I usually introduce my students to the work of an individual artist with each activity, but every once in a while, I get a little wild and throw three or four at them at once. That was the case with this fun one.
My fifth-graders looked at the work of Jason Woodside, local San Diego artist Monty Montgomery (see “Study Print” on p. 37), and the collaborative team of Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn. The reason for this is to provide students an opportunity to compare and contrast the similarities and differences in line, shape, and composition between a number of artists that all work in a colorful, graphic abstract style.
I started by putting a number of the artists’ works side by side on the Smartboard and giving my students time to digest and talk about the work. They discussed similarities and differences in small groups, then took turns sharing out to the larger groups. I also asked them to think about which artwork was most interesting to them, and to hold onto that as they worked through the design process. They would use that information on their exit slip reflections at the end of the lesson.
Being big on balancing student choice and creative constraints throughout my curriculum, with this lesson my students could approach the visual design in any way as long as they created an abstract image that used line to create shape and pattern. Students were required to create at least two prelims and to write an explanation that supported their choice of sketch to move forward with for their final design.
I’m really trying to emphasize students developing awareness of their design reasoning; so, in their explanations I encourage them to use specific evidence from the sketches and to respond with more than “because it’s cool.” I want them to think about what makes one sketch “cooler” than the other.
Students could use color markers, color sticks, and crayons to complete their final design. They had about one and a half class meetings to complete the activity, which also included a written exit slip that required them to reflect on the design inspiration and the design process. There was such a wonderful range of student approaches to this design challenge. I found it a great way to start the school year.
NOW, I mentioned that one of the artists is local to San Diego. Monty Montgomery moved here from Virginia about 10 years ago. Following this project, I reached out to invite him to do an artist visit/talk with some of my students. He said yes, and made it happen before he headed out of town for an extended period.
Monty met with a group of fifth-graders, chosen based on citizenship and creativity demonstrated in class while working on this project. Monty shared a couple of his paintings up close with students (see page 37), gave them a peek into his creative process, and answered some great questions.
At the end of his visit, I showed him the mural that Santos Orellana created at Zamorano the previous year (see “Local Love,” in the January 2017 issue) and Monty immediately offered to do one too. I immediately took him up on that offer, of course. 🙂
Several months later, Monty came back and created a mural for and with our school community. He collaborated with us to come up with a composition that married his geometric abstract style with a Southern California desert landscape theme. He donated his time and energy, and I used gofundme.com to raise funds to cover his supplies.
Monty’s mom, a retired teacher, came out to assist for the entire week. She and Monty worked with small groups of fifth- and first-graders (who also did a line activity inspired by his work) to complete the painting. He took time to answer kids’ questions at recess and classes that toured the mural each day. It was an incredible experience for our whole school.
Experiences like this can happen when we as educators share the work of living artists with our students—especially when some of those artists are active in our own communities. I encourage you to reach out to these artists and invite them into your school to engage with your students. It’s a winning experience for everyone involved!
Elementary students will …
• experiment with different approaches to a visual problem.
• express why they want to move forward with one idea over another.
• gain experience discussing similarities and differences present in works of art.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• CREATING: Experiment and develop skills in multiple art-making techniques and approaches through practice.
• RESPONDING: Compare one’s own interpretation of a work of art with the interpretation of others.
• 9″ x 10″ practice paper, 9″ x 10″ white drawing paper
• Graphite pencils, erasers
• Color markers, crayons, color sticks (from Crayola®)
• Exit slips
• Examples of work by focus artist(s)
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Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Don Masse, is a K–5 visual arts teacher at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy in San Diego, California. At the recent NAEA national convention, Don was named the 2018 Pacific Region Elementary Art Educator of the Year.
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