Finals: Old/Antique/Vintage

I explained our process at in a little more detail in a post here, but I wanted to show a handful of projects from my other classes. A quick rundown of what we did:

Step 1: Start with a theme. In this case, for my juniors and seniors, it was something old, antique, or vintage.

Step 2: Spend a couple of days brainstorming and talking out ideas and possibilities.

Step 3: Create sketches, hash out our ideas.

Step 4: Moved on to create sketches with specificity.

Step 5: Get all materials prepped–paper, paint, palettes, pencils, pastels, photoshop programs, and whatever else may be needed.

Step 6: The pressure is on to come in and, within 95 minutes, create a meaningful artwork from beginning to end. This is our final.

And here are some of the results:

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Finals: Comfort

For the past few years, my school has done a finals schedule with each class meeting for 95 minutes for a “culminating activity”. I’ve done exams previously, and I’ve done writing activities. But eventually I came to the realization that we should probably doing art. Here is the process I have been using, with two preparation days and a 95-minute block of time for students to create the artwork. For being a product person, I think this process works out well:

Step 1: Start with a theme. In this case, for my seniors, it was comfort.

Step 2: Spend a couple of days brainstorming and talking out ideas and possibilities.

Step 3: Create sketches, hash out our ideas.

Step 4: Moved on to create sketches with specificity.

Step 5: Get all materials prepped–paper, paint, palettes, pencils, pastels, photoshop programs, and whatever else may be needed.

Step 6: The pressure is on to come in and, within 95 minutes, create a meaningful artwork from beginning to end. This is our final.

During that 95 minutes, we were drawing, painting, and editing our photo shoot:

We were also mixing food coloring and bubbles (I don’t ask questions–I just provide supplies).

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We had some great ideas, and some great results (especially considering the time constraints). Comfortable places–beds, specifically–were a recurring theme, as were comfort food and objects which bring us comfort. Ideas were developed about comfort in solitude and comfort in our vices. It was great to see these ideas develop and come into fruition.

The one drawback of this process as a final, I felt, was my inability to give meaningful feedback. I obviously gave a lot of criticism during the brainstorming phases and during the creation of the project, but there was no way to give a worthwhile final critique. It was more of “turn your project in, I’ll grade it, and you can pick it up after school. Maybe I’ll see you next semester!”

I would say the end products were pretty successful, but more importantly, the kids enjoyed the process and responded well to the pressure of creating something within a 95 minute window. Apart from the lost opportunity for closure and feedback at the end of the project, I am really happy with both the process and the results.

Product v. Process

The age-old art teacher debate–are you a product person or a process person? The optimist tells me that everything we do is important, it all starts with the foundation and we build from there with the process we teach.  The pragmatist tells me we are judged by the products that are created.

I am a product person, but we have quite a process we go through to get to that point. To me, it’s part of a cycle–if your process is good enough, your products will be successful.  If your products are successful, you had to do something to get to that point, right? If you’re so good with your process, doesn’t that eventually turn into a good product?

As artists move into advanced classes, the product becomes takes on extra importance–if your portfolio is what’s getting you into art school, earning you scholarships, do you want to excel when you’re practicing drawing a chair? What do brainstorming and comparison exercises really do for you at this point?

Who wants to be the kid who centers well when throwing on the wheel?Who needs to have the best gesture drawings or contour sketches?  Is anybody proud of having the best weekly sketchbook assignments?

Should our students care about these things? Yes. But do they? Questionable.

Students want to have the best product, and here’s why: product INSPIRES. It makes peers notice, it makes non-art kids want to take art, it gives our kids confidence, and it gives them recognition. It makes people outside the art room appreciate what’s going on inside these walls. Product wins art competitions and awards. Product makes you money. Product gets you into art schools, and product pays for your higher-level education. Maybe that’s your end goal for your students, maybe it’s not, but you can’t get around the fact that students’ interest and attention is drawn to the final product.

I had a student come through the art room a couple years ago and create these works. Is process important for the artist who can draw like this? If you say yes, why? What’s the point? He’s interested in drawing people, so let’s say we work together to develop a process in which he focuses on figure drawing, facial features, anatomy studies, skeletal work, shading, technique, and it gets him to . . . where he already is. He wants to concentrate on product. If this is the case for one of your students, the process doesn’t matter–the product does.

There are, however, a few hundred other kids coming through the art room that need that process. Obviously our teaching goes beyond just techniques and skills–simply put, we are teaching kids how to think. A good process will also involve teaching students how to utilize those higher order thinking skills, how to make choices, and how to develop and push the boundaries of their work. If you’re developing the artists in your classroom using a successful process, you will have products that reflect that success.

The beautiful thing is, we don’t really have to be one or the other. You can have the best of both worlds, because process and product do not need to be mutually exclusive. We fall into this trap of having to choose a side, and the argument goes something like this–If you are a process person, you don’t care about the finished product.  If you care about product, you don’t care how you get there and aren’t teaching kids “the right way”. Guess what? It’s okay to appreciate both. In fact, you’ll probably be a better teacher when you can find the right balance between the two.