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My senior portfolio students recently completed a comprehensive studio
project which involved self-portrait, critical-thinking and compositional
The students were asked to explore the theme of "Hopes and Fears" through
the world around them, as well as their innermost thoughts and feelings.
A common set of criteria was presented to help each student organize his
or her own development of how to communicate a complex subject matter
a sequence of steps.
Each student was asked to include his or her face as a major component.
Color was stressed as an important way to communicate ideas and feelings.
Collage was suggested as a way to incorporate actual photographs into the
So that each student would be able to work from the general to the specific
as they thought about their own hopes and fears, lists were made by each
one and gradually narrowed down to no more than five hopes and fears. To
go through this process some students shared with other students, others
felt more comfortable brainstorming at home and bringing in their lists
the next day.
To facilitate this part of the process, a group discussion was conducted
by me which included illustrating the use of abstraction, metaphor and
symbolism in the works of African-American artist Lois Mailou Jones, and
Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo.
The use of color, costuming and character depiction was demonstrated by
the strong allegorical content of each artist's work. Prints were shown,
as well as a follow-up video of Kahlo's work. For some students the critical
thinking skills involved in going from broad categories and ideas and
to developing specific visual imagery to include in their pieces was a
The reference material provided by other artists' work seemed to clarify
the process and provide a strong motivational tool. On the other hand,
some students found the challenge of including their own face to be the
part of the project which consumed the most time.
Each student worked on thumbnail sketches to develop a composition in which
proportion and placement was balanced so that clarity of expression, rather
than confusion, took precedence. Unlike self portraits in which each student
included only his or her physical features and/or interests, these pieces
of work seemed to bring out a much more dynamic attachment of each student
to his or her creative process.
Each composition developed into an original statement which became as varied
as the students themselves. The common thread throughout all 20 finished
works was a high degree of quality, a well-developed sense of composition
and a broad viewer appeal.
The exhibit of all of the "Hopes and Fears" art work within my classroom
immediately caused students from all of my different classes to stop and
look at each individual piece without my even saying anything about it.
There was much discussion as to which ones were the most interesting, the
most creative and the most eye-catching. Each student who completed one
of the pieces was asked to complete a self-assessment sheet which was
as part of his or her grade. Students answered the following questions
about their work:
1. How did you communicate your hopes and fears through the world around
you, and your own innermost thoughts and feelings?
2. How was your face included as a major component?
3. How did you use color to communicate your ideas and/or feelings?
4. What kinds of abstractions, metaphors and symbols did you use?
5. Were you influenced by the initial group discussion, other artists'
work and/or in other ways?
6. Select one other piece, and tell why you like to look at it.
There was a broad range of thoughts and feelings included in the scope
of subject matter presented in the completed work. Some of the fears which
were prominent included: demons, materialism, death, the future, and the
unknown. Some of the hopes included: peace, love, faith, future career
and family aspirations.
To some students a particular color was ominous, whereas to another the
same color was comforting. Both curving and angular shapes were used to
suggest a variety of ideas. Representational imagery was used to symbolize
a wide range of feelings.
Students seemed to be pleased that they could select from a broad range
of media. The vibrant colors of cray-pas, the crisp edges of acrylics,
softer colored pencils and cut-up magazine images were some of the ways
in which students chose to convey a particular feeling. Several used hats,
costumes and masks to dramatize themselves in their own work.
Each piece of work will be excellent to include in the students' individual
portfolio. It will demonstrate to whomever looks at it the student's ability
to communicate ideas and feelings in a carefully composed piece of work
which can also serve as a self-portrait.