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Coins, Chaos and Creativity

The Artful Family.

With the recent debut of the “Young Explorer’s Guide to the Greek and Roman collections” for the newly reinstalled galleries at the RISD Museum, I have been thinking a lot of about coins. Our explorer’s guide offers a close look at one coin in particular, which features the goddess Athena and helps children creatively document what they see when they look closely at other coins in the collection.

Greek and Roman coins are imprinted with all sorts of interesting images that show us the things that were important to people of that time – from emperors to gods and goddesses, as well as imagery from the natural world.

I have also recently finished reading choreographer Twyla Tharp’s book “The Creative Habit” which is a great inspiration for anyone creatively stuck. Throughout the book, Tharp offers small exercises to get your creativity flowing. In one exercise called “Chaos and Coins”, Tharp instructs the creatively stuck to grab a handful of coins of whatever denomination and toss them onto a table and study the result. She says:

Sometimes the coins fall into a random pattern that’s pleasing. But not often. So I fiddle with the coins, moving them around into strange or familiar geometries. Along the way I’ll line them up, stack them, tease them into shapes – a stolid cross perhaps or a fanciful Ursa Major star grouping…There in a nutshell is the essence of creativity: There are a number of possibilities, but only one solution looks inevitable.

This is a great little exercise and when I think about those Greek and Roman coins and all the information given through the imprinted images, I wonder what our coins would tell museum goers thousands of years from now about what is important to us. And in that is the perfect mission for young explorers: after visiting the Greek and Roman galleries to explore the ancient coins, continue the exploration by investigating coins at home. Toss a group of coins onto a table and enjoy looking, arranging and playing with the shapes. Then examine the images on the coins – what is depicted? Why are these images used? What do they tell us? This is particularly fun with the quarters for each state, as each one depicts a symbolic image for each of the states – and enjoy the big ideas that can come from looking closely at very small objects.

The Young Explorers Guide to the Greek and Roman Collections is available free at the RISD Museum  pick up your copy at the front desk and get exploring!

The Artful Family is a monthly column from the RISD Museum of Art. Each month, Kidoinfo will help introduce art and creativity into your family life. To learn more about family programs at the RISD Museum, visit the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, located at 20 N. Main Street, Providence, RI.

Image tagline: Greek, mint of Athens. Tetradrachm, ca. 460-340 BCE.  The Museum of Art, The Rhode Island School of Design.

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