Thursday, July 31, 2014

Teaching teens who are teaching me- BCA

One of the neat things about teaching one-week summer art camps is that a wide range of students attend.  Last week, I had campers from around the state as well as from New York City and Georgia. Sometimes there are even campers from overseas.  My campers range in age as well. During the school year I primarily work with students grades K-5, so it was fun and refreshing to have 12-14 year olds last week.

The camp was focused on drawing and painting, and taught lots of very technical skills and concepts.  This group was extremely talented, and initially (on Monday) asked for lots of "high art" teaching- art history and aesthetics mixed with making.
A lesson in shading with colored pencils

But they were grumpy. Well, not grumpy.  They actually said they were having fun, but they were so, so quiet and unsmiling that this was hard to buy.

So, we painted huge abstract canvases, looking at artwork by Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly, and many others. They finally got talking when they began to argue about what exactly art was, and whether all of these artists were really all-that-great. They flung paint, scraped it, sponged, dripped, and brushed it on.  Several told me they had never been allowed to splatter paint before.

Well, I asked, What else have you never been allowed to do?

And it is here, dear readers, our story improves dramatically. And so did my teaching.

I have never bubble painted.
I have never fingerpainted.
I have never been allowed to use glitter how ever I want. You know, throw it around. Put some in my hair.

What?! These are rites of childhood. How can I teach advanced concepts to people who are lacking in fun? What's the point of art, and frankly, education, if there is no joy? No freedom to explore the materials without particular purpose?
Exploring shaving cream with middle and incoming-high school students.

each day for the rest of the week we had balance. Landscape painting by the lake, bubble painting in the classroom. They put it on their papers. On their arms, legs, and heads. They stuck their tongues in it to taste the bitter soapiness.

We learned volumes and shadows, after which we finger painted.

These artists illuminated letters and numbers, then lit up their art with waterfalls of glitter on their painted paper collages- and on their heads.

They ate marshmallows and lollipops from the candy store while they drew. And then I emptied two cans of shaving cream onto the tables for them to play in. They didn't want to stop. They played for forty-five minutes, until it was time to go home.

An "@" symbol, for our illumination project
 One of the days we had two lovely sisters model for us after a bunch of brief gestural warm-ups where they modeled for one another.  Here are some of those, all rendered in willow and compressed charcoal.
This 14-year-old artist is headed to a fine-arts high school in September, where he will have art for two hours daily.

This thirteen year old artist did not draw the furniture or walls.  I love the sense of anxiety and play with gravity that creates.

This artist is twelve. Twelve. And this drawing was 90 seconds long.

Look at the volumes created by the line directions.

The style of this artist kept making me think of Francis Bacon.

The sisters.

At the end of the week, BCA gives campers an evaluation form.  They grade the program, the teacher, the resources, the overall experience, and provide suggestions for changes.  I love this, and look forward every week to seeing what the campers have to say.  This group offered the most touching and thoughtful feedback I have perhaps ever received.

Don't change a thing. Keep doing what you are doing, keep being you.
I loved everything.  Especially flinging the paint.
What would I change? We would bubble paint sooner- on the first day- so we all could have talked to each other sooner, and become friends sooner. 

Put bubbles on each others' heads sooner.  This is an important thing for me to remember going into the next school year. More overt joy, without pretense, to build community. Thanks for teaching me, kids.

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