Over the summer I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum with my family. I was thrilled to see a painting by one of my favorite artists, Kehinde Wiley. While I was a graduate student at Illinois State University, I taught a Wiley-inspired photo lesson to a mixed-age level group of kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal. The project was so much fun, and the kids' photographs were incredible.
After seeing Wiley's work in person at the Milwaukee Art Museum, I was inspired to develop a new art lesson. I think a Wiley photo project with my students will not only be a fun activity, but will help introduce portrait composition before we begin our first unit of study, Baroque artwork.
Many of the poses in Wiley's portraits are inspired by great history and portrait painters of the past.
Below are side-by-side comparisons:
After Pontormo's "Two Men with a Passage from Cicero's 'On Friendship'"
After Sir Joshua Reynolds' "Portrait of Samuel Johnson"
After Hans Holbein the Younger's "Portrait of Simon George"
On the first day of this lesson, I introduced my sixth graders to Wiley's paintings with a matching game. Each student was given a printed image of either a Wiley painting, or a classic painting that inspired his work. Students worked together to find the corresponding image from one of their peers. Once all the pairs were matched, the class described the artworks and identified similarities and differences.
Below is a video we watched to introduce the artist:
On the next day of class, I presented students with Baroque portrait paintings. Each group had several different images on their table. The portraits featured various poses. Each student was instructed to select a pose from a Baroque painting to imitate for their own portrait. Peers began photographing one another with a digital camera. The portraits were taken in front of a white background. While students waited for their turn to use the camera, I demonstrated basic portrait drawing techniques in preparation for our next project.
On the third day of this lesson, students were asked to pay close attention to Wiley's backgrounds. I asked each class to describe his use of pattern and overlap. Although I originally planned for students to use patterns similar to Wiley, I changed my mind and let each student create their own unique design.
On the fourth day of class, students began working on the finished project. Each student received his or her own photograph in black and white. They began adding a background, using colored pencils. They filled their composition with pattern behind, around and in front of the figure, inspired by Wiley's use of overlap to create an illusion of depth.
Students worked on their projects for a few days and then participated in a class critique. Students were asked to provide their peers with feedback, complements and suggestions for improvement. We talked about how to critique an artwork by: observing, analyzing, interpreting and judging.
Below are examples of the student's artwork (Images are cropped for privacy)
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