Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lesson idea: The Broken Window Painting

One of the mainstay projects for 2D is a painting in cubist style. I usually do it early as the second or third project (of a total of eight for the semester) for the sole purpose of getting the students to push themselves out of their comfort zones. I use it to help them understand the importance of the creative process as it pertains to their soon enough finished work of art. It also helps for them to understand that the style of non-objective art isn't something that is perhaps as random as it might seem.

In the past I've taught them cubism in a different way and after doing it that same way for at least three rounds running, I was just sick of it. I stumbled upon this lesson idea inspired by Paul Klee and it appealed to me not only because it was something fresh to try but also because it definitely encouraged the students to invest themselves on skills that were very necessary for good technique.  The 2D class is a foundational course but I always push them to invest themselves as much as possible and still try and be as polished as possible.

The main reason why I liked this project was because it allowed me to weave meaning into both the creative process and the finished pieces. Since I started teaching at my school, I've done my best to encourage all of the students to not create art for the sake of art but for a purpose that goes far beyond that. I work at a nondenominational Christian high school and for us as a school community, we do things to glorify the Lord so when we create, we are creating because He created us in His likeness (as scripture teaches) and since He was the greatest creator of all time, I encourage them all to believe that they have the power of creativity and the ability to create within them no matter what.

A fellow art education blogger mentioned earlier today on twitter that he was interested in infusing more meaning into the creative process/art lessons. I wanted so badly to speak up about the way I do things but I am always hesitant to do so. Why? Well, despite the fact that I am an active follower of Christ and His teachings and that encourages open evangelism, I am careful how I do it. There was a time when I wasn't so deeply rooted in my faith or active in and of my belief and I remember how it felt to be assaulted by the "idea" of Christianity. It always felt like people were throwing bibles at me and that only made me want to dodge them rather than catch one or hold onto it in any way. I am aware of the bad rep Christianity has in this world and I'm not interested in feeding into that any more than I need to. For that reason, I'm careful about how and when I bring it up.

Anyway, my point in even saying it here and now (because this is my blog and perspective so it's only fair that I practice a little more "freedom of speech" here but if it makes you feel uncomfortable, I understand and I'm sorry to have offended you) is that visual art can be such an amazing vehicle for so much more than just teaching art. I use ever lesson to instruct about life and (as I understand it) how life can be made more meaningful and worth living.

For this broken window painting, I presented the project to the students with a powerpoint that showed them photographs of real broken windows.We had discussions about them and I asked them how windows can be so broken but still manage to hold themselves together in their total forms. The students were unsure. I offered them this explanation...
"The windows are whole but their broken pieces support each other. That's the amazing thing about broken windows. They are broken yet somehow they stand together and whole. Broken windows are very much like people. People are broken in every number of ways yet we still walk around trying to hold things together as best as we can. For the most part, people can do it. At least it looks that way from the outside. They do indeed appear whole but really? Their lives are so fractured and if you looked inside of them they would look as broken and would indeed be as fragile as a broken window definitely is. One tiny little touch and they might fall to pieces. Something else about people? They can be broken and shattered and then still be broken again within their broken pieces. People who exist like that are even more fragile than the others. When brokenness occurs on top of brokenness, you have to be so careful not to disturb it or even the slightest bit of window will send it into a state that is completely impossible to repair. Yet, just as I mentioned before, you can't tell? And that's the problem, we are all somehow broken deep down inside - some more than others - and for this reason we must be more gentle to each other (no matter our beliefs or backgrounds) in order to fully live out the gospel according to what Christ teaches."
 If this sounds like some seriously heavy ideology to lay upon a bunch of high schoolers, well... it is! But I'll have you know that I do this with them on a regular basis. Definitely it helps that I am at a Christian school to begin with so I can even talk about things in reference to scripture and something as hard hitting as Christianity but I cannot even begin to tell you how it has transformed the way the students invest themselves in their art.

Showing them how greater meaning can exist in not only a finished piece of art but also the process itself pushes them to transcend beyond the paintbrushes they might not care to wash out correctly or the paints that accidentally get splashed on their clothing. For them, designing their pieces, fabricating them, and then having them evaluate the job they have done becomes something that makes art sacred to them.  It's because of this that the art studio classrooms are treated as sacred places that they aren't just required to respect but that they want to respect.

I consider myself a Christian artist that is a part of a community of many other Christian artists who also happen to be students in any one of my classes. I've spent a lot of time thinking about what does it mean to be a Christian artist and I feel like I have finally figured it out. It doesn't mean I should be making pieces that are solely focused on illustrating Bible verses or depicting Christ's crucifixion over and over again or using strictly religious symbols like doves and olive branches or arks filled to the brim with two-by-two animals. I think being a Christian artist is much more about answering the call I have always had inside of me to create with all of myself and to do that as well as I possibly can. I believe being a Christian artist is about looking at life as it is and really examining it in order to understand how a belief and following of faith can bring beauty even if that place is one of tragedy and pain and anguish and a place that is seemingly full of nothing but hopelessness.

Life can be many things but as far as I'm concerned? Why not regard at as something that is much larger than itself and is worth a whole lot more than we could ever imagine.


  1. Wonderful analogy. I wish I had the freedom to express my Christian beliefs at my school. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I’m very glade to follow you, your work is very interesting!! I’m an art teacher too, my blog is

  3. Colleen - St. Francis of Assisi said "Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words." *wink* I'm sure you are expressing plenty of your beliefs without saying a word. Preach, sista'!!

    Miriam - So delighted to make your virtual acquaintance! I have added you to the link section and the thumbnail navigational menu on the right sidebar. :)

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