Friday, April 5, 2013

Exquisite Brainstorming with Exquisite Students

This week marks the beginning of the final nine week term at the elementary school where I teach. The time has come for me to brace for the reality that one of the finest groups of students that I ever encountered is moving on up to the high school. The 6th graders (who were my 5th graders last year when I took this job) are a remarkable bunch. If the art room were a sailing ship, and I the captain, I would endorse this group as a 100% sea worthy crew!

This week's art class allowed for some extra time after finishing the Surrealist collages (previously blogged about here) so I decided to wrap things up with a Surrealist method of idea generating called "The Exquisite Corpse." This game/brainstorming technique is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled by working on a rotating basis as an artist team.

The students begin by folding a 12" x 18" piece of paper into thirds. I gave each student a piece of vine charcoal so they could work quickly to achieve areas of dark value and shadowy details. Students began by creating the top half of any noun of their choice: a person, animal, object, or machine. After seven minutes, I explained to students how to make guide marks for the next artist,  hide their drawing, and pass the folded paper clockwise to the next artist at the table. This artist was responsible for creating a midsection or torso, and in the final seven minutes, the third artist sketched in the lower third. In the last five minutes of class students received their original drawing back and added final details and value shading. We ended class with a informal "gallery walk." 

The gallery walk simply entails the students neatly lining all of their creations up on two large tables so we can pow-wow as a group and talk about what we made. I led the group through a few key questions:

1) When you came to art class today, did you expect you would create an artwork that resembled the artwork you ended up with?
2) How is working collaboratively on one piece of art with another student different from working alone?
3) What is your reaction to completing "The Exquisite Corpse" process? What surprised you about what someone else at your table drew?

One of my students remarked that he thought the impulsive drawings of his tablemate was "fascinating." "Fascinating!" You hear that folks? I just about jumped up on the table when he said it. One of my 6th graders was bold enough to say in front of a group of his peers that he was fascinated by the drawings of others. His comment inspired a smile so robust you could have purchased advertising space on my incisors!

 It is also of note that as the students worked, blocking in each third of their communal artworks, the art room was absolutely silent. I did not mandate "Voices off" or "No Talking" the students just sunk into the process and drew. Gasps of surprise, giggles, kudos broke the silence once the students opened up the drawing to see what was created. I got to pay witness to this act of discovery, the ultimate reward of a lesson well-received.
None of the aforementioned events would be possible without students that approach their work with an open mind-- and that is what I think I will miss most about this group of kids when they move on. Doing "The Exquisite Corpse" exercise made me ponder the definition of the word "exquisite." Exquisite can be defined as  "a special beauty or charm," "admirable," "of rare excellence of execution," and "keenly responsive." All of these definitions seem apt descriptions of this group. It is so inspiring to be around students who are thirsty for knowledge, contemplative, and just over all really pleasant to be around.

Sometimes students teach their teachers things. During my first two years of teaching here in a new place these students where able to leave me with a few big ideas I won't soon forget.
1. Adopt a fearless attitude towards new things and you will never feel regret.
2. When you feel overwhelmed-- laugh, try to relax, and have fun.
3. The world is your oyster if you want it to be.

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