The 2014 WAEA Conference in Milwaukee this last month was a fantastic success. I was so inspired by speakers, conference organizers, and the number of art teachers from all over Wisconsin who attended the conference. As an art education student, I am new to the field and am still trying to make connections with other teachers in the state. I was able to meet many new educators and catch up with teachers I worked with in the past. I felt so fortunate to be considered a part of this huge community of talented people!
I was honored to give a presentation on the use of contemporary artists in lesson planning with my co-student representative, Callie Spaltholz. We had a huge turnout of almost 40 teachers and we even needed additional chairs! We shared our experiences of finding ways to incorporate local or contemporary artists into lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students. While Spaltholz shared her experiences with elementary school and correspondences with professional artists, I described my experiences at the middle and high school level.
During my experience with a fifth grade science teacher for a semester, I had the opportunity to work with the students on a project that I aligned with their science learning. The students were working on an endangered animal report and one requirement of the report was that they needed to create an illustration of the animal. I showed students the work of contemporary artist Walton Ford and illustrator Duncan Beedie. Ford has a very realistic style and Beedie has very stylized illustrations. We talked about how the students could try for perfect realism or develop their own drawing style.
I chose to show Walton Ford to the students because his work reflects social issues through the use of expressive animal paintings. The big idea of the lesson was the concept of “awareness,” so talking about artwork that can inform viewers of issues was a perfect fit. I also tied the concept of awareness into the students’ project. Since they were required by their teacher to choose an animal that was threatened or endangered, I required the students to “spread awareness” about the reason their animal was at risk in their artwork. Instead of focusing on making a simple drawing of the animal, students pushed themselves to create realistic or stylized drawings, inspired by the artists I presented.
As for my presentation on lessons at the high school level, I discussed various projects I have developed for my students during my current student teaching experience. One of the projects I presented dealt with the big idea of “identity.” My placement at an urban high school in Milwaukee presented me with many rewards, challenges, and great practice at creating lessons for students with varying skill levels. I worked with a group of kids who ranged from grades 9 through 12. I wanted to use an artist whose style would encourage working hard, not simply drawing well. I chose to present the students with artist Jean Michel Basquiat to show how great composition, repetition, and other simple formal qualities make a great piece of art. I asked the students to develop symbols, words or short phrases, and a simplified drawing of themselves in order to create a self-portrait. Students also created a ground on their paper of different colors, which really alleviated the anxiety of the white page. By using an artist who excelled at elements of drawing other than realism, students of all skill levels were inspired and able to succeed.
We had a really positive response from attendees of our presentation and we were so glad to share the information. I am so humbled by the kind words and excitement about our experiences from the teachers who joined us for our presentation. Being a part of WAEA is such an honor. I am so happy to be a part of a state with such an amazing community of educators!