Teaching Art Online

June20Renee1web“How is this going to work?” students and administrators questioned how the normally hands-on art class could be conducted online during the stay-at-home quarantine.  My 85 high school art students were to finish out the school year via distance learning. But as all the nation's school systems moved online, art curriculum ideas began to swirl around within the vast teacher community, like Vincent's "Starry Night" swirled around.  We had101 great suggestions circulating on Facebook, e.g., mounting a Zoom discussion of modernist painter Stuart Davis followed by a student "collage response," or designing Automata STEAM projects.   Museum educators proffered further ideas for Digital Art Engagement.  And art supply houses jumped into action with their own recommended course content, e.g., mixed media koi webinars or natural ink making.

My online curriculum, on the other hand, was showing funny Youtube videos as the basis of instruction.  How could I go wrong with popular YouTuber "SSSniperwolf," 2019 Gamer of the Year with her 20 million subscribers.  This Kim Kardashian-look-alike was so much more compelling than my description of trompe l'oeil art effects. In her popular reaction video version of these effects: "How pencils do 'dat?“ she squealed, “This is like level 100 spot-the-fake game . . . I'm freakin' out!" SSSniperwolf described art drawings so realistic they tricked passersbys.  Hey, I would resort to anything relevant to capture my rambunctious students’ attention and keep them logging into classwork.  In this era of contagious virus, contagious viral was the prescription.

Here are some initial hiccups teaching art remotely:

a) The academically over-achieving students expressed their usual temerity when given broad-based freedom. When asked simply to  "Draw something potato-y like Van Gogh,”  they had their 101 questions.  “Is it okay if I use colored pencil? “ and  “How is the potato to look?” they probed for the Single Right Answer so famous in Western education.

b) Online art history assignments really put students' cut-and-paste skills to the test (and not the Elmer's glue kind of cut and paste). For instance, when asked to describe the Mona Lisa in their own words, they generated strangely worded composite answers like: "‘Mona’ is the colloquial version of the Italian word meaning ‘Madam' or "with background detail depicting mostly inanimate subjects, typically commonplace objects" or  "expression is feeling in the belief of a character" or "she looks constipated."  Wikipedia meets wha’??

c) Unfortunately certain students used this loose period of instruction to go AWOL.  My secret aspiration to be a truant officer came to life as I began calling parents at home. In one case the student yelled out in the background before the phone went dead:  “Doesn't she know I'm a high school drop-out?! ” [click]  This boy's angsty-teen expression is just what the art class is missing.  I will continue to pursue him, a Banksy-in-the-making.

In general students rose to the occasion of online art instruction. Emerging from the ether arose their true interests. Some experimented on their own with computer-assisted design, others created fantasy dolls.   There were janky unicorns as well as a “thermal” Eocene-era horse.  Liam (“The Disruptor”) known for his chronic uncontrollable classroom behavior, excelled for the first time with the “potato project.”   Liam devised a detailed 3-D hospital diorama with a masked Mr. Potato as A Covid-19 patient behind A plastic partition and PPE covered nurses.  Sick, Liam!

And as for the student who had insisted all school year on only drawing winged reptiles for every assignment landscape, perspective, impressionist assignments — during this online instruction period, she submitted winged reptiles. Way to go winged reptile grrrl!  Stay strong!


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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