There are those great moments in teaching art that hit like lightning. They’re usually not on the lesson plan. They rush in like the tide and swamp everything else that you had planned with a sweet crash of excitement. God, I love those moments. They breathe life into your bones. I had one today.
We were drawing detailed eyes in 6th grade art. We had gone through feeling our face for eye sockets and glaring at irises and pupils. I had given each student a mirror. Oh, the hair primping and soulful staring at reflections. It is a riot to watch. We used blending stumps and erased highlights on watery eyes …we hacked our way through a forest of stick eyelashes and caterpillar eyebrows that wiggled over lazy eyelids. But my students were game. This was hard stuff and they were trying….and then….
One student propped his mirror over his drawing and noticed the reflection …he called me over excitedly. “Look at this Mrs. S!” I was blown away by what he had seen and called everyone over to look. It was like a current went through the room. They all ran back to their drawings to create the same optical illusion…”Look, look!” filled the room.
And there it was..the moment they saw their drawings like artists. They went into undiscovered territory. They were excited, they were engaged. I took pictures. What else could I do? It was a moment worth saving.
As I heard my teaching partner Skipper Bennett describe this museum the other day, The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is “an exquisite little jewel-box of a museum.” I explored that jewel box again as we visited the museum with a group of 6th graders from Travis Elementary School this week. I found some new gems inside.
The building, designed by Philip Johnson, is a work of art on its own. But for the next two years, the building atrium is graced by a lovely installation work by Dallas-based Mexican artist Gabriel Dawe, Plexus no. 34, 2016. What fun to see the open-mouthed astonishment of our students inspired by this ephemeral art work.
A soft web of over 80 miles of sewing thread is on display in the changing light of the atrium. In my head the colors sang to me, sounding like the whispers of wind over a harp.
With a little over one hundred students in two separate tour groups, the Museum Educators split our students up into workable groups of eleven or twelve and went on a 90 minute tour. The trip combined the study and writing of poetry and how it can be inspired by art. So with a dual purpose, our students got a lot of mileage out of those 90 minutes.
One of the second gems on the trip was our students’ access to the Amon Carter’s research library, which I had incorrectly assumed was only available for scholarly research. The library was manned that day by Archivist and Reference Services Manager Jonathan Frembling, who was absolutely wonderful and friendly with our students, showing them Josef Albers color plates and Calder pieces and reading poetry with enthusiasm and great feeling. He said something that stuck with me, “Writing is your chance at a kind of immortality, the words you write may live long after you are gone.” What a great way to talk to students and a key concept when art work (visual communication) and poetry (written communication) are compared and combined . Our students separated out and wrote poetry, then read it aloud. It was a nice moment.
He invited us back to bring student groups and offered to put together any research materials we might need to use on a future project or artist. He showed Mr. Bennett and I an original survey of the Grand Canyon, made before photography was available, illustrated with stunning intricate line drawings. I found this part of our visit especially meaningful, surrounded by hundreds of art documents and books beautifully bound in leather and carefully preserved. There is a rich musky scent and feel to a quiet wood paneled room filled with journals and old books that just can’t be duplicated.
As the tour wound through the museum, they made several stops, taking in and writing about a diverse group of artworks, one of which is a newly acquired piece by George Bellows, with a surprising vivid color that was unexpected.
We also stopped at the classic Dash for the Timber, hands down my favorite of the western art in Amon Carter’s collection.
It was a memorable trip, made comfortable and meaningful by the Museum Educators. A special thanks to those Educators, I don’t have all their names. But to Erin Long and Bridget Thomas and all the others, thank you so much. We felt very welcome.
It has been unusually warm here in north Texas. I’m not complaining mind you but I’m craving a little Christmas weather.
The kind of weather where a pot of chili with cornbread takes the chill off your bones. The kind of weather that makes cider and hot chocolate taste good. Sweater weather. So time for a little snow artwork.
My good friend Billie Slater used to bring her Cadets into the building singing…”Pray for snow….pray for snow….” in their best Native American chant rhythm. Well I’m not quite up to that vocally, so we are making snowflakes. Big 3-D snowflakes. I found a very clear tutorial here on the wonderful blog, One Less Headache. Add good instructions plus a sprinkling of science and math and voila, 3-D snowflakes.
I have my winter board done too for a little extra snow mojo.
Let’s get this straight…..not sleet…not ice..I want snow, the big fluffy kind you make snow ice cream with.
We were doing a very serious painting this week in sixth grade art class. Very serious. Chinese brush painting.
I meticulously set up the atmosphere for ethereal ink paintings of bamboo to appear. With wood flute meditation music playing softly in the background, I taught my small class of sixth graders proper brush technique. I broke down the steps to painting the bamboo stem, joints, branches and leaves. We even had real bamboo brushes, tiny wells of black India ink and bamboo pens for details.
In my best Mr. Miyagi imitation I cautioned, “Teacher say, student do.” The room was hushed as they concentrated.
Then from the left side of the room an unexpected arm jostle caused drops of ink to fly and brought this exclamation from one of my students. “Awww,you guys made me ink!” Perfect imitation of the small octopus on Finding Nemo.
I have not laughed that hard in days. Of course we had to look up the clip on YouTube. The entire class left my room intoning “Awww,you guys made me ink!” Not exactly the cultural experience I had planned, but some of the best art comes from the unexpected.
“Awww,you guys made me ink!”- Andrew Stanton, Finding Nemo
I broke a guillotine paper cutter once cutting rolls of newspaper. A paper cutter is an expensive piece of equipment for a public school, and they are remarkably durable so I was shocked when the bolt that holds the cutting arm just flat sheared off and the arm came away in my hand. My first thought was “Hmmm….how am I going to explain this one.”
A hush fell over the classroom, broken finally by a student with a penchant for the obvious. “Well, we’re gonna need a new paper cutter.” I was still counting my fingers. I blame Pinterest. See a more sensible lesson plan here that uses smaller tubes.
We were making icosahedrons out of newspaper in my 6th grade art classes. An icosahedron is a geometric form; a polyhedron with twenty faces. Per Wikipedia each regular icosahedron has thirty edges and twenty equilateral triangle faces with five meeting at each of its twelve vertices. This requires a LOT of newspaper tubes. A LOT that have to be cut to equal lengths. Twenty-five tubes per student. Of course a paper cutter is not designed to cut that many thick paper tubes. But it did for a while.
I was proud I could even pronounce icosahedron, since saying I am mathematically challenged is like saying the Titanic had a small leak. But newspaper was cheap and readily available from the library and classrooms. Ahhh…the digital world is changing that now.
I also was proving to my students how incredibly strong layers of newspaper are when rolled into a tube and taped into triangle faces. They worked together to construct their icosahedrons which were pretty impressive when they got them done. We had a blast making these, and I always wondered where they ended up when the students got them home.
The images you see are drawn by sixth graders after exploring her drawing methods in my class in 2009. I’ve read that the arts are not important in the grand scheme of things these days in public schools. I’ve also heard that on average, people give up drawing after the sixth grade. That is so sad.
I look at the beautiful work by these students and it haunts me that some people may think this is not a skill worth teaching. Look in the eyes of these portraits and I dare you not to see the intensity there. They are amazingly telling about the artist and the subject.
Repetition of shapes, lines and colors is one of the strongest organizing principles in art and it takes practice to see it and create it.
A simple and fun drawing exercise called Bad Hair Dayon The Incredible Art Department website helps bring this concept into focus.
Fun, because everyone can relate to “bad hair day” and useful because it emphasizes the use of a repeated shape as a pattern. The “hair” is divided into at least five sections. Each section must have a different pattern in it.
This started out as a sub project, but my 5th and 6th grade students enjoyed it so much we continued the project over several says. Here are the results.