In a recent unit with an introductory Studio Art class, my students created paintings that redefined power visually in a variety of ways. After looking at the work of Season 3 artists Ida Applebroog, Laylah Ali and Cai Guo-Qiang, students created sketches that literally and symbolically represented power from unique perspectives.
By viewing different segments grouped by a single theme, students had the opportunity to experience how three very different artists worked with the theme of power and depicted it in ways that included:
- the power of one person over another
- how groups of people wield power
- the power of nature
- the power of “doing nothing” and being an “innocent” bystander
As we moved through the unit it became clear that students were not just working with a theme, but working through the theme and discovering how they themselves saw power from different perspectives. The expectation that they would explore various approaches to redefining power visually set up a period prior to working on the finished paintings where they had to dig deeper and move beyond stereotypes and knee-jerk reactions. This produced beautiful and surprising results.
In a reflective class discussion after the paintings were complete , we talked about what made this unit different. More than one student remarked that seeing the videos and creating a variety of proposals for the paintings made them think about the theme over time, instead of coming up with final ideas quickly. Other students reflected on the fact that the paintings took shape through the sketching prior to the final piece.
Have you used Art:21 to get students to think about a particular theme in ways that produced surprising results?