Thursday, March 21, 2013

The ROYGBIV Project :: Hiccups and Snafus :: Part 4 of 5

If you've been following me from the beginning of this series, you might notice something rather curious: It's all gone swimmingly well!!! Well, I hate to break it to you all but I'm about to show you some of the nitty-gritty that has gone on in spite of all of the stuff that has been really cool and incredible.

As I said in yesterday's posting, this project was chock full of "teachable moments." I find that most all of the project endeavors that I attempt to steer my student artists through provide more than enough fodder of that type but this one? Well! THIS one really provided!!! I'm going to discuss two of the biggies today.

 The first one was helping the student artists to deal with the challenge of figuring out the best technique and materials to be used and that this can sometimes only be figured out by way of trial and error. This meant that they did what they felt like was a lot of work only to have at least half of it fail "epically" (as they like to put it) after discovering that of the three different types of string we used, the one that was the colorful acrylic yarn (donated by me from my ridiculous "yarn stash" at home) would not hold up on the balloon forms even after it was coated in both of the different types of adhesive mixtures - one modge podge and the other watered down white glue.

The sad stringy mess of modge podge that had they attempted to salvage but in the end was just thrown away in the end.

They used watered down glue mixture but the  yarn just would not soak up the mixture in order to hold the balloon shape.

I predicted that this would happen and that they needed all cotton yarn/string to do the balloon wrapping but I withheld this information because their reasoning to do different types of yarn was for them to try and stay within the supplies budget and I wanted them to try out their alternative idea to save money. In the end, when they discovered that they had to have all cotton string, they were still able to stay in budget because the 100 or so balloons were cheap as they were sold in packs of 30 and were only a buck a piece. It was a good learning experience that taught them that even the best laid plans can't be totally sound and sure-proof. I was really proud of how they all handled the setbacks they experienced which required them to lost almost entire class periods of work just because of the type/quality of materials.

The second very important lesson of this project was a real biggie. It did not focus on supplies or really anything art related and was completely about interpersonal skills and the importance of effective and diplomatic communication. 

A little background that I haven't mentioned until now: 
The student artists worked in two different class periods - that sometimes didn't even meet on the same days - that I affectionately called East Coast division and West Coast division. I likened this arrangement to a large company that worked in different time zones but were expected to work on the same project because it was such a large endeavor that one division alone couldn't manage the whole thing. There were subdivisions within each division (sun, rainbow, clouds) and each of those worked in tandem with the subdivision from the division/class period. They coordinated the workflow by communicating with one another through handwritten notes that they wrote to each other. No names and personalization were allowed and they could only recognize the other group by simply addressing in a collective and general way. This was so no one student artist could demand that they were the one in charge and then call whatever was going on THEIR work that others were simply making happen for them. It wasn't about individual glory. It was totally about working together as a team and being unified.

So, the communication system mostly worked until individual egos started getting inflated and some student artists took it upon themselves to take up a real passive aggressive tone toward the other group (in written note form, of course) that started inciting some serious animosity between one subdivision across the two classes. (I won't tell you which one though. That's not important.)

A sampling of some of the note exchanges from all of the subdivisions.

I was monitoring the communication exchanges pretty carefully - both the written ones as well as the verbal and non-verbal ones that precipitated the written ones - and I addressed all of the issues almost immediately with redirections and reminders about what should really be focused on instead of what was being stirred up. The students had difficulty with accepting my pacification of all of the incidents but they did it with as much grace as you can expect they would seeing as how they are high school young men and women.

Then I ended up getting the stomach flu that has been going around everywhere and I was out of school for three days plus one more when school was out for inclement weather and when I came back? Well... I discovered that things had gotten UGLY and one subdivision found out what class and what individuals were in their partner subdivision and they started accosting each other outside of the art classroom in order to criticize about work being done/not done according to certain individual standards. My return from being so sick I lost seven lbs in less than a week that almost landed me in the hospital because of dehydration was me walking into what had become a pretty hostile warzone between two classes of one subdivision. I wasted no time addressing what needed to be addressed and in the midst of it all I discovered that one of the students actually tried to write an apology letter to the other group/class and their fellow group members tried to rip it up and throw it away to keep the reconciliation and apologies from happening! It was a MESS!!!

I devoted one day that could have been working time to each of the class periods and we had a discussion where I re-established what was most important and I offered them some wisdom to help establish PEACE and ensure that it be kept and maintained. I told them that for the rest of their lives it would never be important who started what in whatever situation but that it was only the reaction that you might have that could ever stop what was allegedly started. I told them that I was not concerned with who was pointing fingers or where those fingers were being pointed and that if ever people wanted to reconcile? That had to be permitted to happen because peace and reconciliation is way more important than "being right."

The students all took "the talk" very well and I think this was, in large part, due to the fact that I focused on the big picture of the problem instead of micromanaging the issues. This is actually how I approached most all of the issues that cropped up throughout the project and though the students were frustrated at times in the beginning, the quickly got used to me presenting things back to them with questions like, "Well... what do YOU think we should do?" or when I responded to some of their multi-layered questions that were loaded more with their lack of confidence than anything, "YES. *smile*" From the get-go I wanted them to feel like they could handle things and that I trusted them to handle things in whatever way they needed to be handled and by and large they did this with everything except the communication issue. I kind of expected something like this would happen though and I was prepared to deal with it.

And that's about it for the hiccups and snafus for the most part. Come back tomorrow for the last day of this series when you get to finally see everything all put together in the gallery!

This installation art study was student-centered and collaboratively designed and constructed (across two classes). It utilized paper sculpting and papier mache, string wrapping, spray painting and brush painting, fiber application in order to create a sun, clouds, and rainbow display suspended from the ceiling of the student art gallery hallway. It was originally presented in a week long series that showed the planning and creative processing, the beginning part of the sculpting/working stage, the point just about when everything was done being sculpted, and then some notes about when things went awry and how those things were dealt with. The final view of it can be found HERE. This project was meant to be a re-imagining of The Ombre Experience project idea.

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