Monthly Archives: November 2013

Surrealism, Value, and Ben Heine

The first few days at a new school are always so strange.  They’re even stranger when you don’t know what type of materials you have available to you in the classroom.  When I arrived at my new teach position I realized fairly quickly that I would need to put an order in for supplies.  There wasn’t going to be enough paper for all three courses, which at the time had 30+ students in each one.  As a teacher my ‘creative problem solving’ skill have started to improve, and I was able to think of a project that would use little materials, but still be valuable and interesting for the students.

At one point in time I have pinned some images from the artist Ben Heine, whose work I really admired.  There was a playfulness that was lovely to take in, and I loved the subtle surrealistic qualities of his drawings.  It was fabulous how they were obviously surreal, but not in your face mind-melting crazy surreal.  Salvador Dali, for example, is a marvelous surrealistic artist, but sometimes it’s nice to have something a little… closer.  Something more relatable at a young age.  Ben Heine’s work was going to be perfect as a jumping off point for the new project.

I started off the project by introducing value (the scale of light to dark).  Everyone knows what value is when it comes down to it-it’s pretty much shading.  The questions are why do we add a wide range of value to our artwork, and what is a ‘good’ range of value to add.  My answers are simple: a good range is one where you have dark darks, light lights, and a few shades in-between.  We’re not talking about contrast yet, just having ‘enough’ value in order for the shading to do it’s job: make things look ‘realistic’ or 3 dimensional.

When you think about it, that’s why we shade.  To show that whatever it is exists in a world where there is enough dimension in the shape for it to cast some type of shadow.  If we were 2 dimensional, we wouldn’t need to shade because a shadow wouldn’t exist.  This is important, because when we start talking about what surrealism really is, the students will need to remember about the ins and outs of value.

Next we talked about Surrealism.  The definition I gave was ‘something that looks realistic, but could never occur in real life’, although I love the new definition they gave me from their English class of ‘fantastic imagery’.  Isn’t that just… fantastic?  I love the way ‘fantastic imagery’ looks and sounds.  Fantastic like fantasy.  It’s perfect.  Anyways, back on track, next I showed them examples.  Of course I showed them Salvador Dali, as well as a few others.  Afterwards I showed them Ben Heine.  Let me tell you, they liked the Dali okay, but they loved the Ben Heine.  How could you not enjoy the whimsy of his work?  It’s pretty difficult to not like.

Then we introduced the project and off we went.  The artworks they created were fantastic.  There are a few things I would have done differently, such as a stricter minimum and maximum size limit, but overall the lesson went beautifully.  As much as the students protested against the constant revisions to add more value and refine their details and work on craftsmanship, the results were beautiful and the students were proud of their work.

I do wish I had gotten some more pictures, but I wasn’t thinking at the time.  For more images check out the gallery!

Structure and Expectations

A lot of times I hear that kids don’t want to really learn.  That given the chance, they will twitter away and have no desire to ‘get’ anything from class.  I don’t believe this to be true.  Last week I was hired to teach 7-10th grade art.  There are three classes; 7th grade, 8th grade, and High School.  The school year is already a quarter in, and for the last two months there was a long-term substitute teacher in the classroom.  While I was very pleased about the relevancy of his lessons (hitting on value, proportion, color, and art history!), his classroom management was less stellar.  I do not fault him for this, as we learn how to manage a classroom not only through experience, but through training during teacher preparation programs.  All in all, he was fabulous and I couldn’t have asked for a better long-term sub to take the reigns from.

Classroom management is hard, though.  It’s a battle trying to find the right balance between being strict and yet still approachable to students.  While staying true to the rules of your classroom and school is important, it’s equally important for your students to feel as if they can ask questions, make mistakes, and express themselves not only creatively, but as young adults figuring out their place in the world.  From observing other classrooms, I think that this is where a lot of teachers struggle… and if you are struggling with your classroom management you cannot be giving students the best education possible.

I feel like it’s a child’s place and right to challenge the rules.  To see how far they can push.  It is the teachers place to let them know where that boundary is, and hold fast.  If you are unable to hold that line, students will not only continue to push, but your role as a reliable authority is diminished in their eyes.  Why should they listen if they don’t have to?  You cannot just will them to follow the rules, you have to show them how.  Once you show them how it’s much easier to do things like give directions, introduce new information, have students follow through on projects, and clean up after themselves (every art teacher’s nightmare, the destroyed room littered with your supplies).

Along those lines it’s so important to outline clear expectations… and high ones at that.  I was having a conversation with another elective teacher about my 7th graders.  The substitute had warned me that they were too immature for projects longer than 1 class period.  Having worked with 7th graders, I was doubtful.  After spending time with them I realized it to be untrue.  What had happened was the substitute lacked the training he needed to give them the discipline they needed, and the high expectations to strive for.  I told my colleague that “if I give them high expectations they will strive to meet them”, to which he responded “and if you give them low expectations they will meet those, too.”

How absolutely true.