Yesterday I was shared a link to this video. You may have already seen it shared through social media. Its an animated short film by Daniel Martínez Lara & Rafa Cano Méndez. In a nutshell it is about; educational systems, family relationships and societal values clashing with creativity and happiness. I watched this on a Friday morning with tears rolling down my face as I saw the colour drain from a child’s face as the creativity is stamped out of him. This film could not have come at a better time. As I was suffering a bit of the old teacher fatigue, this reminded me why I do what I do, why I love what I do and how lucky I am to do what I do. I love seeing these faces (at 2 minutes 14 seconds) everyday. I love it when children enter my class like the character does at 1 minute 48 seconds. And do you know what? If I am not seeing those faces or they are not entering my class like this then it is time to reflect and work out what I can change so I can make this happen.
“It’s a Miguel” is turning out to be one of my favorite quotes of the year. A new school and a new country comes with many challenges and changes but one thing remains at the core of my practice “It’s a Miguel”. This quote comes from a dear Grade 2 teacher at my school that opened her doors and let the new Art teacher come in for seamless, organic integration revolving around students at the core. During the How We Express Ourselves integration our conversations were about providing just the right amount of support and encouragement to the students, not too much to interrupt the flow but just enough to delicately intervene with struggles. Sometimes the students surprised you… they’ve flourished! Sometimes they haven’t quite got there but you know what? “It’s a Miguel!” it may not be the best work but actually, he’s full of pride, he’s accomplished a work of art that’s sophisticated in its concept and for Miguel, it’s rather sophisticated in its construction. I’m proud of him, his homeroom teacher is proud of him, his Mother is proud of him and he’s proud of himself, hooray!
Originally this unit began as an inquiry into light and shadow in fine art photography. Students explored the inquiry questions ‘What can we not include in our photo’s to create fine art abstract photography?’ with the overall debatable question being ‘Can a photo be aesthetically pleasing if it has no realistic elements?’. After the photos were taken and contact sheets were evaluated the best 3 shots were edited very simply through the photo editing tools inside preview. I love how user friendly and easy preview is for this task… it is also a great introduction into photo editing before launching into Photoshop.
Grade 7 quickly mastered the concept so we extended the unit by completing beautiful abstract 70cm x 100cm acrylic on canvas paintings.
These paintings were based on their photographs with the opportunity to copy directly or add or subtract areas continuing with the main premise of abstract art being non-representational. This was also a great chance for me to teach some skills-based blending, value and tone exercises. Reflecting on the last stage of the unit I realised there is a great opportunity to introduce abstract painters like Robert Motherwell, Georgia O’Keefe and some of my favourite contemporaries like Fiona Rae and Elham Rokni. Exposing students to a range of abstract painters and having them plan artworks with the artists in mind and their photographs could lead into some exciting individual investigations, next year! For now, I am super happy with their reflections:
“Abstract art is an art, which shows a mysteries photo or image, it can be anything you think.”
“In my opinion abstract art is a kind of art that doesn’t show the main idea of the art work clearly. It gives some space to let people guess what is the artist telling us about. When the artist is drawing, he/she can draw any thing he/she wants… messy lines, points… and we can think it could be some thing like a ball of string, or bird’s nest but it could be anything”
Next time they visit an art gallery with their parents they can impress them with their concept and knowledge of abstract art.
If you don’t already know Camille Rose Garcia she’s a fantastic Los Angeles based painter/illustrator. Students are instantly drawn to her creepy, nightmarish worlds adorned with scary/cute characters that somehow look familiar to them (they are based on Disney characters). Amputated limbs and decapitated heads sit along side super cute ribbons and rabbits – students love it! My deepest apologies Mr Rauschenberg and Señiorita Kahlo you don’t quite capture the attention of my students at the moment, in time you will, but for now Ms Garcia is lighting the way for our art analysis and interpretation.
Through a series of group activities I guide my students through a four step process of: 1. Initial Reaction 2. Description 3. Analyse 4. Judge & Evaluate (thanks to this wonderful ANALYSING AN IMAGE document made by Frank Curkovic).
By the time the students reach the judge and evaluate stage they are describing the work as being a commentary on a toxic/polluted environment with the witch being the antagonist in the narrative. The one who has caused suffering.
When we reach this point I have the students read an extract from an interview found here:
“I started it last year during the Gulf Oil spill and I wanted to do a re-telling of Snow White combined with the ecological disaster going on there. The fairytales of Grimm always talked about people that lived in forest that were very close to nature and their environment…I wanted to use the symbolism of things like the evil Queen to represent the evil empire and capitalism; and the white animals and Snow White representing the purity of nature – something precious to be protected. Of course, there’s the battle of good and evil.”
The reaction is priceless. I’ve got them hooked.
I had the pleasure of working with the lovely Mrs Burslem and her grade 8 students to wrap up their ‘BISS on the Road’ week. Art and Science intwined for the entire day on Friday with students going back and forth between the two classrooms to complete a 3 panel 100cm x 60cm collaborative artwork. In a nutshell, students spent three days at the Miao Liang Education Centre located amongst the Mi Yun mountains just outside of Beijing. Students learned about various and habitats and their ecosystems. For the Visual Arts side, students completed field drawings of flora and fauna in their art journals. They created color swatches by squashing leaves, flowers, dirt etc. onto their pages… this created an instant, beautifully subtle color palette for us to work with on the Friday. Students also collected various flora (and fauna!) samples to bring back to school. These samples were used for observational drawing and back in the science lab, students extracted lovely green, purple and brown pigments for our final collaborative artwork.
The artwork was inspired by the fabric collages of Martina Witte. Using the students own panorama photographs of Miao Liang, we traced and simplified the landscape onto linen. This was then cut up and hand dyed with the extracted natural pigments. The field drawings were enlarged and traced in black ink on watercolour paper and lightly colored with mixed paint that matched the colors collected in the filed. Dried grass samples were placed in the foreground. To give our artwork a context silk Chinese auspicious clouds were added and Ms Li (our Chinese language teacher) completed two beautiful chinese characters for the words ‘Miao’ – ‘Liang’. It was a wonderful project to be involved in, I only wish I had set up a camera in the corners of the two rooms to document the process in a time-lapse, next time!
As I handed my grade 7 students their portrait photographs and a sheet of tracing paper they asked, “Isn’t this cheating Ms Davies?”, “No, it’s portraiture without pain” I replied. Tracing is differentiation; helping less able learners achieve success and feel proud of their artwork. Tracing is developing ideas; compositional plans on tracing paper help students move through ideas faster and with more flexibility. Tracing is learning about proportion and perspective; tracing over photos on apps aid students understanding of line direction in architectural drawings and proportion in portraiture. Tracing is risk-taking; tracing painting plans on to large-scale canvases encourage students to take a risk with scale, creating something they never thought possible. Tracing is not cheating.
My new grade 10 class are all ESL to some degree. I have complete beginners and advanced… there lies my challenge! How do I help my students use the correct subject specific terminology in their artwork analysis? (which is a whole criteria in itself for DP art). I made this document Prior Knowledge – Art Vocabulary and assured them it was not a test just a “this is going to help me help you”.
After going through all the documents I used the students own language (with some adjustments) to make a list which I hope will be ESL friendly. Here it is: Grade 10 Prior Knowledge – Art Vocabulary ANSWERS. What do you think of this list? Would it work for your students? The real test will be when they begin their analysis next week, wish me luck!