their work, not mine: the student centered studio classroom 2014

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This is a narrative version of the presentation Their Work, Not Mine, given by Rebecca Roberts, at The 2014 National Art Education Association Convention in San Diego, California.


  • 1. Their Work, Not Mine. #theirworknotmine2014 Rebecca Roberts

2. In 2003 I replaced a teacher who was retiring after 30 years, at a high school in Brooklyn, New York. Filing cabinets lined the room and blocked the windows. I threw out a dozen garbage bags a day for a week straight, and in doing so I found this, a paint by number worksheet made by the retired teacher entitled Road To Nowhere. It was one of many he created for his students. I saved it as a reminder that the art being made in my classes is theirs, not mine. 3. I now teach at a small private school on the outskirts of Boston. At my school, seniors take a class in called Senior Studio. There are no projects assigned and the course ends with an exhibit in our school gallery. Students are expected to come to the class with ideas for their own work. One of the classes they take as sophomores and juniors is called Mash-Up Studio. Its goal, in part, is to prepare students for Senior Studio by making their own work. In Mash-Up Studio students commit to exploring one theme for the entire term. 4. The search for a theme begins by reading the newspaper. My students are well informed about current events, but they do not spend much time looking at the newspaper. I have been surprised by their level of interest in this old fashioned medium. They discover things they wouldnt online. Obituaries and the police blotter have been of particular interest. As they read they work together to list articles and topics of interest. 5. We discuss the students findings and build a list of possible themes to make art about. There is a lot of debate about which topics will work as themes and about which ones have the most potential. We define a theme as a big idea, something that you cannot hold or touch. 6. Students commit to one theme for the entire term. The goal is to choose something that is broad enough so they can explore many different ideas, but not so broad that it will overwhelm them. Some students try on different themes before committing. Everyone begins with a web. The web is a place for uncensored thinking. Anything that comes to mind related to the theme ends up on the web. 7. The web becomes a road map for the rest of the term. 8. Students use the same newspapers from which their themes came to create their first work of art, The Newspaper Project. They begin by clipping images and text from the newspaper and arranging them on a sheet of paper. I encourage them to work quickly and intuitively, not to plan too much. We are getting warmed up. 9. I feed the following steps to students a few at a time to avoid over-planning.Cover 20% of the paper with full strength gesso.Cover 80% of the paper with watered down gesso.Add three collaged elements that are not from the newspaper. Add at least three linear elements.Cover at least 20% of the paper with full strength ink.Cover at least 80% of the paper with watered down ink. 10. At this point many layers have been added and much work has been done. We slow things way down and I ask students to study their own work and their process. They start to make decisions about where the work is headed. 11. At this point lots of editing happens and hard choices are made. 12. Newspaper Project, by Rory Martin, 10th grade.Ink, gesso, stickers, pencil, marker, and newspaper on paper. Theme: Entertainment.In the end thisbecomes this. 13. Newspaper Project, by Maddy Cary, 12th grade.Xerox, marker, stickers, colored pencil, oil pastel, gesso, ink, and newspaper on paper. Theme: Confllict. 14. Newspaper Project, by Kent Ellertson, 10th grade. Ink, gesso, stickers, oil pastel, and newspaper on paper. Theme: Power. 15. Students settle into their theme. They also learn new techniques and materials and discover the power of working in layers to develop content. At this point students begin a series of projects using their theme as a guide. 16. The Translucency ProjectA project that asks students to think about an aspect of their theme as it exists over time or throughout history. 17. We explore working with wax, tracing paper, acetate, and acrylic mediums. Also, at this point I stop giving students a surface to work on. They must make choices about what type of surface they want to work on and what size best suits their idea. 18. Translucency Project, by Emma Lynch, 12th grade.Xerox, marker, tracing paper, found objects, and wax on board. Theme: Evolution. 19. Translucency Project, by Emma Welch, 10th grade. Fabric, plastic, magazine, paint, and found negatives, with wood frame.Theme: Conflict. 20. Translucency Project, by Clare Eberman, 10th grade. Marker, plastic, tissue paper, and xeroxes, on found canvas. Theme: Human Rights. 21. The Pattern and Repetition ProjectA project that asks students to think about how their theme is understood by the world through symbols.We explore block printing, found stamps, stencils, and spray paint. 22. Pattern & Repetition Project, by Rory Martin, 10th grade. Spray paint and block print on found blueprint.Theme: Entertainment. 23. Pattern & Repetition Project, by Remi Shore, 10th grade. Spray paint, block print, and ink on found map.Theme: Belonging. 24. Pattern & Repetition Project, by Joey Searle, 10th grade. Spray paint on found canvas. Theme: Life and Death. 25. Pattern & Repetition Project, by Marc Davis, 11th grade.Spray paint, xerox, acetate, and paint marker on found canvas.Theme: Business. 26. The curriculum is layered and projects overlap. Work that supports this includes sketchbooks, blogging, and art historical research. Students work in their sketchbooks outside of class. Weekly assignments create a lens through which students see their theme in the world. Students use what theyve discovered in their sketchbook to fuel their in-class projects. 27. Students use blogs to collect source material, to record artists they relate to, and to document and reflect on their progress. 28. In addition to making their own work about their theme they research artists with similar interests and curate and online exhibition. 29. Collect. Consider the possibilities. Experiment. Choice. Parameters. Feedback & Reflection. Time. My goal in developing this curriculum was to help students see that they could commit to exploring one big theme through many ideas and through different ways of working. Watching my students do this has influenced how I approach all my classes. It has helped me to see what kinds of things help to create an environment that supports students in finding their own work. 30. Collect.Artists are collectors by nature. Images, objects, experiences, become fuel for the work. Encouraging students to be collectors keeps them from coming into the studio cold. It creates flow and provides students moving through a disjointed day of high school a connection to their work. 31. In my classes students collect images, ideas, and experiments in their sketchbooks and. 32. online, where they spend a lot of their time. Students use blogs and Pinterest to collect images they are drawn to. 33. Consider the possibilities. Students develop better ideas when they have a chance to consider their options, to understand whats possible, and whats already been done. We are not working in a vacuum; there is a big world of art out there. 34. In order to find the idea worth exploring you have to make room for it by getting the ideas not worth exploring out of your head. Crossing off one name at a time, this 9th grader arrives at his top choice on a list of possible subjects for a portrait. 35. Students use their sketchbooks to consider possible outcomes for their ideas. Sometimes students feel so precious about their ideas it can be hard for them to progress. The sketchbook allows them to choose one thing to work on now, with the possibility of coming back to work on other ideas later. 36. This habit of considering all ideas is especially important when students work collaboratively. Everything is worth a second look. Ideas inspire ideas. 37. Understanding how artists from throughout history and across cultures have approached what youre working on in important. We look at slide shows of artists work in class. They live on the class website so students can refer to them as they work. 38. I am happy to report that this table of old fashioned books also gets a lot of use. 39. Nothing beats going to see art in person... 40. but Art 21 comes pretty close. Weve used the new series New York Close Up frequently this year. Students benefit from hearing artists talk about their interests, their lives, and their process. 41. Experiment.Fail, fail again. Fail better.-Samuel Beckett 42. Once an idea has been selected it gets developed. This looks different for different students. Sometimes lists are made 43. sometimes drawings are used for practice. 44. Sometimes writing helps. It is important for students to work toward figuring out what works for them and for the teacher to be a mirror and report on what they see leading students to success. 45. Materials are tested. 46. Drafts are made. 47. Thinking is done. 48. Choice.Teenagers will be more invested in finding their own work if they have choices about what they do and how they do it. I am always thinking about how much choice makes sense for my students. I try to make as much room for choice as I possibly can. 49. To make choices that lead to interesting and successful work that represent a students unique ideas, they need to have experiences with a wide range of materials and techniques. They need to understand the potential of both traditional and 50. non-traditional materials and techniques to communicate their ideas and 51. they need to be comfortable with the unpredictable, with what they dont know. 52. To make good choices students need access to a wide range of

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