By Mrs. Carol Royer
When you think back to your elementary school art projects, what do you remember most vividly? What was it about them that made a connection to your ideas, your aesthetics, or your feelings?
For me, those memorable art lessons had a number of things in common. First, they encouraged creative thought along with the chance to tell a story. Second, their process was more involved than simply trying to render or recreate something. Instead, exploration of a unique material supported the visual concepts. And third, they were a chance to express not only ideas about something, but also feelings. As unsophisticated as the end result might have been at the time, these projects taught me to value self-expression. Choices such as these are not always the first thing we allow to happen in the classroom.
These types of early learning experiences shape who we become and how we see ourselves. When children are given an opportunity to play, experiment, and wonder, they become more self-aware and gain self confidence. Art can be a vehicle to share, understand one another more deeply, and become more empathetic.
After the winter break, students came back to YCDS with a better familiarity with the art room and the approach to materials that we take. Feeling that most grades were ready for a project that would both speak to their differences and their similarities, I thought of an artist, who also happens to be a friend and former colleague of mine, to shape the “Window into My World” project. This artist, Pepon Osorio, works with communities and neighborhoods in a variety of settings to create installation art about the stories these communities want to share. In thinking of his work, I focused on his piece “Casita: I have a story to tell you…”. This piece is a house shaped construction, large enough to walk inside, made up of large windows, much like a greenhouse. Embedded in the large glass panels are photographs, larger than life size, which tell the story of the immigrant families that moved to that particular neighborhood in North Philadelphia. Using images contributed by local residents, Osorio created the structure as a “community photograph album” of shared experiences.
To shape the project for YCDS, I decided to first have students think about their own stories and where they consider themselves to be “from”. We discovered that many students identified with specific places, cities, a home, or even a country, depending on a variety of factors. Since this seemed to be an important aspect of the project, we included this as part of the guidelines. Another objective was the inclusion of an image of themselves, to both identify the student telling a story and to explore their identity in relationship to the other imagery they chose. Beyond the concepts of choosing a place and an image of themselves, other imagery was left more open ended, but served to express the students interests, family background, and feelings about themselves.
The materials we used to create the windows were simple plexiglass sheets, onto which they drew or traced the image of themselves. The images they chose were collaged onto a separate piece of paper and then copied, then this copy was adhered to the back of the plexiglass. They then used a simple oil to make the copy paper translucent. The end results were diverse and exciting. When put on display, each student had light coming through their window, which is a lovely metaphor for the light I hope each of them feel when creating.
In the art projects we do in the lower school, we strive for a sense of discovery. This is not only through a variety of new materials, but through the concepts and feelings we all have to express. In the setting of the art room and in the larger world, we need to feel heard, that our perspective has value, and that we can continue to learn and explore the world around us. The art room could be the place that a young person discovers their voice.