During the last week my darling artlings have been hard at work applying what they've learned in our current unit " Artists Solve Problems." We started the unit with the newspaper challenge, where I gave them the problem of making art out of a very unfamiliar material. They did all the thinking and planning for the work over the course of three class periods. Then we had a TASK party. To keep challenging them the next short project involved them foraging for materials in the context of earth art and found object art.
For the unit's summative assessment I had the kids select their own problem, in the form of a physical limitation or supply restriction, and use it as the jumping off point for artwork. It's been incredibly freeing for them to have play and experimentation be required. In fact, for the last few days I overhear multiple conversations where students talk about wishing they could spend the day in art - and they aren't students who I'd classify as "art kids". A great by-product of a project where no one knows how to use the materials starting out is that they all feel like art kids - right at home and successful.
The most interesting thing about the production component of this project for me has been the sort of organic loosening of style and the inclination to work abstractly - not forced like projects in the past where I've required abstract work. Check out some in progress pics below. :)
We're continuing to work on solving problems in Art 1. I've been giving them problems, like specific supply limitations, with the end goal of students independently selecting a limitation they choose and planning a project around it.
First they could only make art with newspaper, then we had a TASK party, next they had to forage for used or natural materials. All fun and all working toward a deeper understanding of how to working through problems and developing the confidence to take risks.
Today was our last mini-lesson before we start the unit's final project. I started with a short presentation about artists who work with physical limitations, asking students to identify three potential limitations to work with during class. I talked briefly about the potential of experimentation and playing for planning art and made sure kids knew that no final product was expected.
I thought that they would have fun and play. What I didn't expect was for many of them to embrace abstraction, experimenting with mark-making, color and texture. They told me it was freeing to make art without worrying about the final product or making mistakes. They found methods that were new and unexpected. It ended up being a FUN and a powerful lesson, which is pretty great. :)
So, new unit "Artists Solve Problems". I'm in love. We kicked it off with this awesome TED Talk (are there un-awesome TED Talks?). The goal here is to teach my students to understand that sometimes the things that limit us can inspire our greatest work. BIG stuff! We're also working on the idea of identifying problems, then finding solutions. So, because I care, I gave my little artlings a problem. Art 1 students had to figure out how to make art out of newspaper. And, because I'm crazy, I didn't give them any examples - we reviewed some ways they've learned to plan but they had to find their own ideas. Here's some of what they did - and this was just a three day assignment!
"What are they thinking!?" If you're like me you constantly wonder what is going through your student's minds. That's why I love blogging. It gives me the opportunity to see what they think and feel about their work.
The following are exerpts from my student's blogs about our reciently finished unit Artists Steal, where we examined how ideas are formed - from the concept of plagerism to inspiration. Here's what they wrote - the example of work are from the unit's various lessons :
"I have learned a lot this unit as an artist, not only in the classroom but also at home. A piece of Art is never your own idea because great artist steal. No matter what sketch or video you do it can be connected to something else. There is a difference from taking a piece of art and stealing a piece of art. The artwork above is combining history and art together. By stealing ideas from the subject I was able to create a new fresh piece of artwork, if you can’t tell the face represents all the races and genders of the world. And the little drawings around it represent events in history that have affected a lot of people. Like the smoking building is there for when the twin towers were attacked, and a mask the doctors would where during the black plague. There is also a hand rapt in chains representing slavery, a tear representing the trail of tears, and a knife to symbolize all the murders that ever happened. Knowing that it was ok to go look at other peoples art for inspiration, helped me realize that you can take ideas from other people but you have to make it your own." - Heather, Art 1
"As this project went on I changed how I thought of stolen art, as in my two grammar book poems, I manipulated words that were already present within the text. The change in the affect and meaning of the pages by adding and taking away just a few words showed me how much change can take place when you make something yours." - Ryan, Art 2
"Our final summative project was titled "Subject Steal" and required taking an aspect from a school subject and turning it into art. I decided to make art of out the various civil rights movements that occurred throughout history. I loved the idea of watercolor over text so I cut out a bunch of laws that restricted civil rights over the years and painted fall water colors over them. Then I found black and white images of people who have had their civil rights restricted and glued them to the background. Then I drew, cut out, and painted a barn and glued it over the images. I then used acrylic paint to make it look like the barn was on fire. I call it "Take Me To Church"."- Matt, Art 2
"In the unit "Artists Steal" I learned a lot about how creating original art may not always mean thinking of a completely original idea. Before this unit I thought that making original art was about thinking of a completely new idea that nobody has heard about. I though original art work should be used to inspire not be copied from. But, in the unit I learned that making original artwork doesn't mean creating a creative piece of your own. It can also mean taking previously used ideas and making a completely new idea by recombining old ones. You aren't "stealing" the idea when using parts of it and changing others. Instead you are creating brand new original art work.
In this piece of art work I combined two Disney characters to make a completely original piece of art. Using the head of Disney Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, I changed her natural goody-two shoes image by putting Maleficent's (Aurora's Arch-Nemesis) clothes and horns of her body. This changed both Maleficent and Auroras' image and created a new original art piece that I created. I used water color to make the background pop, while coloring in Aurora/Maleficent with colored pencils." - Neethu, Art 1
Social justice is a difficult subject. I discussed it with my Art 1 students, even though I was a bit terrified, because the subject came up during class. We were planning for the final project of our Artists Steal unit, where I asked them to pick a subject, identify important themes from it and use those ideas as the starting point for a self-directed art adventure.
In preparation we did a group planning activity where students were to identify different subjects and brainstorm things that they associate with them. It was all going so well until one group picked "prejudice" as a subject then proceeded to brainstorm terms they associated with it - which were basically a list of ethnic and cultural groups - and I didn't handle it as well as I could have. Because I kind of froze. Sigh.
I rallied and showed them the work of two artists the next day - Kehinde Wiley, who's work (in my opinion) transcends racism and these images of microagressions. I had students respond to the work by writing down an opinion or a connection and they all found something deep or meaningful or personal about it.
I was proud and I thought it would end there but two of my girls decided to abandon their current projects and create this collection of photos:
They did a few things I find amazing. First, they took a hard subject and made successful artwork out of it. They also took an idea from art they were inspired by and changed it to apply to them and their community, plus got people to participate. One of the things I love about incorporating a high level of choice in projects is the room it gives students - sometimes they do such big things with it.
I'm an high school art teacher who's really interested in student choice and creating opportunities for self expression. I'm also a writer for The Art of Education and co-author of The Open Art Room.