Friday, January 8, 2010

The Beast Within (High School Art Unit)

The Art Problem:
This Creative Challenge invites students to create a conceptual self-portrait by integrating drawings or paintings of the "zoomed in" bones of a human being (from a skeletal model) with the skeleton of their individual "power animal," as defined by various shamanistic traditions.
Human skeletal models (I borrowed them from our health and science departments)
"Power Animal" handout (do an Internet search of "power animals" or "spirit animals" to find your favorite site that provides a brief definition and provides a list of animals and the characteristics they embody; there are even "tests" to help students identify their animal)
Printouts of animal skeletons from the Internet
Sketchbook or sketch paper
Watercolor paper, tag board or corrugated cardboard (many students used the latter to great effect)
Masking tape (to tape margins of support)
Acrylic paint
Palettes, brushes, water, containers
Matte medium or ever-so-slightly watered down glue
Box cutters and cutting boards
Black permanent markers

An understanding of and sketchbook practice with modeling techniques (hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, cross-contour marks, etc.)
Familiarity with "weighted line" (widened and tapered line) and varied line quality
Knowledge of a value scale
Basic understanding of composition and Elements and Principles of Design
Basic painting introduction or experience, including paint mixing (especially monochromatic tints and shades)
Individual Student Procedures:
1. Teacher introduces Creative Challenge, including the concept of a "power animal."
2. Working from skeletal models, students draw modeled thumbnails of zoomed-in and cropped bones; students should incorporate all they know about strong composition in each thumbnail.
3. Discuss power animals; spend most of a class in the computer lab allowing students to identify their individual power animals and search/printout skeletons of their animals. (There is a lot of information online.) Glue pertinent references into sketchbooks.
4. Generate thumbnail sketches that incorporate human bones with the skeletons of their power animals.
5. Introduce Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of animal bones. (See "Hooks and Mini-Lessons" below.)
6. Introduce the "Creative Problem Solving" (CPS) strategy "SCAMPER" (see "Hooks and Mini-Lessons" below) and discuss application to this Creative Challenge.
7. Students revisit their thumbnail sketches in light of "SCAMPER" and make revisions as desired/needed. Discuss various students’ solutions as a class to spark more innovative solutions.
8. In conjunction with teacher, students choose their strongest thumbnail sketches.
9. Students transfer thumbnails to supports (we used watercolor paper, tag board and corrugated cardboard), drawing and painting according to any parameters your choose, e.g. for intermediate students, I limited their palette to neutral warm and cool whites and grays, while advanced students were allowed to use additional color, but with limited palettes. I also encouraged all but the least experienced students to paint some significant aspect of their compositions.

Hooks and Mini-Lessons:
[Use at the beginning of classes as desired.]

Problem Solving: Introduce the "Creative Problem Solving" (CPS) strategy "SCAMPER" and discuss its application to this Creative Challenge. In brief, SCAMPER is an acronym in which each letter is the first letter of a word that can be applied to a problem to arrive at a novel solution: S-Substitute, C-Combine, A-Adapt, M-Magnify, Minify, Multiply, P-Put to Other Uses, E-Eliminate, R-Reverse/Rearrange. (Search "Creative Problem Solving Strategy: SCAMPER" on this blog.) My SCAMPER Handout is laid out "two-up," so that it can be cut in half and glued neatly into most sketchbooks. Innovation Station alternative: instead of a whole class discussion, you may assign each letter in the SCAMPER acronym to small groups of students and ask each group to generate solutions to the given task using their letter and then share with the whole class.

Art Criticism: Introduce Georgia O’Keefe and her animal bone paintings from the time of her life spent in the American Southwest. Provide students with a brief bio and project a few of her best known paintings to familiarize them with her work. Then engage students in the following Innovation Station "hooks" on two successive days.

Innovation Station Hook 1: Because I find that students struggle with the difference between analysis and interpretation and, especially, that each point of analysis should correlate to each point of interpretation, I developed the following activity:
Introduce the four-step process of Art Criticism: Describe, Analyze, Interpret, Evaluate. Emphasize the analysis "breaks artwork apart" in terms of the Elements and Principles of Design, whereas Interpretation "puts it back together" in terms of meaning, communication, expression.
Then, project "Red Hills and Bones," 1941, Georgia O’Keefe.
Divide students into small groups and give each group a set of about 6 small squares of paper of one color and 6 of another (I used orange and green construction paper).
Ask them to write points of Analysis, one point per card, on each of the orange cards.
Then ask them to correlate each point of Analysis with an interpretive statement written on the green cards, one statement per card. They should all match.
Then, groups shuffle their cards, trade with another group, match the cards up correctly and share responses with the whole class.
What I found was that my students are strong when it comes to analyzing, but not as much when it comes to interpretation. In other words, on an orange card, they might write: "Forms of bones are repeated in the hills," and then on the green card, they would write, "Creates Unity." That would be correct except that both statements relate to Analysis.
So, after making some gentle corrections and praising them on their analysis, I asked each team to correct the statements on the green cards making them statements of Interpretation rather than Analysis.
I admit that the process was a struggle and a challenge for them—a bit like pulling teeth in some cases-—but they ultimately got it as evidenced by their response to the next day’s hook.

Innovation Station Hook 2:
I created two worksheets, one for half the class and one for the other, which featured one of Georgia O’Keefe’s bone paintings and, underneath, two columns: one for Analysis and one for Interpretation.
In the Analysis column, I filled in a few key points.
In the Interpretation column, I left blank lines that corresponded with each point of Analysis. Underneath each blank line, I wrote a hint.
The students’ task was to study the image, read the points of Analysis and write a corresponding statement of interpretation for each one.
Next, I projected each image and we discussed them as a whole class with input from each of the groups.
Across the board, they did an excellent, thoughtful job, not content to reside at the "surface" of meaning.

Score and comment on pieces according to the "Sailing the 7 Cs" visual arts rubric

IB-MYP Area of Interaction: Health and Social

Student Samples (Intermediate): Grace M., Maggie Q., Laura M., Mary B., Stephanie B., Kendria T., Nick G., Kara N., Polett B., Raymond (Trey) K., Daniel B., and (AP Studio):Danica G.


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  3. Hi Betsy
    Thank you for sharing your lessons. I love what you do! I taught the magical mystery box task with my art class and they get some excellent results. I am planning on teaching the beast within this semester and I would love to see how you taught the art criticism on Georgia O'Keefe. The above links are not working properly. Is it possible for you to re post them?
    Thanks, your blog is a huge inspiration for my teaching!
    Cheers, Jo


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