We studied a variety of self-portraits throughout art history, and discussed how they compared and contrasted with each other, as well as what we could learn about the artist from each of them. We talked about the very nature of a self-portrait-how it can be representational or not, represent a moment in time or a collection of moments, and we spent a good amount of time discussing perception and how we know what we think we know.
The students then got to work answering questions about themselves such as, “Who/What do you love,” “What limits you,” “What do you fear,” “What inspires you,” as well as additional questions they had come up with as an exercise to get to know a classmate. We discussed their answers and how they could visually communicate them as a self-portrait. They came up with sketches and we went over the grading rubric and then they began constructing their collages. I demonstrated a technique to lift ink off of the magazine pages to interested students, and then offered individual help as needed.
A lot of these kids poured their hearts out answering the brainstorming questions as well as in their Artist Statements-they are already at a level of willing to open up and share about themselves which is something I’ve had to work harder to get from students in the past. This was the second week of school and I was able to have so many heartfelt discussions with them and get to know them right away. They are an amazing group of kids, an absolute pleasure to teach.
I’ve done many self-portrait projects, but I tend to change my media and intro materials to suit the dynamic of the students I’m teaching, so I’ve never done this specific one before. The students blew me away with their hard work and creative thought. I am so excited to see what else they create!
I think that our reaction to art can be subjective, but I think that understanding and appreciating art has its roots in objectivity. There is an objective reality to mathematical proportions, color theory, the Golden mean, etc. An artwork’s physical characteristics, individual history and context within human history is objective. In class we learn the process of art criticism, which involves Describing, Analyzing, Interpreting and Evaluating, and teaches students to use the formal, objective elements and principles of art to really gather information and look at something in great depth before they interpret and eventually judge it. This process of critique is one that can be applied to many areas of their lives.
My job as an art teacher, in addition to teaching technical skills and processes, is to teach my students to value their individual voices and learn about the very nature of their perception and how it influences their art making and on a greater level, their entire human experience. We study definitions of art throughout history and formulate our own, then move into philosophical questions of aesthetics such as the nature of truth and beauty.
I hope my students walk away from my classroom with an understanding and appreciation for Art and its role in the human experience, and see themselves as artists and creative problem solvers with the potential to change the world for the better.