To change things up in the 4-hour long summer school class that I teach, I took my students to the art exhibit on campus. After visiting and observing, students were to write a back story on a piece of art of their choice. It was, in a way, a multi-modal essay because it included both text and photo. They were to include a photo of the artwork that they chose and reference it in their essay. Aside from that, there weren't too many restrictions. This was an opportunity for them to be creative!
The exhibit, called Plop Art by Erik L. Peterson, was interesting to say the least. I'm not an artie by any means but I would assume that this would be considered contemporary art... I know that only because I Googled it. It seems to only be defined by the time period that it is produced in. In reading the Peterson's description, he mentioned that the art was to serve as commentary on various norms in our culture including narcissim and ADHD.
While I won't tell you about all of the art work we saw, I'll mention a few. We saw a Reflecting Pool which at first we all thought was a pile of sand...Then we realized that it transformed colors as you looked at it. After realizing what it was, the iPhones popped out. Everyone wanted a shot. It was hard to capture the rainbows on film, though. As you can see, mine looks a little bit more ghostly.
We also saw a tapestry created out of the two billboards. It took us quite a while to figure out what it was but, once we realized, we understood the large amount of time and painstaking attention to detail it must have taken to create.
We saw another piece known as the Cooler. It was just as you would think. It was a cooler with two ice cream cones inside. I'm not quite sure what the purpose was but I'm sure it's ironic in some way. Students joked about it being a "grab-and-go" and not a piece of artwork.
And then we saw my favorite. The neon plop cone with spilled ice cream (it had no name). Isn't it amazing? Surprisingly, we had a lot of conversation about it. I say surprisingly because this isn't an art class and none of us have any idea how to discuss art. Students argued about the focal point - "It's the cone. It's on the wall. How could it not be the focal point?" - "No it's the blob of ice cream. Is it melted or did it fall off? I think it melted because it's so much bigger." - "It's neither. It's the light that catches your attention. The light and the color." I was impressed with the amount of conversation that they had. They enjoyed it, observed it, and didn't take the art viewing process too seriously.
So what did I learn from this experience? Take your students out of the classroom! We all need a change of pace. It doesn't have to be serious! It can be fun and enjoyable but still educational. While there, students took notes on the art work of their choice and later they wrote an essay on the back stories for how the art came to be. Perhaps taking our students out of the typical classroom fires up their creative impulses. One thing's for sure though, they were able to experience something new and creative, use a different part of their brain, and interact with one another in a way that encouraged discussion and collaboration.
So where to next? Maybe the Student Center Coffee Shop? Maybe the lake in the courtyard? Perhaps even the observatory! I'd love to hear any suggestions that you may have!