When Art Class Works

There are times when art class just doesn’t work. For example, this past Monday. I had planned a time in the computer lab for the kids to browse a variety of sites and see some other potential areas of art they might like. One great site is the Frank Lloyd Wright Architect Studio 3D by the FLW Preservation Trust. This site takes the students on a tour of homes and information about the architect, but the best part of the site is the design studio, where kids can actually design a house. Sounds great, right?

Well, only if you are on a certain web browser, have updated computers, and have mice that work. Otherwise, you have 30 minutes of random clicking and shouts of “Miss, it’s not working.” By the end of the 90 minute period (and needless to say, no one had listened earlier to log-in instructions), I was so frustrated. Some kids stayed on the cartoon site the whole time (with some really great instructions for them), and some stayed on the Shadow Puppet site, building their own show (this is a fabulous site!). You can access my art class sites here.

I was both frustrated with the kids and with the computer lab. But on Wednesday the 8th grade class was wonderful – worked hard on mandalas and created and completed some great stuff. Thursday I started the illuminated letter project, with making “parchment” paper to start. After 45 minutes of no one listening to me, I took the kids out of the room and to my math class and proceeded to yell at them – which I never do. They had been horrible.

On Friday I tried the same assignment with my seventh grade, most of whom I have in math class. This is when it works…..

I was able to work with nearly evry student on some aspect of their art. I got all kids making the water color wash for their “parchment.” There were some great questions (can I use another blend?) and lots of creative ways of covering the paper. But the best part was helping the kids finish and mount their mandalas (I promise pictures soon). I would take their work and rotate the design, helping them to make decisions about orientation (not a word they knew). One student actually said, “You can do that?” I can so relate, because there were times when I thought the same thing.
The students were able to articulate which orientation they liked, explaining that it “moved” better. So I introduced the word “flow.”

Some students wanted to be creative in their framing – they wanted their circles kept whole on the white background, but wanted to play with the shape of the background construction paper. The biggest issue for me was trying to just suggest ideas, but still keep their work as the artist as much theirs as possible.

This really was a problem when it came to color. Some of the kids got very involved in the line drawings inside the circles that they had seen me do. They would occasionally moan about not being finished, but they also weren’t ready to quit until it was just the way they liked it. All designs were then gone over with a thin black marker – made the shapes really show, and also let the kids work with the idea of a draft.Then so many of them needed color.

I didn’t want to “instruct,” I wanted to lead. This was tough. I had some colors speak to me immediately, but I didn’t want to force anything. For one, he had some shapes that looked like arrows, and I suggested he look at just those – put his focus only on one area. What color would he like there? He chose red – just the color I was thinking of. So he did just those. We looked at it from a distance, and he decided he wanted to do the part on top in yellow to emphasize some of his lines. Looked fabulous. Then I suggested he do the same thing on the bottom, and introduced the idea of balance. When he finished, he looked at it again and pronounced it finished. He was happy with how it looked. (I would have added blue, but he’s the artist.)

Even better was the fact that I had several students who usually rush through assignments take three class periods to do their line work, and now they are just considering color. At the end, I was able to sit with one of my somewhat “energetic” group of boys and use their five entirely different mandalas to do a brief lesson in art critique.

That’s a class that works. The high from that 90 minutes will stay with me for several weeks.

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