Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jian Zhi 剪纸

When I was in elementary school, my mother took art classes in the community to learn scherenschnitte. I've never tried it myself, but paper snowflakes are a family legacy, passed down to me from an aunt who has done snowflakes to represent the different twelve days of Christmas.

Now I live in China, and the art of the paper cut is still deeply tied to culture.

I would love to do a unit on the paper cut, making connections across time and throughout cultures to the designs, techniques, and cultural significance of the paper cut. Just a dream. You could easily use the medium to explore symmetrical and asymmetrical designs or positive and negative space, but symbolism, patterning, decoration, line, shape, emphasis, movement, and a host of others could apply. The image on the right is a paper cut that I designed, then digitally manipulated as part of a master's assignment during Chinese New Year last year.

Back in November, I passed on the paper cut unit that only exists in my head to my new TA. I was going to a curriculum meeting in another city and China and would be gone Monday-Wednesday. I only have elementary art Monday-Thursday, so I decided my TA would have a special week, teaching all the elementary classes with an isolated lesson of Chinese art. I had suggested calligraphy, but he preferred paper cutting. I tried to explain the big ideas, enduring understandings, and interdisciplinary connections. How I wanted them to learn the significance in the Chinese culture and relate the designs to concepts they'd been learning with me. Ultimately, it was more of a follow-the-directions lesson emphasizing fine motor skills than a cultural exploration of a medium and its use of symmetrical and asymmetrical designs. But it was a start. I don't think he was comfortable with spending large amounts of time in discussion during the lesson. Presenting images, directing conversation, and educating on the history of the paper cut in China using English. Instead, he preferred to spend the hour on art production.

The results were mixed. Many students were not able to complete the designs he prepared in the class period. And as he is new to teaching at our school, and he hasn't worked with my students, classroom management was difficult on both ends. Still it was a learning experience, especially for him.

To celebrate for Chinese New Year,
I asked him to create a display of some of the work, finished or unfinished, on the two bulletin boards in our hallway. The words were a struggle, as I insisted he cut them out of paper, not print them from a computer and staple the copy paper onto the white background. It's a board on paper cuts, so paper cut words further illustrate the concept. The English is literal translations of common Chinese New Year sayings. I wish all the paper cuts were done on the bright paper, not the pastel used in the bottom left of one board.

Otherwise, I think the boards are a festive way to display this one day venture into a traditional Chinese art form and decorate the school for Chinese New Year.


kt1805 said...


I would like to do some paper cutting with my year 5/6 class, where did u get the template for your paper cuttings?? they look amazing!

Stephanie Melachrinos said...

Unfortunately, they're custom-made by my TA. My TA is an Chinese artist and drew the designs himself, then copied them for the students. The designs are fabulous, but very challenging for elementary students. 5/6 students should be able to tackle it, though. Wish I could give you a link or send you a file, but it's just from his head. I'm not even sure if I have any copies still in the classroom that I could scan for you, but I'll look tomorrow.

kt1805 said...

Oh thats such a shame cos it looks fab and as we have just started a whole topic on China, these fit in great with our display and a good skill for the children to try out! hopefully you will have one or two lying around? if not then your TA needs to come to my school! :P

Stephanie Melachrinos said...

So I did check around the classroom but I think I passed off the last of the papercuts to the Elementary secretary for our China Week celebrations. I don't have any of the cut or uncut designs in my classroom anymore. Sorry!

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