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)
Last Sunday, I enjoyed a great exhibition titled, 30 Americans, at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I first learned of this exhibition years ago while preparing an art lesson for the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal.
I selected Kehinde Wiley as the artist to focus on and to demonstrate how meaning may be communicated through facial expressions and body language. I began looking for resources to share with the participating children (ages 5-12), and came across an online video promoting 30 Americans.
Fast forward to a couple of years later and the exhibition is only a short drive from my new home, teaching at Oregon Elementary School. I was thrilled to see so many artists' work I had studied and admired. Now I am able to share those works with my students.
My colleagues and I have been reviewing the latest draft of Common Core Art Standards. One of the priority standards will be to teach students how art may be presented. I decided to take this opportunity to introduce the concept of curating an exhibition to each sixth grade art class. These students are already studying Kehinde Wiley for a photo alteration project.
I first defined exhibition and curator for students to take notes in their sketchbooks. We then watched the following video to give us information about the 30 Americans exhibition.
After the video, I instructed each group of students to look at twelve images from 30 Americans and arrange them on a gallery map. Each table included a map, exhibition guides and printed images from the exhibition. I encouraged students to think about the following questions:
Below are images of the classroom setup, student collaboration and response activity
The student reflections poster was also inspired by the Milwaukee Art Museum. Pictured to the right is a wall within 30 Americans full of visitors' responses to the exhibition. I asked my students to write down what they thought, felt, liked or learned from this activity.
The reflections are on display next to a student gallery example in the Oregon Elementary School art hallway and is pictured below:
Mr. DeWilde's Blog
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