Pedagogy into Practice: Shifting the Visual Arts Curriculum to an Online Space

6th Grade Unit 1: Identity Portraits

One of the biggest concerns I faced starting the 2020-2021 school year virtually was deciding how to effectively build relationships with my students. What better way to get to know my students than to provide them with the open-ended prompt to create an image that represents their personal identities. Students enter middle school with varying degrees of artistic skills. Due to the nature of virtual learning, students also had the chance to create a digitally based artwork using their own prior knowledge and skills. We looked at artists Kehinde Wiley, Glenn Ligon, and Frida Kahlo for our close studies. Students brainstormed aspects of their own identities and practiced creating a portrait of a role model as formative assessments. They spent time critiquing each others' works-in-progress in a discussion forum and final works during synchronous learning classes. Last, students wrote an artist statement that reflected on the process of creating an artwork and shared the concept behind their individual works. View slide deck here.

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Above (left to right) Frida Kahlo, Glenn Ligon, and Kehinde Wiley

Selection of Student Artist Statements:

Response to Identity Portraits Unit

"I have 2 concepts for my art. The first is about stereotypes. That is why I colored my skin pink, and all the unrealistic colorings. Like the shamrock, that is pink, because the “Irish” stereotype, isn’t the truth at all. The second concept is kindness. The fact that the background is dark, and everything else is a bright color that pops out, is me trying to have the colors represent the kindness I am trying to spread into the dark world. It shows my identity by trying to explain that I am not what I may appear to be. My symbolism with the book, and music note, and heart, express what I enjoy, and the things and ideas that shape my identity into what it is. When creating the background, I experimented with black and brown watercolors with my fingers, and not a paintbrush. It was challenging for even me, to work beyond my own stereotypes, that I almost had made to be my identity. I loved working on a piece of art, where I didn’t need any artistic skill, and being able to do what I felt was right for me. If I were starting over, I would have made it a lot neater, and added some material things that are important to me, such as a newspaper clipping, or letter."

"My self-portrait represents me by its eyes, shirt, and background, the big eyes represent the number of things I can see and understand. And the background shows the black and white, which represents the situations I can go through successfully, and the situations, that I can learn from which are the white spots. Most people would think to label the things we don’t know as black, but to me a 'black spot' is something that is already discovered and remembered. But with white you could think of it as the light of a flashlight, discovering new things with each shine into the dark."

"My concept is a visual of what I identify myself with. I simply did a rough draft with a pencil, I made sure to shade it lightly, so I could go and erase any mistakes I might have encountered. Then, I traced the lines with crayons and colored the empty spots in with various colors. I made sure to add what I enjoy (Music, Specific Animals, Tennis, Boybands, Food along with my favorite apps), I also added what I believe identifies me (Adventurous, Empathetic, Balanced, Risk-Taker, fun and caring). I included my background culture (Ethiopian-American). The unit so far has been a tremendous journey through new paths and learning experiences. I personally haven’t learned much about this topic until now, I am glad that you have introduced it to us. It was quite  challenging keeping up with the homework, but of course, it's because we were all new to it and its the process from moving to Elementary School to Middle School."

"The idea of my identity portrait is to represent what makes me ME. Not just my race and gender but smaller things like my closest friends and podcasts I enjoy. I used pencils and a black marker. I’m wearing a bold red lip to represent how I go boldly into the world. I’m wearing an oversized t-shirt with a long sleeve shirt under because that's how I mainly dress. I finished off the piece with things that build me from my sexuality to my favorite quote. Overall I loved the concept of the unit and the process. Seeing how famous artists such as Frida and Glenn did a similar thing in a very different and unique way. I was unsure at times when it came to digging deep and exploring all aspects of myself. I also asked for feedback from family as well as neighbors which inspired me to add the words in that format as my background. Throughout the process I experimented with doing what you said about expressing parts of our identities that aren’t so good. That helped me put my piece in perspective. If I were to do it again I would try harder to express every part of me to really show how I am. I’m eager to know how I would’ve expressed it."

6th Grade Unit 2: Digital Art Explorations

Lesson 1: Social Justice Zines