As a department, Studio Arts teachers at the GDS High School have excelled at teaching artistic techniques. (Quality lessons on techniques was lacking in our own formal training.) We have trained hundreds of students to produce highly successful technical works by following our tried and true methods.
We were finding, however, that when we introduced the concentration project to our advanced and AP classes, where we ask students to produce 5-12 pieces related to a theme, it often triggered the dreaded “artistic block.”
Students complained that they “don’t have any ideas” or “it’s too hard” to come up with multiple ideas, or they simply “don’t have time to dream.” Honestly, I often wonder if this is a result of the digital age we live in? Why don’t we have enough time to develop our ideas? Is it because it’s all so easy to find everything on the internet?
While we can’t counteract everything outside of the art room doors, we realized we can create opportunities for students to develop their own projects and connect to their work more authentically.
This year, we launched the HS Identity Project in late November. We were clear that we needed to first teach students to learn to think deeper, develop a concept, explore their identities, and—most of all—tell a story through their art. The project required some major adjustments in our curriculum to allow time for students to think and explore. The theme we established for the show was a simple question, “Who Am I?”
We encouraged students to incorporate aspects of their personal lives, their communities, and their culture into their art.
Students started with a timeline, drawn on a long roll of brown paper, that began with “I was born…”
I stood at the big roll of paper with my scissors and asked, “How long to do need your paper to be?” (thinking, “you’re only 15, you probably don’t need a long piece of paper!”)
Much to my surprise, most of them did need a very long piece of paper. When the timelines were presented, it was one of the most emotional days of my teaching career. Students dug deeply into their past experiences, heritage, and culture to share their personal stories with the class. Sharing was optional, creating a connection to “Who Am I” was not.
From that point on, the lightning bolt went off and they began producing some of the most powerful imagery I have seen in a long time. The added bonus for the teachers was getting to know our students in a way that may not have ever happened.
The process has been very therapeutic and exciting for students to explore new ways to express themselves. Seeing them so inspired, engaged, and exploring their personal identities has made the Identity Project one of the most rewarding art projects we have done.
Don’t miss it!!
Show dates: Feb 8 – March 4, 2016
GDS High School 3rd Floor Gallery