I teach the visual arts in an IB school. Our students are exposed to art from a very early age and by the time they are ready to move on from primary school, they are already knowledgable about famous and modern day artists and are budding artists themselves. In this article, I’d like to narrate a beautiful experience I had with my grade 5 children that illustrates this point.
We were exploring the theme, “sense of self” and I was amazed by the mature terminology – identity, portrait, self-portrait, race, gender, class, way of life – my students used to describe what they understood by “sense of self”. The students then studied the work of masters like Picasso, Vangogh, Dali and Freda Kahlo. During this study, I asked the students to keep a sketchbook always within their reach to note down their thoughts and also to make quick line drawings. These scribblings were useful in formulating their final artwork. We also had classroom discussions where they talked about the artists’ emotional turbulences, strengths and weakness. Virtual gallery tours gave them a clear idea about expressing their inner emotions and beliefs through their portraits. My students spent a great deal of time questioning themselves about their inner strengths and weakness and how they could portray these through their portraits.
During this unit, students did a series of rough layouts exploring colour schemes and negative and positive spaces and sketching and understanding the division of the fore, middle and background. Finally they got down to painting their portraits on 12×12 canvases using acrylic colours for the base. Most students preferred working on canvas as it gives the pleasure to paint but they were given a choice of technique. They used mono printing techniques while creating abstract impressions. The spatula technique helped create interesting backgrounds giving their paintings a three-dimensional effect. In comparison to the other lessons that they’ve done in the art class, this unit was more personal to them as it was not based on the elements and principles of design. This lesson also took more time but the students were enthusiastic about taking extra classes and even staying back after school to complete their task. Each canvas had a story to narrate and reflected the spirit and passion of the students. They were very proud of their work. During our annual art exhibition we collectively displayed more than 100 canvases which had a powerful effect. At the end of this project, I noticed that students progressively produced stronger work in the context of aesthetics and concept. Most students’ self- portrait was followed by a title to their work. The symbolic depiction of their thoughts mesmerized me as they represented a progression from sketchbook to canvas. Their portraits depicted an aspect of their personality. The students also wrote out summaries of their artwork and this gave them another vehicle to explain what they intended to convey.
Display, appreciations and feedforward played an important part in the learners’ growth. The young artists were given the task of becoming art curators as well. They proudly presented their work to visitors, parents, faculty members and lower grade students, which promoted peer learning at all levels.
The author is a specialist educator in the visual arts in Pathways school, Noida. She has been teaching for nearly a decade now and has experience teaching in both urban and rural settings. She can be reached at [email protected].