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Decisions, decisions....

How many times have those of us who are seasoned art teachers presented lessons on still life? Teaching a subject or media the same way year after year can certainly take its toll on a creative person. And what about the students? Instruction is lost unless we consider our changing population. Approaches that were solutions in the past are not necessarily appropriate for today's students. My intention for the last decade of my teaching is to introduce fundamental concepts in innovative ways. I believe decisions are a significant part of the creative process. Allowing young people the opportunity to take responsibility in the decision-making process is important.

Students become involved in the decisions of our still life assignment from the very beginning by bringing objects from home for a mammoth-sized "memorabilia" set up. The criteria for selecting the objects are simple. The items must be interesting and unique; they must cost nothing; students must have permission to bring them in; and they become the property of the school.

Setting Up the Still Life Arrangement

Students have great ideas for setting up the still life. Grouping things together in interesting ways engages the students in their decisions about what they will eventually want to draw. By providing many choices of objects in a complex, floor-to-ceiling arrangement, students can find one or more areas of subject matter that interest them.

From the outset, I emphasize the idea of being selective. Students are encouraged to select the most interesting composition by using viewfinders cut from lightweight cardboard. After making three preliminary thumbnail sketches, they determine which part of the still life they want to interpret and draw a larger, 18 x 24" (46 x 61 cm) version. Up to this point, specific procedures are followed, and specific criteria are considered: 1) using a modified contour approach with continuous lines drawn by looking at the still life 90 percent of the time, 2) showing variation in line with thick and thin lines, 31 filling the entire page and allowing the drawing to go off the page in all directions.

The selection of media is an individual decision. Each student has a choice among thirteen options. They can do what they love to do by doing it better or they can experiment with new media and do something totally different from anything they have done before. Each student becomes responsible for maintaining her or his own work space and supplies.

The students respond positively to this responsibility. They seem to enjoy the part they have in making decisions about making art.

Joan Maresh is an art teacher at John Foster Dulles High School in Sugar Land, Texas.
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Title Annotation:includes a related article on various options for creating still life works; lesson plan for creating still life artworks
Author:Maresh, Joan
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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