SchoolArts Magazine

November 2017

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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28 NOVEMBER 2017 SchoolArts I 'm not an artist, I can barely draw a stick figure." Like most art teach- ers, that statement never fails to illicit concern. It's more troubling when you find yourself in a general high-school art class full of non-art majors who feel defeated from the moment they walk in the door. As a means of breaking the cycle of artistic despair fostered by unsuc - cessful representational artworks, I designed my general art courses to create new notions of art that stretch beyond landscapes and portraits. For my unit on contemporary art, I focus on the creative ways artists produce messages as well as the importance of people's reactions to these works. The Guerilla Girls I introduced students to the work of the Guerilla Girls. Students were both amused and intrigued by their tactics, specifically their anonym - ity and audacious messages against discrimination. Students were also surprised to see that their messages were not displayed as traditional drawings or paintings, but rather as bold texts and vibrant images. Between the humor of the gorilla masks and the activist spirit of the unnamed women, the intrigue of these artists fueled excitement for the upcoming assignment. Finding Voices From years of experience in teaching high-school students, I have observed that many students struggle to find Both the positive and negative reactions reinforced the impact of both contemporar art and social justice activism. H I G H S C H O O L ACTIVISTS GUERILLA their voices during these adolescent years. Youth are constantly negotiat - ing when to speak up in class, speak up in front of friends, speak up to their parents/guardians, or speak up in their community. Many experi - ence some degree of trepidation in finding their voices, or at least find - ing the right words to say in the moment. Social Activism Issues I gave students a brainstorming assignment to flesh out their ideas on their most passionate social activism issues. Advocating against discrimi - nation towards minority popula- tions, bullying, domestic violence, and acceptance of LGBTQ persons were the issues that topped the list of student concerns. Next, they began creating several drafts of bold state - ments that emphasized these issues. Though the resulting statements were short and concise, they required many drafts and peer critiques, conversations, and support to find the right wording to express their perspectives. Some students chose to accompany their artwork with draw - ings, though it wasn't required. Once they developed their state- ments, students chose their own sig- natures and signed their work with "This message was brought to you by the Guerilla [artists/boy/youth/ kidz/girl/group/guys/teens, etc.]." I didn't require students to sign their names to their work. (After all, the Guerilla Girls remain anonymous.) Guerilla Art Reigns After assignments were collected, I stayed late one evening. When the building was nearly empty, I hung approximately sixty 8 1 /2 x 11 " student-generated Guerilla Girls– inspired posters in the hallways of our high school. Around every cor - ner, I hung another 8 1 /2 x 11 " sign with definitions for the following: • Go-ril-la (noun) • Guer-il-la (noun) • Guer-il-la Girls (noun) • Guer-il-la girls/boys/artists/etc. (noun) The bottom of the sign read, "This message has been brought to you by Guerilla Art Educators." Audience Reactions When students and staff arrived the next day, the school was buzz - ing with talk of the posters. I was surprised at the amount of conversa - tions and controversy they created. Some adults in the building tore down as many posters as they could find, correctly assuming the display was unsanctioned. Others looked for more posters to read. A few teachers and students rec - Jessica Kirker

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