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using student examples-a changed stand


From: Mark Alexander (markcalexander_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Mon Dec 09 2002 - 20:13:31 PST

I haven't been following this discussion-carolyn's is the first one I read on it. However, I imagine the debate that I haven't been following is similar to others I have followed in the past on this list, so I'll presume to have an idea how it may have gone. I wouldn't answer this post either, but have had a fairly recent change of heart on the issue I boldly assume has been discussed.
I'll answer the question-'Is it ok for students to use as art classroom references images by other artists, magazines or encyclopedias for creating art about things they normally do not encounter in their day-to-day paths.'
I used to stand firmly on the purist side of this line. In fact, maybe I still do, because I do believe that imagination, memory and observation whenever possible are prefered references for creating artwork. Also, copying flat images does not help students learn how to create the illusion of form. Students get a kick out of the fact I can tell when they've copied a photograph, I felt that to copy from pictures was a compromise of copyright and originality issues, and even more importantly, I felt that learning to draw from observation was the best way to improve drawing from imagination or memory-essential for artists to understand and describe visual space.
I had a bit of a change of heart-partly caused by a delemma my own work posed for me. For my own work I create life sized puppets-whole head masks with costumes, character development and performance. Whenever I chose an animal or person, I need references. I do use observation, memory and imagination whenever possible to draw and build the puppet, but I fnd these references lacking when I do people like Jackson Pollock. My whole memory of him is developed from pictures, as is probably yours, so I researched and found dozens of images of the man, from which I made lots of drawings and a character that actually looks like him-if he ever comes back to life in an oversized paper mache version.
I had a similar problem when I did my Satyr. Except for an hour spent drawing real goats from observation, I used numerous images for that one. I visited a favorite salon painting at the Clark Art Institue in Williamstown Mass by William Adolfe Bourguereau called "Nymphes et Satyre" and used reproductions of it as my primary reference for the satyr, along with pictures lots of other artist's renditions of satyrs and even a few old pictures of satyr costumes and masks I found on the internet.
What I've made of all this is that if an artist needs a reference, they are pretty much obligated to find it where ever it can be found. Learning to solve problems such as this is a good life lesson in itself.
In my classroom, I would never pass out pictures and ask a student to pick one to use. Instead, I might say the project needs a fish (real ones not usually available), and wait for the students to either use their memory or their imagination or find a reference somewhere. I do insist that they create something of their own in the end, never copy composition, use more than one reference whenever possible, and always give credit where it is due. Surprisingly, I find that while references are almost always available, few bother to use them. In fact, they seldom ask for them.
As for showing exemplars, I usually show artworks for an approach, technique or an idea, but then design the lesson to require that they use the technique or idea with another subject or medium. I seldom have the opportunity to show student examples, because in seven years teaching K-8, I very seldom have done the same lesson the same way more than once. Keeps things interesting, especially for me. I wouldn't feel I was doing a very good job teaching if I found it boring, and besides, whose's life is it, anyway?
On top of all this, I have lightened up my rather conservative view on references in the art classroom because in fact, content is only a part of what I teach. The rest is about helping young people grow into wellrounded, decent adult human beings, and for some, feeling good about creating art that is praiseworthy to their family and peers might help.

If this topic has been beaten into the ground and you've actually read this far, you must still be interested in it or bored yourself. I'd love to hear what you think. Email me privately, if you wish.
Peace, Mark
carolyn roberts <> wrote: For the ones of you who do not let your students see examples, student work, photos, etc. for reference...can you answer the question below? If your students want to draw something specific...say, animals... and when they draw their animals from imagination or memory...and they are upset because their drawing is not what they want it to look like...and they want to learn to DRAW the animal better and they can SEE that their work is not in correct proportion or maybe it doesn't look like what they are attempting to draw and they know it and they get discouraged ...and there are no zoos close by...but they WANT to learn to draw these animals...then what do they do? Do you deprive them of looking at pictures of animals or insist that their drawing is fine even though it is not what they are trying to achieve. How do you solve a problem like this...Carolyn Roberts---

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