand out. She shows us slides of how well Picasso or Matisse can do still life. But it doesn’t make them better or more famous than others being able to draw still life well at 19 vs at 30. These artists had to break out of the mode by drawing something different.
So how do we train children to do things differently? To teach them about art, art history, and different types of art? Specifically these classes have:
- An emphasis on colors. During the demo lecture, the teacher showed how if the topic this week is clouds, they will show children pictures of different clouds and ask the children to notice that clouds are not always white; they can be red, gray, blue, depending on the weather and the sun.
- An emphasis on observation. They don’t teach you how to draw specifically, though some techniques are touched upon. But for each topic, they really want the children to look and see that you can draw it very differently depending on the angle you’re looking. In addition, for any one topic there is no one way to draw. For example, there are a myriad type of cat, or leaves, or clouds.
- An emphasis on material exploration. The children work with different materials each week, crayons, watercolors, pastel, oil, Chinese brush painting, recycled materials, clay, etc.
- No right way. One Chinese drawing class I demoed had the teacher giving the children a painting and asking them to paint what they draw, with the teacher teaching them how to reproduce the painting. In contrast, the teachers here don’t dictate a right way to paint leaves for example, but rather teach them the elements of art.
The Classes Themselves
I first signed the kids up for 8 classes, then decided to put Astroboy in a second 8 without Thumper, partly because I want him to take classes without Thumper’s influence, and partly because he hasn’t touched art much, unlike her. However, this week, I also put Thumper in a separate second 8 class because I didn’t want her to miss the classes on self portraits.
In our US location, there are only 10 introductory classes. Not sure why. Apparently the franchises have up to 20 of these intro classes to choose to offer.
The school is very responsive. Thumper is the oldest kid in the class. Most other children are 4-5 year olds. So after the first week, I talked to the director about how easy Thumper felt the class was (i.e.g mixing colors) and the teacher gave her harder tasks for subsequent classes.
Just a note, I’m terrible at art so I could have the art terms wrong, especially translated. Right now, with make up classes and two series of 8 classes happening at the same time, we are taking 3-4 classes a week!
Week 1 was introduction to mixing your 5 colors.
Week 2 They continued learning how to mix colors. The topic was birds. Thumper got moved to move advanced class so she drew a rooster. The younger kids made a duck with clay and then had to mix their own background.
Week 3 We’ll make up next week
Week 4 The children painted rice paddies. They divided up a piece of paper and the teacher hot glued the lines. They then continue working on learning how to mix colors. The teacher pointed out to them that a rice paddy can grow different types of plants, which have different shades of color.
Week 5 They learned to mix crayon. The teacher wanted to show them how you can add 3 colors together. She showed them a specific artist, whose name escapes me, who drew a face by composing together squares of different colors. Kind of like those computer generated images made up of teeny tiny images.
Week 6 was learning about composition. That paintings should have a point, line, and area. Plus composition ideas like layering, perspective, leaving part of your subject out, etc. They cut up recycled material.
Week 7 was learning to paint leaves using the concept they learned. The teacher showed them different pictures of leaves and asked them to think about point, line, and area. The leaves all don’t have to have to be lined up. The kids had to mix the colors themselves.
Week 8 is next week!
Week 10 they learned Chinese brush painting. The teacher showed them that by mixing different amount of water, they can have a range of dark ink. She also pointed out to the parents that empty space is very important in Chinese painting.
Week 11 will be made up next week!
Week 12 they learned about the face. The teacher pointed out that your eyes are NOT at the top of your head, but rather more centered; that your nose doesn’t start below your eyes but from your eyebrows; that your mouth has 2 lips, and you have 2 ears. Astroboy made a face of Thumper with clay and gave her a cavity, which he was very proud of.
I really love these classes. It’s at that perfect middle ground where there’s art exploration and artistic expression, but also some basic techniques, but not in the traditional strict way.
I quite agree with the philosophy. At the end of the day, art isn’t about drawing great still life anymore, it’s about creativity and expression, being sensitive to colors, and developing a keen observation of the world. Most kids don’t grow up to be artists. But they will be able to take these skills and apply them in other areas.