Friday, March 22, 2013

Layers of Me: Exploring Identity through "Wallpaper"

Understanding Identity.....
Deconstructing the 6th grade student

It is always great to have your students engaged in what they are learning....It is even better to have them experience a little bit of fear, nervousness and anxiety when making some art ;-)  Sixth graders, particulary, are in a whirlwind of crisis on a daily basis.  Just this morning, a young lady had streams of tears coming down from her face because a friend sent her an unkind text message.  And all she was trying to do was get on the bus. 

Of course, we all faced these challenges and somehow made it through those very hard formative years of our adolescents. Throughout the year, in 6th grade art, we try to try to understand what in the world is happening to us.  From understanding personalities, discovering hidden characteristics and embracing our uniqueness, we explore the concept of identity and pull back the layers of wallpaper the define who we are.

It has been a scary, interesting and eye opening journey.

The discussion began with the quote from "Printed Patterns" and the photography of June Farley.  A significant focus for this lesson was the 'implication' of a person, whether figurative or literal.  While interpreting meaning and exploring clues within images and text, we used "bunny ears" a lot, suggesting ambiguous analyzations.  A series of visual literacy questions, prompted discussion and stimulated the students' critical thinking skills, while looking at Farley's images and reflecting on their own experiences. 

Visual Literacy Questions to
Prompt Reflection and Discussion:

What do you see?

What more can you find?

What's the story?

What makes you say that?

How does that make you feel?

What more do you want to know?

(Much like 'text-dependent' inquisitions, these questions encourage each student to really look at an image and respond with 'evidence' within the context of image and description.  Each response was supported with what the image shows or hides.  This concept and these specific images affored the students flexibility to interpret within their own ideas, lending to a very vibrant and active discussions.)

The repeated emphasis for this lesson was the notion of how, we as individuals, use "layers" to hide or reveal aspects about our lives, who we are and our personalities.  Keeing in the same theme as the quote from "Printed Patterns", we discussed how clothes, actions and attitudes are used as "layers" for protection and to conceal truth.  The students' revelations and "ah-ha" moments demonstrated the "click". 

The six week project guides the students through a week by week investigation of themselves,delving into the hidden layers of their secrets, dreams and wishes. 
Each week the students created another layer, literally and hypothetically.  Some embraced the idea of writing down their inner most thoughts.  Some were very scared.
Most  became nervous.

All were deconstructed.

who am I? I am

Students complete an "I am" poem, reflecting on phrases, such as, "I dream....", "I cry....", "I want...." and "I am...."  Upon completing their poem, they were instructed to write at least 6 of the most secretive phrases on a piece of large drawing paper with a Sharpie.  

This simple suggestion prompted some anxiety.  "What do you mean with a Sharpie?!"  "Wait, you want us write what we are hiding?"  "I'm nervous!" "Wait, what are you going to do with them!?"---to which I answered "Put them up on display around the school."  "WHAT!"---to which they responded.
The idea of exposing their inner thoughts and emotions started a slight grumble and lots of mumble. 

wall paper
Writing their inner most thoughts and secrets created the first 'layer' for the students, causing a bit of stress, fear and anxiety.  As a second 'layer' the students used pieves of decorative paper to 'cover up' their phrases, emulating the notion of how they, as individuals use various ways to conceal who we are. 

image transfer

Our third 'layer' students needed to add themselves to the canvas.  With just a simple materials, students explored and experimented with the process of image transfer.   Looking at the art of Robert Rauschenberg as inspiration, students discovered how this new art technique becomes an interesting way to convey identity. 

Image transfer is the delicate process of using a printed image and 'transferring' it onto another surface.  There are various methods for this technique.  Our method was to use Mod Podge as the transferring agent, in which the ink from the xerox copy portraits, adheres to the Mod Podge and the paper is slowly and delicately rubbed away.

(This 'layer' created a great dynamic in the students' artwork and reflected the original notion of 'tearing down' our wallpaper, and exposing ourselves.)


wallpaper design
In emphasis of the idea of 'layers' and in conjunction with June Farley's photographs interpreting wallpaper and image, students explored how pattern can 'imply' the presense of a person.  We looked at numerous examples of wallpaper samples and suggested the type of person or the character of the person 'implied' in each particular pattern design.  This discussion prompted the students' reflection on the pattern design that would best 'imply' their character.  Students continued by sketching several ideas for their "wallpaper".
(This portion of the lesson was in sequence to their art making and unit packet.  The sketches were in preparation for an additional 'layer' to their project) 

WEEK FIVE: positively me
Since Week ONE of this art unit, we have been thinking and reflecting a great deal on aspects of our personalities that we tend to hide.  Along the way we discussed aspects of our personalities and our strengths that reflect a positive image for our character.  The students reflected on their "I am" statements, focusing on positive attributes that they reveal to people, who they are as 6th grade students.  Combining their new 'wallpaper' design  and four positive words, the students completed their identity collage.

(This part of the art project afforded the students an opportunity to independently use their sketches in unique ways.  The used colored Sharpies for their 'wallpaper' pattern and works.  The bright colors compliment the black and white image)

WEEK SIX:  reflection
The last and most important activity for this lesson was for the students to compose a reflection statement, describing, reflecting and interpreting the various 'layers' they used throughout their exploration of identity.  Student responses were prompted by guiding questions that helped them reflect on their process, interpretation of content and self-discovery.

This is one of my favorite art lessons I teach, within the 6th grade curriculum.  The entire process of this art lesson emphasizes critical thinking skills necessary for fostering independent reflection and a creative personal project.  Along the lines of visual literacy, the students' abilitiy to interpret an artwork by inverstigating the details within June Farleys's photographs demonstrated their ability to "read" a picture, connect their interpretation of meaning to a personal narrative and use independent creative art-making for self-expression.  TOTALLY AWESOME!

Now, did they know they were doing all these things, with these big words????....probably not.  But did I know what they were doing it?.....absolutely.

Have a great spring break!
See you back in the

xoxo, SMocK you

PS:  I presented this art lesson at the IAEA conference in 2012.  The link to the presentation is available, although some of the text seem to have moved and flipped.