In This Playground: Collaborative Painting

photographs and text by Marcie Bronstein

Marci Jan Bronstein is an artist, a designer, and a teacher with a special interest in collaborating with children. The Maine is happy to share a glimpse of the magic generated in one of Marcie’s classes back in November. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about Fotoplay!, Marcie’s unique prompt book for children, published in 2012. Marcie is known for her hand-colored images and work with the photographic negative. Her art is exhibited, published, commissioned, and collected internationally. Her studio is located on the ground floor of a reconstructed 180 year old barn in Maine.

Yesterday in CMCA’s ArtLab the children created their third collaborative painting. If I’d have videotaped this session, you would see and hear what I can only describe (without any exaggeration) as a most reverent atmosphere.

It would be too easy for me to say that it was the music coming from my iPod (John Dowland’s Lute) that created the mood in the studio. I think it was much more than that.

This was the third collaborative painting and the seventh week of ArtLab for these children, and it’s clear that they’re completely comfortable in the room, with each other, with me, and with the idea of collaborative painting.

I didn’t direct them at all, I didn’t make suggestions, I didn’t tell them whose turn comes next. And I didn’t tell them how to communicate with one another.

So when the young blond girl finished her turn and gently touched the shoulder of the girl next to her (without taking her eyes off the painting) I could not help but feel that I was watching a rather quintessential collaborative art-making moment.

The level of focus on the work they were creating was so intense, so completely concentrated, energized, and open, all at the same time, that all the world, all of life at that moment was a distillation of the movement of the paintbrush and the stroke of color it created.

Then, in an unpredictable flash, it was over: One of the children looked up and said that most-often-spoken-in-a-classroom-phrase: “I’m done.”

And with that, the spell was broken, and the painting was put on pause… a work in progress…