I created this curriculum to function on this gradual build up of information that carefully guided students towards the development of their personal works. Each class introducing a new technique, idea, or approach, and each building upon the last. And while the daily informal discussion help me gauge how well each day supports students in the development of their work, I’m finding it will be a challenge to assess how well the overall structure of the course functioned when they aren’t consistently here to follow that trajectory.
Granted, I recognize it’s an inevitable obstacle – I will never have 100% perfect attendance. But as of now I only have 5 students with perfect attendance. And that’s hoping that by the end I will still have 5 with whom I can sit down and look atall the work they’ve made from week to week so as to really gauge their progress.
It’s a challenge – and one that I will have to consider when I develop the final assessment tool for the end of the program. But for now, I am glad that I’ve been using the informal discussion as a way to reflect on each day’s activities. I’ve also addressed the absences by making sure to review the past key ideas and discuss how they’ve led to our focus for that day.
That all being said, the 8 students who were here did some great work. Especially because today our topic was, CONCEPT, which meant beginning the process of handing the reins over to the students.
I love doing this exercise and have used it in various courses at Marwen (I based it on exercise that a Marwen alumna, Akilah Williams, used in a different context).
I have the students do some cathartic writing. Although to help them frame their thinking, I throw out a number of prompts at various intervals. Students can directly answer each question as I present it to them, or they can just reflect on them but simply continue to write whatever comes to mind as they hear them.
I start by asking students to envision a place where they are creative – It could be their room, art class, Marwen, etc. – and I ask them to describe everything about that space: What it looked like, how it felt, how they felt being there. After a while I ask them about what their interests are: What inspire them, what do they feel passionate about, etc. And finally, I ask them to think back to a favorite piece that they made; one they felt really proud of. And I asked them to describe it. Physically and what the intentions were behind it, but also by describing what about it made it a successful piece.
After they finish writing I ask them to look back at what they have and ask them to circle 5 words that stand out as being encompassing of who they are as artists. Then, I asked them to choose 3 of those words that get closer to what interests them the most. And finally, I asked them to choose the 1 word of the 3 that they felt could encapsulate their ideas in the most succinct way.
Here are some of the 3 and 1 words that were selected:
Different, Interact, New – Interact
Acrylic, Emotion, Face – Emotion
Music, Studio, Busy – Music
Calm, Comic Book, Family – Family
Flow, Beauty, Effort – Effort
Creating, Peace, Conceptual – Peace
The potential for the kind of work that can be developed from those words is the best part of what can come from this exercise. As an artist, from time to time, I like to do this exercise to see how that word changes, or stays the same, as my work develops and evolves. In this context, it helps give students a potential starting point, or guiding principle, to work under as they embark on their individual projects. And, as I mentioned to the students, they are in no way required to use it. If they have ideas or concepts that they are already exploring in their work outside of this class then I encourage them to explore how they can bring that here. But for those who may still be at a point where they haven’t begun to explore personal themes/concepts, then this is a great tool for them to run with.
So on to the work!
For the rest of the class students could work with whatever medium the preferred In fact, they were encouraged to work with materials they were most comfortable with as, in the end, their portfolio for college should highlight their strengths. There was no parameters for their drawings this time. The only prompt was that they use the model to develop a drawing that investigated a personal idea/theme/approach, etc. – keeping in mind how the techniques/approaches we’d covered (scale, mood, expression, mark making, etc) could help them convey their meaning.
And here is what they made!
I must say that I give props to our model for being so gracious and sustaining a pose that is not easy to do for such a long period. But I really do give him credit for giving students such a compelling form to work with.
At the end of class I asked, “What was really exciting about what you did today?” My intention in asking this had been to simply have a conversation about the work they’d created and how’d they’d felt about the process. But I got a nice surprise when the responses extended beyond that and became actual reflections of how the day’s activities had supported them in their work. I guess I’ve trained them better than I’d anticipated ; )
Two students volunteered to comment and both started by saying how much they’d enjoyed the writing exercise and how it’d helped them in framing how they approached their drawings.
One student mentioned that she’d kept one of the words she’d circled from her writings (beauty) in her head the whole time she was painting. Tt was having that word in mind that caused her to focus in on the face of the model, while allowing the rest of the body to remain abstracted to a certain degree.
Christian Ortiz has been a part of Marwen since 2001, first as a student, then teaching assistant, teaching artist, and now staff member. As an artist and educator, process, research, and discussion are a major component of both his studio practice and classroom environment - Practices which he uses as he helps Marwen develop curriculum and programming around students' artistic development. You can learn more about his classroom and studio experiences on his blog christianortizart.blogspot.com.