One aspect of a TAB classroom that gets criticized is when we allow our students to explore the same medium over and over and over. Critics often think this is wrong that we TAB teachers don’t expose our students to a variety of media by making them do different projects based on different materials. Unfortunately, this is not how artists work. Yes, some artists work in several mediums…Picasso and Degas come to mind. Both painted and sculpted. But, they came to other mediums because they wanted to explore, not because someone else told them to. I am sure they were aware of other mediums, but they preferred what they preferred. We do the same for our students. They are aware of other mediums, but ultimately, they should work in the medium they prefer or what they feel is best to convey their idea.
On Mondays, I introduce my students to contemporary artists. I want them to know what is being made in today’s art world. While deciding on artists to have them meet, I found 2 artists that reinforce this idea exploring the same medium over and over. First is El Anatsui. Second is Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor. I have included clips from both these artists. If you click on their names, you can find the entire video. Neither of these clips are about the art they make, but rather the message they are sending.
When we let our students continue to explore the same medium, they will begin to understand what it can offer. They can push the boundaries of the medium. They will understand what it means to research in an artistic sense. They will behave like artists.
I want to share a story. The tale of the journey an artwork. Today a student’s piece finally found where it was going. She started with a proposal to make some kind of moving box…I don’t even know. I didn’t quite understand it. But, she jumped in and started working, trying to figure out how to make it move. She cut thin cardboard into enough squares and rectangles to make a box. She found some string and 2 buttons to help pull the walls down.
When she got frustrated because she couldn’t make it do what she wanted, she took the box and began to spray paint. Every day she did a different side, experimenting with the spray paint. Trying different color combos and using different tools. Learning all this on her own. She then decided she would instead turn her box into a lampshade.
After completing the forth side, she came back into the room, her face all lit up with the spark of a new idea. “I have a new idea Mrs. Barnett” she said. She began taking tape off her lampshade. A little while later she came to me with 5 smaller pieces; each from a different part of her box. She found a silver piece of matboard in the cardboard bin. She said, this is what I want it to be. She was so happy. I could tell she was much more in love with this piece. So was I.
I write about this because I think that TAB has allowed this type of focus of the journey and the process. If I had decided on the lesson and artwork ahead of time, my student would not have had the chance to stray, to experiment with different ways to work with spray paint, to problem solve, to experience the artistic process first hand. She was able to see that ideas change over time. And to see that it is okay.
I know it has been over a month and a half since I last wrote, but it’s kind of been the same old, same old in my classroom. But, as the new year and the new semester began, I have many new ideas and things I am trying out with my students. And, I am going to start with a new to me way of exploring. I did an activity similar to what fellow TAB teacher Cynthia Gaub does called Around the Room. I changed it to Exploration around the room: collage and mixed media.
Art 1 jumped right back in when returning from our winter break. They had new media and techniques to explore and I wanted them to have a new way to explore them.
So, I lined the counters with some large sheets of paper and place a ton of items out for them to explore with: plexi, excess pieces of laminate, and plastic bags for monoprints, cardboard and styrofoam for printmaking, bubble wrap, flowers, feathers, spools, and a plethora of other items for stamping.
I gave a brief introduction outlining part 1 of our exploration activity and then let them go on their way to create some new textures and backgrounds. At first some were hesitant, but by day 2, they were comfortable and trying new ways of printing with the different methods and objects.
Once we were done exploring stamping and printmaking, we learned about collage and mixed media. Students were then challenged to take what they had made during their exploration and to use them in someway…either as the ground for a new artwork to be placed on top or as paper to be cut up and used in a collage.
Once the students finished with their exploration artwork, the students reflected on what they learned through a technique exploration blog post.
Here are some of the fabulous practice works the students created.
I have a few tweaks to make, but I like this way of exploration. I want to combine it with the other methods I use. Not sure how I am going to do that yet, but it will come to me.