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!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

PD fun at the Tang

A group of 15 art educators from my NYSATA region had a wonderful PD experience yesterday, at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College.  I made the initial contact with the museum, and contacted our region membership to invite their attendance, but Ginger at the Tang took care of all the rest!  All we had to do was show up.
 Currently in their main gallery is a vibrant exhibit of work by Nicholas Krushenick, called Electric Soup.  Focusing on one particular work (below left), we were led in a discussion using "Visual Thinking Strategies", or VTS, to "dissect information from the image".  I had heard the term VTS before, but didn't know exactly what it meant.  I was quite pleased to discover that I had been using the VTS method for many years, just without knowing there was a name/label to the method.  (You might recall that I'm not big on educational jargon and terminology.)  I was even further pleased to learn that data shows that looking and talking about art using VTS improves thinking skills, improves writing, and results in kids score higher on standardized tests!  YAY!  Do you use Visual Thinking Strategies when looking at art with kids and questioning them to describe what you see?   If you don't know what VTS means, check it out here
 We had some time to tour the rest of  the exhibit.  The work is large, colorful, and fun.  (Even the titles of the paintings are fun.)  I tried, when possible, to photograph the pieces with people for size reference.  The piece on the right, below, is extremely tall (for size reference, since there's no person, note the eye level placement of the tag on the wall to the left of the painting).
 After our tour of the exhibit, we were given time to create our own work.  What art teacher doesn't love a hands-on opportunity?  We used colored foam, glue sticks, and scissors to create on a colored tag-board background.  Look how serious everyone is!
 Ooh, this piece below is gonna be REALLY cool!!
 Below, right, is the gal who replaced me when I retired!  I love the piece she made; it is still 'in progress' in this photo.
 This piece below went 'beyond the frame' and I really liked that element.  
It looks like it is breaking free of the confines of the square.
 Nobody was ready to stop working when our time was up!  Before we left, we spread out our work (much of it still 'in progress') on the floor for some quick VTS discussion.  The piece on the red backing actually has some 3-dimensional elements, with some bends and twists in the pieces.  What do YOU see in the artwork pictured below?  I see everything from bananas to video game elements to ribs to shapes reminiscent of Matisse's cutouts. 
 The piece on the yellow backing below is my unfinished creation. 
It was a marvelous afternoon, from seeing work of an artist with whom I was previously unfamiliar (and now am a big fan of!), to learning about VTS, to having time to create with other art teachers.   Thank you to Ginger at at the Tang for facilitating this for us, and thank you to the Tang for being our host for the afternoon!  We are so lucky to have the resource of Skidmore College just a few miles down the road. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bead Mosaics Louisiana Style - the workshop

My first night at the NAEA convention, I attended a hands-on workshop enthusiastically taught by Virginia Berthelot.  If you were at the convention, you no doubt saw the lovely Virginia, perhaps wearing her beaded dress, cowboy boots or hat (pictured above and below, along with her beaded Starry Night and other sample mosaics), or other beaded garb.  I make a lot of bead jewelry, and I've done a little free-form bead embroidery, so I thought it would be great to find something else I could do with my beads.
But this was a Louisiana workshop, so of course we used Mardi Gras beads, though any of my letover beads would work just fine.  Most of the workshop attendees finished their piece at the workshop, but I was slow, and finally finished mine at home a few days ago.  (Which means, of course, that my suitcase was stuffed full, not only with my clothes and shoes and convention goodies, but also with a mountain of Mardi Gras beads!  One more strand and I think it would have been overweight...)
I sat outside in the sunshine finishing my piece, and while I originally had a concept/plan, my results at this point were determined by which beads I had shoved in the suitcase and which were left behind in the hotel room. I started filling in the gaps with whatever beads I grabbed.  So I am NOT in love with my paisley mosaic.  I had trouble photographing the finished piece, and I don't know which way is 'up', so here it is below, twice.  (I was sloppy and got a lot of glue on the frame, so now I need to figure out how to deal with that...
 Anyhow, I was far more impressed with the work done by others at the workshop (and also by the fact that they actually were able to finish!!).  Below I will share some of the pieces they were creating.  By the way, the glue most of us were using went on white, but dries clear.  So in most of these images, the space between beads looks white.  The glue is mostly dry in the photos of my piece.  Virginia recommended that, with more time, the backing be painted prior to doing the mosaid, to show the desired color between beads.  We didn't have time for that.  You will notice two pieces in the  photos below where you see the tan color of the board we were working on instead of white.  I believe these were glued with hot glue instead of the 'Power Grab' glue that the rest of us were using.

 I guess eyes, in one way or another, were a popular theme!
 These two pieces struck me for their selective color schemes, which were different from anyone else's work.  And I thought we all had black frames??!?  How did someone end up with white?
 Another image based on Starry Night, perhaps?
And finally (below), it looks like someone else actually didn't finish!  
Though look!  She decorated her frame with beads!
 Postscript:  I just realized why I didn't finish when so many others did.  They were gluing down whole strands of beads, which leaves gaps in places.  I was cutting the bead strands apart and gluing just one or two beads at a time, in an attempt to fill in any gaps.  Actually I was SHOVING them into the gaps...  Just sayin'!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

All about the Chicken Trophy!

So, I've been told people prefer to read shorter blog posts, but there's no doubt in my mind this will be a long one.  Hope it's worth it! (Above left, Henrietta the chicken, and right, my completed chicken trophy)

If  you are a regular reader of this blog, you've seen my posts about building trophies for my Temple's annual 'LatkeFest' celebration, a fun event celebrating the potato pancake, a traditional Chanukah treat.  You can find those posts here, here, and here.  I originally made one trophy, thinking it would be re-used each year, but the winner wanted to keep it.  So in four years, I've made four crazy silly trophies.  With that in mind, I guess it shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise when someone recommended me to build a trophy for the 1st annual revival of an old event in my town, 'Wing Fest', celebrating the yummy variations of chicken wings made by local restaurants.  (The name of the event actually has a double meaning, since the town where I live was founded by a man named Abraham Wing.) 

I was cautious.  I have made the latke trophies as as a donation of my time and materials.  Making papier-mache latkes are actually quite easy, but putting together the trophy takes time.  A chicken wing trophy seemed even more complex.  I said that I would only make the trophy with these stipulations:
1) I would be reimbursed for the materials and compensated somewhat for my effort;
2) The trophy would be re-used every year (kind of like the Stanley Cup or the Calder Cup);
3) The trophy could be large and goofy, my specialty;
4) If I could wait to start building it until I returned from the NAEA convention in NOLA. 

When they agreed on all points, I decided to make a trophy with a triumphant looking chicken,  wing raised in victory, perched heroically on the side of a cooking pot.  I started by making the chicken armature, beginning with some Styrofoam balls, some armature wire, tin foil, cereal box cardboard, and a lot of high quality (the stuff that sticks good) masking tape.
I wanted a strong papier-mache coating, did a little research, and came up with this:
It is a mix of toilet paper (that has been wet and squeezed out), joint compound, Elmer's Glue-All, flour, and a little mineral oil.  It all gets mixed with a hand mixer, that I bought for $5 at Walmart.  I made a couple of batches of the stuff, and I must say, there is a lot of variation.  It's hard to measure toilet paper accurately!  The first batch was very textural, which worked out well for a feather texture on the body, and the second batch was a bit smoother, which was great for finishing up.
 It was around this time, when everything was drying out, that I received an email asking me if I could make a second trophy.  Uh oh.  I had just spent a couple of full days building the chicken, and still had all the other parts to make, and they wanted another trophy??? So of course, I said yes.
As Henrietta (the chicken; she has been named after the chicken in the adorable children's book The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater, which had been a favorite of my son when he was young) dried out, and Isis the cat slept on my chair, I began constructing a large wing based on the Wing Fest logo, to use in the second trophy.  There's wire in the armature to give it some curve, as I wanted the wing to appear to be holding something.
 Meanwhile, I tried to find the perfect inexpensive cooking pot to use under Henrietta, but was not successful.  Instead, I came home from the store with a slotted spoon.  I decided the chicken would perch on the spoon above a ring of fire.  So I built a papier-mache ring of fire (below).
As the papier-mache was drying, I purchased some wood, that my husband cut for me, to use as trophy bases.  I then used some tooling foil scraps to create plaques for the trophies (below).  It was at this time, that that I received an email asking me to "put the year on the trophy" to which I responded "WHAT??  You told me it would be re-used every year!"  The committee had changed their minds, and had decided they would commission me for a new trophy every year.  Um, NO.  I had to remind them of my original stipulation: this was a one-shot deal.  I will NOT be creating more Wing Fest trophies.  No thank you.   I spent more than a week, every day, working on the trophies, and I am not doing it again next year!  I'm not even a big fan of eating chicken wings!  Anyhow, here's the plaques, without the year.  The recipient of the 'Winner' trophy will be determined by a jury.  There's a rather stiff competition between restaurants in two towns that are closely tied together.  The 'People's Choice' winner will be decided by voting of festival attendees.
Finally, our weather has changed, and I was able to take everything outside to paint in warm sunshine.  Without the pot to sit on, Henrietta no longer seemed triumphant to me, so I painted her face to look terrified of the flames below her spoon perch.  The original concept had disappeared, sadly.  Below, you see various trophy parts, including the spoon, which was cut shorter for me by my husband.  I then created a new shorter end with the papier-mache goo, and painted it to match.
My trophy building was not without mishap.  Carrying everything back outside today for the final assembly, and trying to keep the cat from getting out the door, I put the trophy parts on the porch railing temporarily.  A breeze immediately kicked up, and the chicken and wing fell off, and I then had to spend time repairing a broken wing, cracked leg, and damaged comb, and repainting, and re-glossing.  Yippee.....
My husband drilled holes for me to insert dowels for assembly. (Perhaps you see a theme here; if it appears to you that my husband doesn't let me use the power tools, you would be correct.  Probably a wise move on his part.)  In the photo above, I have become a chicken proctologist.  I'm sorry, Henrietta.  I had no choice.  The assembly has begun.
I created a fake bottle of hot sauce, by finding the perfect bottle, coating the inside with paint, and using Sharpies on peel-n-stick vinyl to create the labels.   Here's a closeup of the bottle glued into the wing.  The 'GFC' on the bottle stands for Glens Falls Collaborative, the name of the organization sponsoring the Wing Fest. 
  And the trophies are now complete, other than some minor glue reinforcement. 
And this long post is complete, too!!!