Friday, May 1, 2015

Olympics of the Visual Arts 2015

The creativity amazes me every year.  Today, for the third time, I served as a judge in the statewide OVA (Olympics of the Visual Arts) competition, held down the road in Saratoga Springs.  I've talked about OVA on this blog before, here, and here, but if you don't want to hop over to the old posts to read, let me just briefly explain.  OVA is styled after the Odyssey of the Mind model, with teams in elementary, middle, and high school levels competing in both long term projects and a spontaneous competition.  The program is sponsored by NYSATA, my state art educators' association.  The long term projects are in categories such as sculpture, architecture, fashion design, drawing, painting, illustration, and photography.  You can read official information about OVA here, and see the official problem categories and what each challenge was this year here. Students have to provide documentation of research, brainstorming, and their creative process as part of their long-term problem presentation.  The work is extensive.
Above, students are spread out working on their spontaneous problem solutions.  This is just a tiny portion of the 4 rooms filled with students and their incredible creations. 
This was my 3rd year judging the photography category, and I love being able to participate. But somehow, in the midst of all my judging and eating (yes, they provided a yummy lunch for judges) and exploring, the above project was unfortunately the only photography piece I actually snapped!  It was a middle school entry, and was the only entry that used projection in their presentation.  For their 'forms in nature' project, they had explored the Fibonacci sequence in nature.  They had a rotating and constantly changing video projection in the middle of a giant sunflower they had built.  The above photos do not do it justice. 
The sculpture problem had to do with deconstructing and reconstructing materials.  The above piece drew a lot of attention, but when I got a closer look, something inside me was really disturbed by the concept of all those poor broken Barbies, that should be having their hair done and wearing glamorous clothes, and going on dates.  I am a child of the original Barbie generation, and I don't care how politically incorrect or non-feminist Barbie is; I did and always will love Barbie.  You can read a little more about my Barbie obsession here.  The two pieces pictured at the top of this post are also sculptures from deconstructed materials.

I was fascinated with this piece, consisting of 4 hamsa hands with tiny peepholes.  Inside the peepholes were mini tableaus.  What an original concept!
 looking inside:

 Meanwhile, the fashion category is always the most popular.  For their spontaneous project, they have a fashion show.  As a judge in a different category, I unfortunately haven't gotten to see the fashion shows, but I hear they are fabulous!  The pieces below are constructed entirely of paper, and are based on works by artists.
 Below, my absolute favorite (I love the Picasso painting that inspired it); I would have loved to see this in the fashion show!
 There was so much incredible student artwork I could show you, but I'll close with a few fun pieces, including an amazing black and white re-creation of van Gogh's Bedroom at Arles.  Re-imagining/re-interpreting a famous work of art in black and white was the core of the painting problem. 
 I mean, how cool is that???!!?!?

Congratulations to all the student artists who took the time to participate in OVA, build their portfolios, and bring their projects to completion.  You kids rock!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Does graffiti art belong in the art curriculum?

I've thought about writing this post for a long time, but have put it off for fear of offending someone or having some readers take my opinions personally.  But, readers, this isn't personal, and I don't expect you all to agree.  It's simply my opinion, and nothing more, and this post is written to spark discussion and give you something to think about.

OK, disclaimer done.  Here I go:  

Why did I decide to write a post about graffiti tonight?  Well, earlier today I took my camera for a walk on the bike path that runs between the Hudson River and the Feeder Canal.  It was sunny and I had a lovely walk, between a parking area by a dam, down to a bridge near a public beach, and back again.  When I got to the bridge, I thought I'd look under it for a photo of the water and reflections, but instead I saw offensive graffiti.  I took a photo, but I will not post it here, because, well, it consisted of several swastikas and a pro-Hitler statement, and I'm just not comfortable posting it on a blog that is a reflection of me.  (So the other photos I took today will have to suffice for this post.)  This piece of graffiti disturbed me and suddenly I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable walking alone.  I walked quickly and didn't take another photo for the rest of my way back to my car.  I'm hoping if I call the city tomorrow that someone will be able to remove this graffiti.
So I have often seen blog posts or posts in the Facebook Art Teachers group about graffiti projects being done in the art classroom. Some of them are from elementary art programs, others are secondary.  Often they have been lessons in 'graffiti-style lettering', or designing your own 'tag'.  But when I think of actual graffiti 'tags' I have seen, they have often been on the walls of urban buildings, on the side of train cars, or on the walls of the subway tunnels.  These are frequently representative of gang symbols.  They are not something I want my students to replicate or emulate.

I am not unaware of graffiti/street artists artists that have become well-known and respected, such as the most obvious ones: Keith Haring, (who may have begun as a graffiti artist, but actually also produced street art by commission and sold work in galleries) or Banksy; nor am I unaware of the many graffiti artists making beautiful works of art on the sides of otherwise uninteresting urban buildings, or provocative political or social statements through their street art.  But still, the bulk of graffiti I have seen is 'tagging', or offensive vandalism such as that I saw today.
 So my question is this: Do graffiti art projects belong in the art curriculum?  Is it appropriate to be teaching kids the art of graffiti-style lettering or 'tagging'? 

I looked up the definition of graffiti, came up with many versions, but basically the idea was the same: Graffiti is any writing or drawing on a surface in a public place, placed there without authorization of the owner or the object on which it is written.  Such graffiti are usually unwelcome, and are considered a form of vandalism.
 I can certainly understand a high school art teacher showing the movie Enter Through the Gift Shop, and discussing Banksy, political art and social activism, just as I can understand showing How to Draw a Bunny and discussing the rather peculiar mail art of Ray Johnson.  But I absolutely cannot understand the purpose for, or curricular appropriateness of teaching elementary, middle, or high school kids how to do graffiti-style lettering.
In this day and age, when art programs are being slashed and positions are being cut, as art educators we have the responsibility to advocate for our programs.  We use art shows as a way to bring the art of our students to our communities, and gather public support.  We send home artwork with our students so that parents can see what their children are doing.  We seek to convince our school communities that art education is a valuable and essential link in the education of our nation's children.  How many community members, parents, and administrators would see the teaching of graffiti as positive PR for your art program? 
 If you teach graffiti art in your classroom, what is its significance in your curriculum, your justification for its inclusion?  I'd love your responses!

I'll leave you with a link to a short article, Graffiti is Always Vandalism I found while researching information for this post.   Thank you for reading, and for your opinions!