A Civic Approach
Art for Auction and Awareness
By: Mandy Moersch
Critical Intervention/University of Florida
As a graduate student striving to make an impact on my future students as a teacher, I am also trying to show awareness for my community and my surroundings. While teaching I found it really easy to direct my focus towards methods, materials, other artists, and production. The challenge with teaching art is, while I am responsible for all of these I also should be aware of the impact art can make on a grand scale. Whether drawing attention to political, social, or personal issues, art has the power to create change. Personally, teaching art is something I am passionate about, but I know that using art for good is what makes teaching so rewarding. What’s even better is teaching art can go beyond being rewarding for educators. Art can also be rewarding for its students, and those in our community striving to make a difference. I want to implement art related awareness to the homeless and hungry. This is a local and national issue in many states and it’s an issue I think could benefit from art and their association together. Too many students have the power to make local change in their community and don’t, and I think being a teacher who strives to implement this will help grow my students and the communities’ appreciation for art. Using art as a civic engagement project draws awareness to local issues that can change and benefit from involvement, awareness, and financial assistance. Using art to tie the community and students together create unity and involves all of these issues. Under no circumstance will art be the only solution to the homeless and hungry but it will make a serious contribution, while positively impacting those who contribute directly and indirectly.
As a solution, I propose holding a countywide awareness campaign that presents local artists donated works and students’ artwork for auction, and local businesses donations in exchange for public displays and recognition in printed annual editions to this cause and campaign. Implementing an annual campaign that shows the statistics of local shelters and city numbers of the homeless and hungry improved and decreasing from the benefits of monetary contributions made possible by artist and student auctioned work will unite a community striving to make the city a better place for all its residents and those who are less fortunate.
I propose that art teachers (myself included) unite and reach out to local and surrounding artists in their community who would be willing to visit the classroom to share their techniques, inspirations, and give artist talks to students. Preferably speaking to middle to upper grades, I believe seeing their ideas could stimulate projects ideas and new methods for the students to try. In addition these artists would make a contribution to this final culmination of schools and works presented at an auction, where all the profits would be combined into an account which would be used for the marketing and donation made to the charity of choice, in that city for the hungry and homeless. (Varying by city and location, national charities may include-Move for Hunger, Just Give, Mercy Housing, and Coalition for the Homeless) This could change year to year or it could be designated the same annually. At the end of this campaign, there would be a printed edition magazine and website, that would recognize and showcase the participating artists, their work, and their galleries. This print addition and website would also display all of the schools in the surrounding counties of the city that participated with the students, their grade level, teachers, and even a few quotes from students and why they chose to be apart of this civic art engagement, what it means to them, and the change they hope to see unfold. Lastly, the businesses willing to take part in the campaign would additionally be recognized alongside their amount in donation or they can elect for their contribution to remain silent. In exchange for their involvement, their recognition would also be accompanied with a selection of work designed or crafted by the schools for their workspace or a public location of their choice depending on the medium. I understand this will require a lot of teacher involvement and guidance but the work can be a collaboration effort between students and teachers and be donated in the school and or class name with the year.
This campaign will have the power to benefit each of the parties involved. I think with the involvement of local schools, businesses, and artists this campaign could reach a lot of people on an annual basis. While the artists are offering up their time and work, they in turn receive the opportunity for students and teachers alike to take interest in their work and gallery spaces, and in return they are also shown recognition for their civic contribution. As for the students they can are constantly being exposed to new artists, or their new work if that artist is returning. This means students are being exposed to different methods and artists who may be more knowledgeable or have more experience with certain aspects of art in addition to their current teacher. This exposure will give students more opportunity with artists who can impact their work and lend insight into the art world currently.
Most importantly those living the city that are unable to afford shelter and meals will receive a donation that will work to provide for these and assist those less fortunate. Creating a citywide awareness for this through art and involvement can reach an unlimited amount of people. Our students will learn what their impact in the community can do and whom it will reach, and most importantly the lives it will touch. Art is a great way to create this unity because it is something the children, teachers, and artists are passionate about; using this to help others is just one way to use it for good.
This civic approach, and engagement with schools and communities will create a rewarding cycle for all of those involved. As a teacher creating a campaign that has the power to unite community with our students, I know this is something that could make an everlasting impact.
Encouraging Artistic Identity
Art Education should foster creativity and grow imagination at every age level. Teachers are responsible for encouraging creative expression, and also individuals “artist identity.” Each student possesses creative problem solving solutions, and the ability to create a work that is their own. When a student creates a piece they are putting themselves into their work, not just the production, but also the idea and creation itself. In order to nurture this, we as educators need to adjust our methods and expectations. We can’t simply continue repeating the same pattern over and over, and expecting new results. Instead of presenting ideas and projects to students with stringent standards, set examples, and ideas previously executed, we should do the opposite and encourage individuality, imagination, innovation, and unique perspective. These traits illustrate their own “artistic identity” resulting in genuine and original artwork. Students will never exercise personal expression or experiment with boundaries if they have already been given a solution. Instructors need to present projects and allow students freedom of expression, experimentation, and control.
Once the students have learned the fundamentals they should be able to approach and complete projects with more freedom and less structure. As a teacher this means, not always will the students successfully execute a project because students may fail to consider the principles of design, incorporate the elements, use improper materials or maybe they did all of those things but unsuccessfully. As a result, the student will see where they need improvement for future projects. For teachers, this gives us a better understanding of where our students are at formally without infringing on their artistic freedom. “A creative classroom culture needs divergent goals that focus outside conventional content goals. A creative classroom environment must include experimentation based on student choice”(Bartel, 2001, para 25). In order to understand what our students need, we have to see their work not work that they borrow, steal, or copy. Giving students the creative freedom to create an image or project, I would expect to see more than just a basic understanding of the principles and elements of design including line, value, color, texture, shape, size, direction, balance, unity, composition, symmetry, harmony, etc. With a general understanding student should be able to make a semi successful composition, but more than a basic understanding and students can combine their knowledge with their creative freedom and artistic expression to create unique and successful work that demonstrates self and an understanding along with application. However, even failure can have a positive result in the pedagogy. Given the opportunity to use their imagination and creativity, students are trying and experimenting with new ideas and new methods if they are unsuccessful, there is new opportunity to explore different solutions. Students have freedom and choices to make in art class, when one solution doesn’t work; there is room to explore other possibilities. Teachers can take this time to point out what isn’t working in students’ compositions and try to lead them in the right direction. Listening to students’ directions and goals can help us understand better ways to assist them with their art and work. With that said, establishing a relationship between educator and student is extremely important for critiques as well as constructive criticism between students with this learning style. According to Brown, “Positive relationships truly have the ability and the power to unleash untapped potential in our students” (2010, p. 10). Even when there is freedom, teachers still have to oversee that students don’t take advantage of this liberty that they are constantly trying to push their art and projects further, so they do not become repetitive. For example just because a student creates one successful piece doesn’t mean they can or should repeat the same process continuously, but instead keep making strides to uncover this untapped potential. Their potential should increase the harder they work, once it plateaus it may be due to lack of a better solution. With careful attention, teachers can address this and encourage further discovery and experimenting.
Presenting students with the freedom to select materials, size, even content can make for more interesting projects, as opposed to cookie cuter art assignments where everyone is making the same exact thing. In a study, students were observed in art class in order to determine how their art had been influenced by example. “The kids all went off to art class, where they were shown a realistic model of a pig. They were each then given a chunk of clay from which they were told to make their own pigs” (Moulton, 2009, para 6-8). Instead of students understanding the assignment and creating their own version, or using the model pig as a guide, the results aren’t that startling. “Of course, they set out to make the plastic pigs twin, and were critiqued by their teacher, who carried the model around for comparisons” (Mouton, 2009, para 6-8). I find fault both with the teacher and students in this observation. While the students didn’t use their own creativity or expression, the teacher didn’t predict the influence the example would have on his/her students. The underlying problem is teachers use examples, and students use this as a starting point or solution, and those students more often than not, copy what they see instead of coming up with their own ideas. “Good pig makers might be the result of this lesson, but not creative thinkers” (Moulton, 2009, para 6-8). I agree with Thandani when he says, “Originality and uniqueness is far more valuable than a blatant duplicate of someone else’s work” (Thandani, 2010, para 6). Encouraging creative thinking in the classroom promotes students to think for themselves. At a certain point, students are looking for answers and direction; this method encourages students to find that without turning to other artists, peers, former students, and the internet. As a teacher, I want to see students working through their bad ideas and refining them to finish with a piece they can be proud of, and having learned a lot along the way. Art is a learning experience and anyone can appreciate something you have to work at. Looking back this is what Plowright said about art, “Through the arts, I along with my classmates, have learned about creativity, self-confidence, problem-solving, and freedom” (2014, para 4).
Results and Solutions
When presenting projects, I think it’s smart and best to introduce the project without images of previous work, and examples. Without that starting point, students aren’t supplementing ideas and recreating old work, they are starting from scratch. The freedom to create, solve, and address projects means students aren’t focusing on what others are doing, or recreating what they think will earn them favorable grades. This approach changes the dynamics in the classroom; students are able to embrace their own artistic ability/identity while focusing on the requirements, versus students who are trying to replicate what’s been done to fulfill project standards. Our goal is to foster this creativity and reward our students for their innovation solutions and work.
I suggest presenting an idea to students and leave it open for interpretation deliberately. Students can interpret this in their own creative way and come up with multiple ideas, and navigate through ones that have potential. When refining this, they can come to us with concerns. These types of projects are best when students aren’t looking to their peers for answers because they are focused on figuring out solutions for themselves. The best way to evaluate is after; hold a critique where all their work can be evaluated as a class, each representing their own interpretation of the project. Discuss with them what works, and what isn’t. Why that was a smart decision, and ideas that can lead to better results in the future. Positive and negative criticism will help each other grow with their art. Most importantly no two works are the same due to each owns artistic identity, they all created something they put themselves into. Not all work can be free of influence, but promoting growth, and individuality can help. I see this project working in multiple scenarios, when you would normally show work to students, think first and don’t. Make the parameters clear and open or closed but leave the creative thinking to the student, allow time for sketching and processing.
For example, a project based on form. Instruct the students to “Draw a water bottle.” While that may be seem specific, as far as form there is unlimited possibilities for students to explore. Is the water bottle new, old, empty, full, smashed, plastic, glass, reusable, tall, short, for people, for animals? Give a size minimum and maximum if desired and necessary, media is unlimited and open or again specific to meet the standards for each project. After all you specified, “draw” other than that leave the rest to them. They will have a lot of questions and feel unrestricted, but ultimately it creates conversation, promotes critical and creative thinking, and lastly it stimulates diversity and a chance for them to express their artistic freedom while adhering to standards and objectives set by the teacher. Go against showing what’s been done in the past, what you think when you hear the instruction, and be prepared for students to seek advice in regards to their image. At the end hold a critique and continue by addressing the formal, and informal aspects of their pieces. See if they understood the objective and how well it was executed Grade according to that, and watch for improvement with each passing project. Watch those students develop and enjoy their artistic freedom. When speaking with an elementary instructor in the Atlanta area, she said, “I often read aloud to my students, but I don’t show them the pictures. When we finish a book, I give them crayons and materials and let them create images that relate to our story and what they learned. Not all of my students focus on the same thing, but they make these pictures that demonstrate knowledge and understanding. They aren’t all good, but hey they’re six or seven years old. But from doing this, I am giving them the freedom to make pictures on their own. And I can see their imagination at work. That’s the most rewarding part of these lessons, seeing them enjoy the simple task and feeling like their work is good, and they did it on their own” (A. Marion, personal communication, April 10, 2015). This to me proves in and at every age, students prosper from teachers who grant their students artistic freedom and liberty in the class with guidance and direction versus just the transmission of information.
Bartel, M. Eleven classroom creativity killers. Retrieved from
Brown, T. The power of positive relationships. Retrieved from www.nmsa.org
Plowright, F. Art is freedom. Retrieved from
Marion, A., personal communication, April 10, 2015.
Moulton, J. It’s time to get serious about creativity in the classroom. Retrieved from
Thandani, R. Creativity in the classroom. Retrieved from
Project Link for Curriculum in Art Teaching: wiki spaces
Art Education 4th-5th grade Unit Plan
Title: African Art and Culture
Age/Grade: Students vary with age therefore each project will be age specific.
Students of different ages in the studio will learn about multiple aspects of African Culture such as music, religious and ceremonial traditions, art and craft. They will also discover the importance and influence African culture has had in America and on artists past and present. Students will have collaboratively and individually come together to create and decorate a “Culture Tree” and understand this symbolic representation of multiple cultures coming together. Students will learn the value in celebrating, understanding, and respecting African culture through exploring and embracing global diversity, with a further understanding for an unfamiliar ethnic group.
Lesson One: Culture Tree Assembly
This first class spent with studio students will be the introductory lesson to understanding the symbolic representation of a culture tree, and it’s purpose. Students will be shown examples of Acacia tree; the teacher will explain the reason for this specific tree is due to its presence throughout Africa because of the weather. Students will then work with supplies provided to draw, cut, and assemble their own Acacia tree to the studio wall. (Students will need to create a full size render, one that will go from floor to ceiling) After the tree has been hung on the studio wall students will start applying hooks along the tree, these hooks will have ornaments and other studio projects relating to other areas apart of African culture fastened and hanging from them through this entire study of African culture. This tree will be used for all studio classes to contribute to, that said each student will hang/fasten at least three hooks. More can be added as necessary.
In what ways does contributing to this tree represent our culture? By coming together to create art, what are we learning about those around us? Does culture benefit art? Does it make us unique and diverse, and how?
Lesson Two: Music Matters
At the beginning of the lesson, students will be shown a series of images of African ceremonies, dances, and musical instruments. The instructor will go over the differences between music in their culture and ask students about music they are used to hearing and question students about the differences. They will hear a brief history of African music and then have the chance to hear an authentic clip. Students will listen to a video of traditional African music. Using materials provided to them, students will assemble and create their own drums, and decorate them as they choose. At the conclusion of the lesson students will have the chance to form a circle and play together and recreate their own version of African music with the chance to use rhythm and beats from songs today. Students will label their drums and stack them under the culture tree until the culture tree is removed.
Why do you think music is artistic? Can we learn and benefit from other cultures traditions such as music? How can music be expressive?
Students will understand the relation between art and music. They will see art and music can express themselves together. Students will see how music is important in other cultures aside from entertainment, but also for religious purposes, ritual, and expression.
Lesson Three: Mask Making and Craft
Students are going to see a series of African masks and hear about the purposes for African masks and their influences. (Most often animals and women) They will hear about what qualities and attributes are used and why. We will compare masks we encounter throughout our culture and compare them with those of Africans. Then students will sketch ideas for their masks and decide on influences and decor, they will also have to explain to their peers why they chose these and it’s significance to them. Students will work on their masks for the remainder of their studio time. After assembling their masks they will present them to the class and tell a scenario they would wear these and explain why they chose those qualities. After their explanation they will hang their masks on the culture tree.
How can a mask be an alternate identity? How did the Africans use masks the way artists use images?
Students will create works of art after understanding cultural significances and influences. They will use their own identity to recreate their own alternate identity using another ethnic groups cultural ideals.
Lesson Four: Jeweled with Purpose
Tools for clay
Students will see a slideshow of African women laced and covered and creating handmade jewelry. Then students will hear about the significance of jewelry to women and society in African culture. They will compare and contrast jewelry there and here along with how their significance differs. Students will then create their ideas of what they think would symbolize what meaning. (Boys in the class can also use this time to consider an important women or girl in their lives, mom, sister, cousin, grandma, etc) Students will have access to clay to make their own or shells, and beads provided and can chose whichever materials they prefer. At the end students will share with their peers and myself what they would want their jewelry to say and represent about them or their mother, sister, cousin, grandma, etc.
How can we use jewelry to represent ourselves? How is this the same or different from Africa culture? Is there anything we see in our culture that closely aligns with that of African already?
Students will understand the value and difference between American and African jewelry, and the similarities and differences from our culture to theirs. Students will also learn how to combine and create beads from clay.
Lesson Five: Religion, Tradition, and Folklore
African Folktales-Paul Radin
Favorite African Folktales-Nelson Mandela
To start students will see images from cave paintings in Africa (Cave Paintings-Drakensberg Mountain Range, Cats by Wadi Methkandoush) and hear how long ago art was created with raw materials, to tell stories but without words, or with morals and with purpose. The students will then see two stories like this for an example, we discuss how traditionally stories had morals and list and discuss examples, we also address why Africans often used animals in their tales. Then each student will get the chance to illustrate (pictures only) his or her own brief tale. (5-10 pages in 3X5 books) The following studio session students will tell their tales with their books for the class. Then all the books will hang by yarn from the culture tree.
How can artists and we use images to tell our own tales? What is something we learned from African culture and folktales could we use in the future and apply to art?
Students will have learned and understand folktales and their role in African culture, and how this relates to our own tales and stories here. Students will learn to express a narrative using images. Students will practice sharing and explaining their work to their peers.
Lesson Six: African Influenced Art and Artists
Ages: Adult Class, age N/A
Paper (material appropriate)
For this lesson students will be introduced a list of artists from which they will see direct African Influence, we will then discuss the history and progression of this type of work and the components that classify them as such. Artists such as (Karl Schmidt Rottluff, Ernst Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso) will all be explored and examined. Once students have heard and explored the history, they will begin their own identity image using African influence of their choosing as well. They will have two studio sessions to complete their work. Upon completion we will critique and examine all works individually and as a whole for similarities, influences, and differences. (Depending on the nature of their work, surrounding the culture tree students may opt to hang their work if they choose, deemed its appropriate.
How did what you learn in regards to African art influence your own work? What about the culture could you see yourself expanding on in future work? What is the biggest difference in this influence than what we might be more accustomed to in work in the west?
Students will have learned about African influences and understand the influences origin. They will have recreated a piece that illustrates global diversity and unifying methods and cultures as one.
In conclusion of this exploration of African culture and the arts students will have one final studio day to reflect on their favorite parts of this culture and it’s influences. They will all gather around and have a final moment to reflect on their culture tree as a whole, and reflect on how their own identities and cultures are still being represented but with African influence, we will take one group photo together before disassembling our tree. They will also have the chance to see what their other classes and peers have learned as well and ask questions and look at their work as well. Students will each leave with their work and a greater understanding for African culture and it’s influence even on us today in the west. The adult class will also have a chance to reflect on what the other studio students have been learning in class and see their work throughout the weeks.