We had spent quite a bit of time in previous projects gaining an understanding of the expressive qualities of color, shape, and form. These are detailed in my book, "The Emotional Color Wheel" from Firehouse Publications. I have a poster in my room of an "emotional color wheel" and students compile their own color relationships but use my example for back up.
We also explored the work of the artist Robert Arneson. We compared and contrasted his works. Spoke about what each was trying to express, and how he achieved that. This became our springboard and reference.
They began, as most of my projects do, with some writing. Creating lists and expounding on them. We explored three major areas.
1: The idea of what people think they know about us versus what we know is true about ourselves. Sometimes we are truly open with those around us, and sometimes we are more guarded. Stereotypes too may make impressions that may or may not be true. For this mode students created two lists and possible symbols for items in those lists. It could be expressed as an inside versus outside sculpture, or one with two sides.
2. Students explored areas of personal interest and goals. Creating lists and symbols students explored the idea of a sculpture that expressed what they were interested in now, and what they hoped they might evolve into. I had a slide show of Arneson's work up white they were skecthing to get some ideas, along with other samples of expressive works that focused on the head.
3. Social issues were explored as well, creating a short list of issues they knew of personally or had impacted their family. Some issues included domestic violence, cancer, PTSD, ADHD, teen pregnancy and more. They explored the idea of a sculpture that would either teach or bring attention to their issue of choice.
All students had to create sketches and complete the writing, many prompts are included in my book, "The Art Student's Workbook," though lined paper and a good set of leading questions is all that is needed. Each student sat one-on-one with me to discuss their idea, their choice of media, and I asked them about what they would need to do to properly set up, clean up, and store their work. Most often their ideas were fine, but some had concepts too complicated to complete in the three to four weeks I had allotted to the project. By asking them through a discussion about what they wanted to express, we were able to narrow their visual choices in a way that was true to the idea and would not overwhelm them.
We had periodic discussions throughout the process, and I spent much time sitting with them and asking questions about their work to help keep them on target. Those who finished early helped those who needed additional attention. The results speak for themselves and were displayed at our end of the year exhibition. Each work was accompanied by a short explanation so viewers would have a better grasp of what they were seeing. They were well received; even my most troubled students did well.
This is an example of a lesson that is highly personalized, expressive, and artful, but begins with a similar idea or foundation (a head). There are important limitations that help guide students but do not squash their creativity. The element of personalization, expression, and choice is key to all my lessons. Here, at the end of the year, they were able to use far more materials than I normally allow, but I know I would have the same diversity if I did this same project with heads as a theme and clay as a material. You can see that the element of personalization/choice negates the possibility of "cookie-cutter" results.