by Jill Saxton, K-8 Art Teacher
My teaching philosophy is very student-centered. Students are capable of doing great work at any age, and my job is to inspire and empower them to think, communicate and work as artists. In my classroom, our focus is on the process of making art not necessarily the final outcome. Students are provided hands-on experiences in a variety of mediums and skills, which encourages them to take risks in their work through experimentation, use of critical thinking, and collaboration. This method enables students to communicate their ideas more effectively and make art that is meaningful to them. Also, I expose my students to a variety of artists to help them learn how to observe and talk about artwork. We focus on the concepts and purpose behind the artist's work and place it in a historical context.
Incorporating cross-curricular experiences organically in the art room creates deeper learning for our students. Last trimester 2nd Graders were learning about community and citizenship in their core classes, so in Art, we coordinated our next unit to be Building Community Through Art. We explored the imaginative and strange world of the Austrian-born New Zealand artist, architect, and environmentalist Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser. He mobilizes the power of his art in order to spread his message for a life in harmony with nature and individual creativity. After receiving inspiration from Hundertwasser, this project was mostly student-led as the 2nd Graders worked in groups using recycled products to construct a scale model of an ideal building they would like to include in their imagined city. It was great to see how the 2nd Graders were able to apply the things they were learning in their core classes to this project. An example of this collaboration was demonstrated as one group chose to build a capital building. The students told me about a recent field trip to the State Capitol Building where they learned that a government building is an essential part of a community. I was impressed with the students' imagination, careful considerations, and empathy as they built their city. One group decided their bank would operate more like an arcade game, so each time you deposit money you get to play a game, another group designed an office building with a slide instead of an elevator so the business people could have a little fun after a long day at work, there was also a coffee shop with a special room for dates, a zoo that was accessible to all with a free entrance, and a hospital with a special playground for sick kids. Along the way, the students learned about basic construction strategies as they explored more formal elements of form, line, and color. They chose the base colors to create visual unity within their city and added details with lines to create variety. Upon completion of their buildings, everyone took great consideration as they worked together to combine all the buildings into one community. The students evaluated their new community and decided it lacked a connection with nature, so for the final stage, the 2nd Graders made and added trees, flowers, and animals. The students applied what they were learning about the democratic voting process in their core class and held an election to decide on the name of the 2nd Grade City. This was an exciting yet challenging project that sparked the imagination and ignited interesting discussions about how art and design can build a better community that influences our daily lives.
I want my students to understand the important role art plays in their lives and communities. An effective way to do this is to partner with local art organizations and artists within the Salt Lake community. One example of this type of partnership is through the UMOCA Art Truck. The Art Tuck is a traveling exhibition that rotates every year and travels primarily to schools all around Utah and I was excited that they stopped by for a visit. The exhibition that we saw was Stronger Shine the Light Inside by Angie Smith. Stronger Shines the Light Inside is an ongoing photography project that tells the personal stories of refugees in the United States. The project helps Americans understand the complexities, struggles, and personal triumphs that refugees experience within their new communities. The 2nd and 5th graders were able to view this powerful exhibition and hear some of the first-hand stories. In class, we talked about how the artist identified a need in her community and used this project to create more empathy and unity within her community surrounding the recent influx of refugees. It was a great demonstration of the power and role that art can have to make a positive impact in the community which reflects one of the school's values, Derech Eretz.
As an art teacher, I realize most of my students will not grow up to work as artists, but the skills and mindsets gained through learning and creating art like problem-solving, curiosity, critical thinking, adaptability, innovation and collaboration, will serve them no matter their future career path.