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Celebrating Art History.

Celebration of achievement has always been a priority in my classroom. After many successful semesters with my art students, the idea of celebrating became the beginning of a classroom tradition in my advanced classes. In the first year of our tradition, we chose Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland concept of an "un-birthday" party for a focal point. The Art III, IV, and Block students were assigned a three-week project to prepare for the party.

I asked them to create the ultimate party hat, a sculpture that could be worn on their heads for our celebration. This project involved choosing a sculptural theme and planning and executing a three-dimensional sculpture that would balance on their heads. My assignment was two-fold: one, to act as a mentor and guide as they worked through their individual projects, and two, to bake the ultimate brownies for the celebration. Their sculptures were wonderful. Many were constructed with multimedia including cardboard, plaster, papier-mache, and cloth. We had so much fun with our celebration that it became the highlight of our year.

The next year, returning students start asking on the first day when the "un-birthday" party was going to be and what we were going to make this year. I adopted a wait-and-see attitude with the students and started to do some serious contemplation on how I could develop this concept into a more meaningful experience for students. After a few weeks of mulling it over, the answer came to me. We would evolve our party into a method of celebrating art history.

Formally, many of my students dreaded their required art history research paper each year. This year the students were told to choose an artist and his or her work to research in order to create an original puppet for the "un-birthday" party. The puppet could represent the artists themselves or something from the artists' body of work. Once again the students were given three weeks to complete their projects. The final projects included a talking cow skull that was attached to a silent Georgia O'Keeffe, a realistic Andy Warhol, a muppet like Jim Hansen holding Kermit the Frog, a marionette Salvador Dali, and many others. Since their research had immediate practical use (the creation of the puppet) I didn't have to encourage anyone to do their work. Once again the celebration was a great success.

After the second year, the tradition was firmly established as a regular part of our art curriculum for the year. This year I decided to assign the creation of an original party shirt based on the life and work of students' favorite artists.

The shirt was to include important biographical data, reproductions of the artist's work, and a quotation either by the artist, or by an art critic or historian about the artist. An area retailer gave me a discount on extra large men's white tee shirts. I was able to purchase them for each student at a smaller price than providing canvas panels for the projects.

Once again students got busy on their research. Even my academically challenged students were highly motivated to spend time with art history books to search out information on their chosen artists. Since my students have been trained in basic airbrush techniques, they had a wide choice of approaches to creating their shirts. Their choices of media included acrylic paint, airbrushed textile paints, and sewing materials and beads. The final projects were worked on over a longer period of time with students taking five days off to work on the 28' mural we were creating in our high school library.

Word got out to other students and teachers about what was being created in our classroom. We had multiple guests drop in to see the shirts for themselves. Their enthusiasm over the projects was so great that we postponed our party for a few days so we could display the shirts for all the student body, teachers, and administration to see. Our "un-birthday" party celebration was a success once again. Students who are not seniors want to know, "What are we going to make for next year's "un-birthday" party?

Our "un-birthday" parties have become a way to have fun while learning more about the artists and artwork we admire. One of the great benefits of the project has been not just the learning and production each student completes, but their appreciation for the work and efforts of their peers. After seeing the final projects, their choices of favorite artists and artwork often includes the chosen artist of their peers.


Students differentiate among a variety of historical and cultural contexts in terms of characteristics and purposes of works of art.

Judy Kay Thurston is an art teacher at Farwell High School in Farwell, Michigan.
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Title Annotation:party theme used to teach art history
Author:Thurston, Judy Kay
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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Next Article:Art History with Hand Puppets.

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