Teacher Blogs

Independence and Growth
Posted 06/23/2017 03:15PM

By Alice Shih-Kahn, Upper School Art

June 23, 2017

I was away this spring for three months for maternity leave. During the last week of May, I returned for final project critiques in my classes. It was exciting to see how my year-long students in Visual Arts II had progressed without my influence. The final unit is a true testament of student dedication and an understanding of aesthetics. The students began the assignment by researching a contemporary artist. They could choose any artist in the last 100 years to serve as an inspiration. Every young artist should be able to identify, learn about and understand their predecessors! From concept to completion, the students were forced to make many decisions. Through the use of trial and error, they chose the material, size, and subject matter for the final piece. This product became evidence of the skills they have developed this school year, and a few students' work was particularly impressive. The common thread throughout these students is that they each tried something that was outside of their comfort zone; all challenged themselves and rose to the occasion.

Rohit, a 10th grade student, connected his interest in painting with his interest in athletics. The first few days of the unit coincided with the NBA playoffs. The Washington Wizards were performing well and he was inspired by the performance of John Wall. Earlier in the year he had already completed a traditional portrait assignment and this time he chose to be more unconventional. Rohit depicted Wall in geometric shapes, consisting entirely of triangles. He experimented with mixing colors and formulated ways to mix different values in order to create a sense of volume. Rohit found this approach difficult yet rewarding. Art takes time, patience, and lots of practice - just like the great John Wall.

Charlotte, a 9th grade student, visited the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC during the exhibition, "Wonder." She was especially impressed by the large installation by artist Gabriel Dawe and used her experience with that intricate and vibrant work as a jumping-off point for a small scale sculpture. Although the sculpture she created could not be 18-25 feet high like Dawe's, she took a similar concept and found ways to explore the relationship of color, tension and space. Charlotte recycled a broken wood stool, spools of thread and glue. Each string was carefully placed to create a unique shape and pattern. Through her design, this work of art has many interesting points of view and each were very carefully considered.

Amber, another 10 grader, explored a new method of making art in the style of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat was a street artist who made a tremendous impact on art in American history with his raw and non-traditional ways of self-expression. She created seven individual pieces on cardboard with acrylic paint and chalk pastels. Amber assembled them onto a wall in order to create a large composition. She was unsure of the optimal direction or placement of each piece, so many variations were considered before the final composition was fixed. This work of art was a result of great experimentation and self-exploration. During her creative process, she shared that she was unconsciously drawing and writing, similar to visual journaling. Once the composition was complete, Amber realized that each aspect of it was somewhat of an abstract self-portrait. She had originally planned to dismantle and recycle the pieces after the work was graded. But, after she showed her parents a photograph of the project, they encouraged her to bring the entire work of art home. The final work was evidence of her growth and development as a young artist and they would find a place to install the 70-inch drawing!

I am so proud of the work that my students have accomplished this year. They were able to discover a little more about themselves as artists and pursue an idea from beginning to end. Art is a learning process. During final critiques, I posed a series of questions to the students to force them to consider why they made the decisions they made. It is incredibly important for all young artists to understand that the artist has control. There is a fine line between good art and great art. I wish all of my students luck in the future and I encourage each of them to stay curious and resilient during any creative process!

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