Got Piven?

In my office sits a small blue trivet that says, “Do what you love. Love what you do.” This little tray came from a dear friend of mine when I left my position at my former school. In the note that accompanied the gift, my friend wrote, “It’s rare to find people who truly love what they do for work, but when it happens, their joy joy spreads to others.” Although this trivet sits on my desk, as with all things you see daily, the object blends in and becomes commonplace. Last week, I met someone who truly loves what he does and spreads that feeling through his work.

Hanoch Piven, internationally renowned Israeli artist and author, visited our school last Thursday and opened our eyes to the playfulness of art and the wonder of the world around us. He began by saying, “My work is to play.” Not only did he inspire self expression through the collage of everyday items like cell phone covers, yarn, shells, and game pieces, but he also taught that things in life don’t always come easy and you have to keep trying to be successful. Hanoch Piven wanted to be an artist most of his life, but when he wasn’t accepted into art school in Israel, he moved to New York and studied at The School of Visual Arts. When he creates his now famous portraits of political figures, entertainment celebrities, and professional athletes, he often has to reconfigure his objects many times over and try multiple items to get it “just right.” This lesson was impressed on our students as they collected and rearranged objects for their self portraits. He told them, “It’s not just in art but in life you sometimes have to keep trying to solve a problem over and over, whether it’s in math class or somewhere else.” Persistence is an important quality to have in life, as is the ability to maintain a sense of wonder and playfulness.

In the evening workshop that was open to the entire community, adults were cautioned against going to find specific items to represent themselves; rather, he advised “…strolling the buffet of items and finding objects that speak to you. Once you have found objects, they will come together.” As a person who followed his advice, I will say it worked. My self portrait began with some wooden gears – not an object to which I would normally gravitate- but somehow it seemed right. Ultimately, it became the brains inside my head. Piven encouraged everyone to open up their minds, be playful, and not to set limits. In his student workshop, he showed short videos of how he creates faces from simple items like a bracelet, an earring, and a pin. He said, “Faces are all around us; you just have to free your mind to see them.” Suddenly, a collection of fruit and a drawer full of nuts and bolts look like faces. Everyone who experienced a Piven workshop enjoyed the creative, whimsical, and clever nature of the event. They learned something new about themselves and looked at the world around them in a new way. In the short three weeks leading up to the event, Piven became its own adjective: Piven bags to collect Piven objects to stored in the Piven room.

That little blue trivet doesn’t look so commonplace any more; an everyday object bringing new meaning and joy. Here’s wishing you a playful Thanksgiving with family and friends, and I hope that we all add a little Piven into our lives.