Fostering Community in the Art Studio

Fiza 2Creating a strong community in the art classroom has been a top priority this year.  Sometimes it seems challenging, especially in a 9th & 10th grade high school, when kids clump together in different cliques and feel most comfortable with their friends.  This year I have started talking about community from the first week of school, and instead of talking about our art class, I refer to our space as the art studio and invite them to think of themselves as real artists working in this shared space.

I show an artist video at the beginning of every class, and one of my favorite Artist of the Day videos is Candy Chang’s TED Talk ‘Before I Die I Want To…’

Her poignant story and community based art project really demonstrates how a simple idea can connect many people.  After showing the video, I asked each of my students to respond to a daily question with an ‘exit ticket’, a post it note that they use to write their response to the question and leave for me to gather and find out about their thinking.  Here are some of their responses to the question “How can our art impact our school community?” after we watched Chang’s video:

  • Inspire others to step out of their comfort zone
  • Art is a great stress relief.  You need things that are colorful around the school to make people feel at home.
  • By giving the school life, color & passion
  • It can change things for the better.  It can inspire people
  • Art can unite the whole school community and create a solid bond for a long time
  • Change a perspective on a view they already have
  • It gives a voice for students and provides freedom for expression.  It also presents new ideas and stimulates the imagination.
  • Make our school look better, make it more colorful and create a better learning environment
  • It can show people that anyone can become an artist

These are just a handful of the wonderful responses I got from my students.  I think it’s going to be a really great year!

Divergent Thinking Exercise

Divergent thinking

Thanks, Sir Ken Robinson, for continuing to be a huge inspiration in my 9th & 10th grade art classes.  For the last 3 years, I have started the class with the RSA Animate video, Changing Education Paradigms (which to date has been viewed over 11 million times!), to familiarize my students with the idea of strengthening their divergent thinking skills.  His challenge to think how many ways you can use a paper clip is just perfect for my students, and I conduct a class competition to see which class can come up with the most ideas.  I stand at the board and furiously write down their ideas (we have 50 minute classes).  We don’t edit; it is a free flowing activity and stream of consciousness.  My 6th period class was the winner today (the Pre-AP Art II students) with 313 ideas on the board before the bell rang!

I just love doing this with the kids at the beginning of school!  Most of the classes today really got into it, and their ideas were wonderful.  There were even unique ideas between classes – not every idea was unilaterally thought of.  I think today, my 14-16 year olds felt like they were geniuses, as they let their imagination fly!  Now to keep the creativity & divergent thinking exercises flowing throughout the year!  To really strengthen their divergent thinking muscle, we have to practice, so between each art project we will do different activities to strengthen their brain.  I really do love my job!

Essential Questioning Strategies and Question Formulation Technique

Learning about the Question Formulation Technique in my graduate studies at Texas Woman’s University has been one of the most valuable additions to my teaching toolkit.  This presentation has links to one of the developer’s TEDx talk as well as a video that was made in my classroom at the beginning of the year’s Sculpture I class.  You can find out how I have the students return to the essential questions they generated for themselves throughout their creative process, from initial design to their end of project reflection.  QFT is a powerful, easy and meaningful way to help our students be more engaged and in charge of their learning.

Aesthetic Inquiry – Is Nature Art?

Adrift

Watch the Vimeo video – Adrift

Last Friday the Artist of the Day video was a beautiful video, Adrift, which shows the movement of fog in San Francisco.  It was a wonderful, calm way to end the week.  I realized that until seeing this video, I did not fully understand the expression “the fog rolled in”.  Seeing this aspect of nature in motion is truly captivating.

I decided that morning to ask my high school students what they thought about the question, “Is Nature Art?”.  I also asked them how they would define art.  We had not done any preparatory discussion about these questions, but after 5 weeks of seeing various Artist of the Day videos, I thought it would be interesting to get a spontaneous response from them in regard to both questions.

The overwhelming majority of them loved the video, as did I.  Their reasons were that it’s beautiful and they enjoyed the ability to see a weather phenomenon not usually witnessed in our part of the world.

I wondered how they might define art.  I know that my own idea about art that’s developed over time is something I’ve heard other artists say – that it has hand, head and heart.  That seems like a very succinct definition.  I found my student’s responses were really lovely ideas about something that is so hard to define.

What is art?  How would you define what it is?

  • Art is a form of life.
  • Art is something that inspires you, connects with you, is something you make, see, imagine…pretty much anything is art.
  • Art is freedom of the mind and emotions.
  • Art is a way of creation and exploration with colors and imagination.  There is no limit to art.
  • Art is something that captures expression.
  • Art is something that can come from within the mind but also the heart.
  • Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.  (Hmmmm – perhaps this was looked up on a smart phone?)
  • Art is anything that inspires, something that teleports you.
  • Art is what you want it to be of your own piece of life and freedom.
  • Art is anything you want it to be.
  • Art is finding meaning in things; art can be anything the maker finds meaningful.
  • Art is a way of expressing yourself while reaching others on a personal level.
  • Art is anything that is worth noticing, and a lot of things are!
  • Art is an idea, mood and character put into form, whether it’s the way someone smiles, or the way someone paints a smile.  ( I love this one….)

The next question, “Is Nature Art?” was answered in the affirmative overwhelmingly by my students!  122 responses said “yes” and only 5 said “no”.  Here is their thinking about it and why..

Is Nature Art?  Why or Why not?

  • Yes, because it has a significance of it’s own and contains basically all elements of art.  I believe art may have been started from nature.
  • Yes, nature is the origin of man made arts, the artistic creation of God.
  • Yes, nature is art.  Events like thunderstorms contain abstract events and inexplicable colors.
  • Yes, nature is God’s masterpiece.  He created it and it is like his art.
  • Yes, it’s the best work of art because it was created so well that no one else can create or copy it.
  • Yes, because some people think flowers can be art.
  • Yes, art can be anything we want it to be.
  • Yes, nature is the art of life, before all of the inventions and innovations.
  • No, but I do see it as inspiration.  Artists can see natural objects and get inspired to try and make their own art.
  • No, art revolves around nature; nature is only a part of art.
  • No, it isn’t a way of expressing anything.  It’s natural and art is not.
  • (and this in depth response…)Nature is many things.  It is beautiful.  It is serene.  It is magical.  But it is not art.  Art is an applied action – a doingness, while nature just happens.  It’s not trying to create – rocks are thrown around by the wind and the water isn’t able to convey the beauty of life, nor the pain of death.  However, when humans are brought into the mix, we can take the randomness and turn it into meaning.  The video that was shown today was very calming and beautiful; it was art whose aspect is nature.  It would be in no way as powerful if you just had been looking at the fog.  He had to record it, edit it, add music and so on.  Raw nature isn’t art, humans are needed to transform it into something others can connect to.

Bravo my young friends!  It’s wonderful to hear you ponder these big questions of life and it warms my heart to know that you recognize the power and majesty of both nature and art.  How you you, dear reader, define art?  What are your own thoughts about the question “Is Nature Art?”.  I would love to include your ideas in this post as well….

Aesthetic Inquiry – Technology or Handmade Art?

Digital wave

Artist of the Day videos have a daily presence in my art classroom; just after the bell rings, I flip the lights off and show my students a video before we start our other work in class.  The videos are short, 3 to 5 minutes, which makes them easy to fit into our busy schedule.  This activity is central to my teaching strategies for showing divergent thinking in art making, as well as seeing contemporary artists’ work.  More and more artists are utilizing technology in the production of their art, and the Artist of the Day videos I find are reflecting that trend.

This week I had an Artist of the Day video lineup that centered around the theme of “Light and Shadow”.  4 of the 5 videos used different forms of technology to create their effects, some of them stunningly so.  I wondered which of the videos the students would prefer, but I also wondered what they thought about the primary use of technology in the artists’ works.  Here is the lineup of my videos:

  • Monday – Night Stroll – 2:03 – an interesting use of strong, geometric lights that appear in a city setting
  • Tuesday – Apparition HD grand finale – Klaus Obermaier & Arts Electronica Futurelab, feat. Rob Tannion – 3:50 – a mesmerizing performance of dance and light
  • Wednesday – Art Created from Shadows – Out of Light & Dark Comes Beauty – 2:39 – silhouettes of dancers creating forms and sculptures of found objects that cast a shadow of a different object
  • Thursday – Mirror City – 4:30 – time lapse photography of cities manipulated into a kaleidoscope abstraction
  • Friday – Paris by Light (legal lights graffiti) MARKO93 – 5:27 – MARKO creates light graffiti through Paris at night

I like to have the students respond in writing to these aesthetic inquiries – I am able to get each student’s opinion this way.  When I try to conduct a class discussion, the majority of the students don’t offer up what they think, so the writing exercise allows me to hear what they think and feel about art.  It also let’s me get a sense of the group’s overall aesthetic preferences.  The world is changing rapidly, and I can see that trend also reflected in contemporary art!  I teach 14-16 year olds, and I am really curious about what they like and find interesting.  Giving them an informal “poll” helps me understand where their interests lie.  The questions and some of their answers for this week were as follows:

1.  Indicate which video was your favorite and tell me why.

I had a technology problem showing the videos – my brand new data projector has been occasionally not working, so the last 3 classes on Friday weren’t able to see the Paris by Light video.  I hate that!  This threw my numbers off, but Mirror City was liked by the majority of students in each class (and, it was my personal favorite of the week!).  It seems to be the most technologically manipulated and the spectacular visuals are just mesmerizing, so I wasn’t surprised that it came out on top.  Some of their responses about why they chose it were:

  • It looked very beautiful and the music really added emphasis to the variations.
  • It was nice to look at and and it made me think
  • I just loved it – it inspired me
  • I liked how it was always changing
  • I liked this because it showed a different perspective on everyday things

The surprising runner up was the Art Created from Shadows video, which did not use computer technology, but people and cast shadows to create new images.  Here is a sampling of their thoughts about this video:

  • It had a more traditional use of light, like shadows on paper
  • The figures created by the dancer’s shadows are very creative and surprising and show more effort and ideas
  • I didn’t hurt my eyes to look at and it was cool
  • The others seemed alike and this one was cool how people were making shadow puppets
  • Because out of simple trash it created cool art

2.  Why do you think artists like to experiment with light in their work?

This second question asked them to put themselves into the artists’ thinking and imagine themselves in the artists’ shoes.  Here’s what they thought about experimenting with light as an art medium:

  • Because light adds a glow to artwork.  Light isn’t something you can touch, but is something you can alter.
  • It’s kind of mysterious.
  • It flows kind of like paint.
  • Grabs the viewer’s attention and makes you look.
  • Artists feel that light makes things come to life.
  • They like to pop the art, illuminate.
  • Because it’s a fun thing to manipulate.
  • There are so many different and cool tricks you can do with it like bend it.
  • Because it’s very modern, non-permanent and experimental.

3.  What qualities does light have that other art materials or media don’t have?

I wanted to push their thinking a little bit farther after they thought about why an artist would use light and articulate what qualities light had as a medium.  They had some interesting ideas about this:

  • It is not a concrete material and can make many more images from one image – it also changes the way you look at things.
  • It’s less permanent.  It is something that is there, then you turn off the light or the computer and it’s gone.
  • Light is controlled by electricity, not by hands.
  • It has a perfect contrast between light and dark.
  • Light is natural and it has a different feel to it.
  • It can create different moods.
  • It is bright, magical and so alive!

4.  How do you feel about the use of technology (using computers and computer applications) in making art?  Do you like art made with a heavy use of technology?  Explain your viewpoint.

I was particularly interested in finding out their thoughts about this line of questions.  There is a general idea that young people, who we call digital natives, are more enamored with the use of technology than with creating things “by hand”.  In fact, the balance I found from their responses was very telling.  Around half of them enthusiastically embraced technology in art making, but the other half might acknowledge the positive use of technology in art, but preferred making art by hand in traditional ways as they felt it was more authentic and real.  They expressed these feelings in these ways:

  • If it’s original, why not?  Art can be created with anything.
  • It’s very creative and impressive – I think it can let you explore more to art than just pencil and paper.
  • Using technology for art is 21st century, so people like it in this century.
  • I like how detailed you can get with technology, I prefer art with technology.
  • Yes, because it’s new and fun.  Technology makes things different.
  • (I LOVE this next response…) Art is like an app – it gets updated when people make it better.
  • I feel like drawing something with your hands is more traditional, or more meaningful for me in making art.
  • It looks good, but doesn’t take as much skill as doing it the old fashioned way.
  • No, I do not like technology used with art because it’s like cheating.  You are taking out the effort of artwork.  (emphasis by author)
  • I don’t like computers besides my phone.  So I’m not good with art on computers.
  • I feel art should be your expression, without help from a computer.  It needs to be natural.
  • It’s OK, but what really amazes me is the classic kind of art and all the skill it takes to make such art.

How do I feel about the use of technology and art?  I suppose I lie somewhere in the middle myself.  I am amazed at the new ways artists are using technology to create innovative forms of art, I love technology and am drawn to it’s power and potential.  But at the end of the day, it’s my own little journal that I turn to when I want to be creative or express a thought or emotion.  Our feelings and thoughts about art always go back to the individual, to their ideas and their experiences that become lenses that they look at art through.  Art embraces all ideas, all viewpoints – there is no right or wrong approach, and I’m very happy to see that my students embrace their own ideas strongly and confidently, no matter what their viewpoint is.  We are all responding to the world around us in our own unique ways.  For me, I am…..

Blooming

which is somewhere between the old and the new.  What are your views on using technology in art?

Aesthetics in the Classroom – Is it Art?

This week I wanted my students to consider the question, “Is it art?”. I explained the process for the week to them: after viewing the ‘Artist of the Day’ video, they would answer this question about each video; they would talk about it together in small groups then decide their personal opinion.  Here are the 4 videos I chose that I hoped would push their thinking about art:

After viewing each video, I gave each table group a survey form to fill out. I asked them to discuss it with their table mates, then place their name in either the yes or no box to indicate whether they thought the work could be considered art. There was another box for them to list reasons why they thought it was or wasn’t art. This method encouraged both group discussion and they had the ability to express their personal opinion as well.

Their responses were interesting – here’s a sampling of what they thought (space constraints are such I can’t list all of their comments, so I’ll do my best to summarize their thinking):

Elephant Painting: (133 yes, 9 no)The reasons for it being art included:

    • everything can be a work of art
    • the elephant is expressing thoughts and feelings through painting
    • the elephant has talent
    • he used the elements of art in his painting (line, color…)
    • he did better than I could
    • humans are not the only ones that can make art

The reasons it wasn’t art:

  • the elephant has been trained
  • only humans can make art
  • the art is taught, it’s not expressed
  • it’s a fake

Yarn Bombing (101 yes, 48 no) – The reasons for it being art included:

  • anything can be art
  • there’s meaning behind it (to foster community unity)
  • includes the elements of art (color, texture…)
  • comes from the heart
  • incorporates design

The reasons it wasn’t art:

  • yarn is not art
  • the color is not thought out
  • knitting is a hobby, not art
  • it doesn’t express
  • it’s just random stuff in public places

Andy Goldsworthy (129 yes, 11 no) – The reasons for it being art included:

  • nature is art (and can be used in art)
  • he expressed himself and used imagination (& divergent thinking)
  • it makes you think
  • includes the elements of art (texture, color….)
  • it’s beautiful, creative and unique
  • he used one thing to make another thing

The reasons it wasn’t art:

  • it’s random and in weird places
  • he’s just rearranging nature
  • it’s just nature (nature not art?)
  • nature is already art
  • it’s photography

Plastic bag installation (85 yes, 65 no) – The reasons for it being art included:

  • it’s a new type of art
  • it creates a message
  • used something simple to make something interesting
  • conveys a message that can be interpreted different ways
  • uses the elements and principles
  • art doesn’t have to have a purpose)

The reasons it wasn’t art:

  • it’s just plastic bags and looks like pollution and trash
  • lacking in emotion or purpose
  • it’s just tying plastic bags together and anyone can do that
  • it’s not a painting or drawing
  • there’s not purpose and it has no emotion

I’m not sure I could have predicted these responses and comments, though I suspected they might question the yarn bombing and plastic bag installation as being art (and that’s why I chose those videos).  I was pleased that they thought more deeply about why they felt the way they did.  I still got a few “amazing” and “boring”, but very few overall.  They shared their thinking with each other and evaluated for themselves if it was art or not.  And by having my little survey form, I got to see how really juicy their thinking was – much more than if we had had a class discussion.

Aesthetics in the Classroom – Finding the Words

‘Artist of the Day’ video associated with this word cloud: Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates” NYC in a Stowstorm

Next week I plan to start asking the big cahuna art question, “What is Art?”. For six weeks I’ve been showing an ‘Artist of the Day’ with the objective of exposing them to different artists and thinking about the videos they see thematically (last week was stop motion animation, this week installations). I give them a chance to express whether they like the art that day with a show of hands, then we take a vote on Friday to see who the favorite artist is for the week. ‘Artist of the Day’ is intended to get them thinking about the big world of art. Already some of my students have told me they have gone back to find out more about a particular artist that interested them, or they have brought a suggestion for an ‘Artist of the Day’. Yea!

But before we start asking more questions about art, I wanted to spend a little time developing their vocabulary about describing the art and their feelings about it. 9th and 10th graders typically have a narrow range of words to express their feeling about an artist or artwork: awesome and cool to stupid and boring. There are not many words in between. Since divergent thinking is a big theme in my classroom this year, I came up with a classroom activity designed to get them to dig deep and find other words to communicate their ideas and feelings about the art they are seeing.

For three of the five days, after the video was shown, I gave each table a piece of paper (1/4 of a sheet of printer paper). There are about 6 students per table group, so it makes a nice small group activity. I encouraged them to talk to each other about other words they could use (get that collaborative thinking generated), then to list each student’s name on the paper and write down their word. Each day I reminded them about thinking more divergently and suggested that they each come up with their own word within the group.

 

‘Artist of the Day’ video associated with this word cloud: Cadillac Ranch

I gathered the sheets by period and clipped them together. Great – now what? Quite serendipitously, or cosmically as I like to say, I stumbled onto another blogpost that gave me a fun idea. Innovative Educator Consulting is the blog, with a focus on “Inspired Technology Leadership to Transform Teaching & Learning”. Perfect! This feeds right into our 21st c. learning objective to incorporate more technology into the classroom! The specific post I read is titled “Word Cloud Makers Are Here” and it has a juicy list of free sites that are available to teachers to use as instructional tools in our curriculum. I took the time to go through the entire list and chose Taxedo.com mostly because you could put your word cloud into a shape.

You can see the word cloud for each video here and it really was quite revealing. I showed the students the word cloud the day after they saw the Christo video (I chose colors that reflected the gorgeous saffron of his gates) and we looked at what happened. When you type the words into the application (in my case 170 words from my student body), the more frequently a word is used, the larger the font and it’s prominence in the cloud. Contrast and colorful were the most frequent responses. I was delighted to see words like flowing, relaxing, graceful and soul.

I created the next word cloud from their viewing of the video about Cadillac Ranch. The next morning, I put the two word clouds up side by side and asked them what they saw. Colorful and creative were the most prominent words, but this time we had some other words that weren’t in the first cloud: changing, painstaking, unpredictable and representative. Yesterday we watched a video about a very different installation, an Art:21 artist, Pepón Osorio, and we gathered words for our last word cloud of the week. Not much overlap here with interesting, confusing and mysterious being the major ideas. Some nice observations were intentional, reflective, eyeopening and mystifying.

This activity was valuable in getting each student to express their opinion. At the beginning of the week, I tried to generate classroom discussion. My first period class has from the first day of school been unnaturally silent. I can hardly get them to talk! By Wednesday, I came up with the idea of having them write their idea on paper along with their name. Now I could actually see what each one of them was thinking, and it gave them the freedom to be more expressive and candid. There is a large percentage of students who don’t want to speak out in class because they are afraid they will be wrong or the other kids will think they are stupid! It’s hard to overcome. Smaller groups get them loosened up.  One other thing that I think was valuable for them to see was their differing opinions – some thought an artwork was interesting, some uninteresting. Some of their typical language showed up, like weird and awesome, but overall, I was extremely happy in the way they were able to express their opinions, push their thinking and then be able to see their thinking in a visual way. Word clouds are a great way to get a snapshot of collective thinking!

‘Artist of the Day’ video associated with this word cloud: Art:21 | Pepón Osorio (For a longer, more comprehensive look at his work, see the official Art:21 video that is about 15 minutes long. His section of the video is Chapter 13 of 16, 40:09 minutes into the 53 minute video. It’s worth a look!)