Monday, July 18, 2016

2015-16 in review:8th grade

I am going to miss this class so much! Out of 80 students, about 10 of them applied for CAPA and 7 of them got accepted and will be pursuing the arts in high school. But even the other 90% of this class were engaged and open to exploring their creativity. Our 8th grade curriculum explores the art world from Abstract Expressionism up to Contemporary art practices. As the culminating year of art, I expect these students to use their previous knowledge and experiences in art to help them create work that is expressive, personally meaningful, and communicative. I offer my 8th graders much more freedom to use the studio space and tools as best suits the work they are trying to create, and I keep projects more open-ended to create multiple avenues of artistic exploration.
An early project in the year was Op art. Students looked at work by Vincent Vasarely, Bridget Riley, and Edna Andrade and analyzed their various approaches to creating optical illusions. We talked about how the brain perceives color and how easily tricked it is, and how to achieve illusionary effects through repetition, contrast, and proportion.  
After demonstrating a few techniques, students selected one or more to pursue. Some students wished to reproduce existing illusions, while others tried to combine effects into a single composition. This is absolutely a lesson I would continue to use in the future, both for its effectiveness at teaching or reviewing art elements and principles and for the high level of student engagement when they see how easy it is to trick the eye! 
I told myself at the end of last year that I wouldn't do papier mache again or wait so long in the year before starting clay with my 8th graders. I had every intention of doing a Pop Art project in clay instead of trying to do giant papier mache sculptures.....
But then I had this crew of kids ask me, "When are we going to get to do those big sculptures like they did last year??!" From day 1, they were begging to do sculptures, and so I caved in and started hounding the lunchladies to save me cardboard. Students looked at the work of Claes Oldenburg and Robert Indiana for inspiration, and after demonstrating how to construct forms in cardboard I let them choose an everyday object they would like to  reproduce. Many of them went for a trompe l'oeil effect by keeping the scale consistent to real life, but others went more extreme in scale. The attention to detail on some of these was incredible- the toast in the toaster above is removable, and the chair below looks so much like my original purple rolling desk chair that visitors to my room tried to sit in it!! As an extension on this project, once the sculptures were complete I had my students consider how context changes meaning. They took their sculptures around school to set up situations to photograph. For example, the giant toothpaste tube was photographed in the bathroom sink with yarn "toothpaste" spilling out of it, and the giant diamond ring was used in photos with students posing for a fake proposal. 

The problem with papier mache is how long it takes to complete a project, but it was worth doing it again this year to see my students excited to build and play with context.
We look at a lot of Andy Warhol when we talk about Pop art, and his work and process helps us flow into Photorealism and the use of technology to help make art.
We do a grid enlargement focusing on values to show how Chuck Close works, and talk about pixels. Then students took selfies, which we manipulated in Photoshop to posterize and isolate the value layers. Students used their posterized selfie as a reference to paint their monochrome self-portrait, where instead of drawing values they had to mix paint values. Then they created a background to reflect aspects of their identity or personality, choosing to paint, draw, or collage around their portrait.

After exploring identity in self-portraiture, we turned to focus on beliefs and how art is used in activism and to persuade viewers to see the artist's point of view.
We looked at artists like Francisco Mora who worked at Taller de Grafica Popular in Mexico doing woodcuts, and talked about why artists use printmaking to spread messages very quickly (the original "social media"!). Students brainstormed ideas around a few activism areas such as human rights, animal rights, and environmentalism. It warmed my heart to see that some of my students decided to explore LGBQT rights, Mental Health, and Civil rights in this project as well, which told me that they felt safe in the art room to explore the things they cared about beyond the simple parameters I had set out. We had very interesting conversations about how to compose positive messages that would make people think rather than make people turn away or react in anger.
I allowed students to work on their own to make a small piece or work in groups to make a larger piece (haha- they thought teams would be easier, when really it was harder!!). I demonstrated how to carve and gave demos on some different ways to ink for multiple colors. Finally we created displays grouping the works by activism themes. I hope this project gave my 8th graders a taste of activism and a seed of compassion that may grow as they become adult citizens of our society.

Our final project of the year ended up being clay. Note to self- DO CLAY EARLIER IN THE YEAR!!!!!!!! My 8th graders finish school an entire week earlier than everyone else, and the week before that they have all kinds of rehearsals for graduation and trips. Suffice it to say, trying to squeeze clay in at the end was madness. But oh, what beautiful work came out of it!!!!
I asked students to research an artist that they liked to use as inspiration for a lidded clay box. Of course- there were about 10 Starry Nights..... (Really kids? After all the awesome art I showed you over the past 4 years?) I made all my Starry Night kids make sure their final project looked different from each others' at least! I demonstrated making a pinch pot vessel form and a slab constructed box form as well as some different approaches for making lids. I showed them various artists from the clay studio who had made boxes that seemed to have been inspired by other art, and we talked about what it means to be inspired by something versus copying something. The wide variety of forms, lid techniques, and decorative elements, both sculptural and painterly, was truly impressive. 

I am very proud of what my 8th graders accomplished this year, and I hope they carry forward with them a love of art, an awareness of culture and media, a critical eye, and a unique voice. I have a feeling they are going to do great things!

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