With an army of puppeteers made up of Wilson Elementary School students, ex-Simpsons animator and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Tim Decker will conduct a massive puppet show complete with props, poetry and acting in his role as the school's artist in residence.
Decker, who is spending every Friday in March at Wilson, wants the children to know that art is a valid profession and something worth pursuing.
Decker said he had to fight to become what he is.
"People would say 'Timmy what are you going to be when you grow up?'
"'I'm going to be an artist.'
"'Timmy what are you really going to be?'
"'I'm going to be an artist.'
"'No, Timmy. Ralph, what's your son going to be?'
"'Are you going to law school or something?'
"'No, I'm going to be an artist.'
"'Well, you're going to starve.'
"'I'm not going to starve. I'm going to make it.'"
Picking Decker wasn't a hard choice for Harper Martin, the Wilson art teacher who is organizing the artist-in-residency program. She went to artist-in-residency shows at the Milwaukee Art Museum and visited other shows but was unimpressed. She decided on Decker because she knew him as the parent of a child at Wilson; because he's a professor; and because of his volunteer work with children, including the "Imagination Station" television program.
She also wanted a sense of purpose behind the art and felt Decker fit the bill.
A multipronged approach
Wilson students will not only be creating puppets; they will be drawing, writing and acting. Martin wanted to add something to the class that would be a breath of fresh air.
"I look for an experience that is not anything that I could accomplish by myself with the one hour a week with my students," Martin said.
"I always try to pick something that maybe I don't know a lot about and can maybe be some continued education for myself as well," she added.
With only four hours total to prepare and create a puppet show, the students take on their work with zeal.
In the first meeting with his students, Decker introduced himself and described what they'll be doing. He emphasized that art was something everyone could do and illustrated it by turning student's scribbles into cartoon characters.
The emphasis on multiple artistic avenues for the class was planned to make the program accessible to students who aren't confident in their drawing ability. Teaching animation at UWM, Decker said that many of his students who are unsure about their drawing skills can shine when working with three dimensional objects or claymation.
"So many kids don't have the patience for drawing, but when you get them with three-dimensional work, they just come alive," Martin added.
Art for all
"The arts are important and sometimes I think they get shoved under the rug," Decker said, adding: "I think that's shameful but it's not happening here in Tosa because they're supporting the arts by having me come here and I'm excited about that. I'm excited to see Milwaukee trying to embrace the arts even more because science without art is nothing."
Focusing on puppets and cartoonlike characters was important for Decker, who believes cartoons are the highest form of art due to their abstract nature. He argued that cartoons were the oldest form of expression, dating back to cave paintings, and that humans have tried to charicaturize life much longer than they've tried to replicate it.
He also added that puppets help children problem-solve. He recalled a situation where he was teaching in Albuquerque, N.M., and had a student challenge him to create teeth for a dragon puppet he was making. The student eventually made the dragon's teeth from cups, making the two impromptu puppet dentists, creating teeth for the rest of the class' creations.
Decker said that he participates in programs aimed at teaching children art because he wants to encourage them to pursue careers in art.
He added, "If you walk into a kindergarten class today and ask how many of them are artists, every single one of them will raise their hands. By the time they get to middle school, you ask how many are artists and 10 percent will raise their hands. By the time you get to high school, 2 percent will raise their hands because society says that they will be a starving artist."
By the numbers
Classes each week: 1
Total hours to create a puppet show: 4
Visions to legitimatize art: 1
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