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What's His Face.

The human face and figure have long held a fascination for artists of all ages. The challenge of creating an image that represents the physical appearance of a person has motivated artists, whether they were painting for a commissioned portrait or for their own expression. The development of photography relieved artists of some of the obligation to seek a realistic image, and many began to explore how they could use their materials and the formal aspects of art, such as color, line, shape and texture, to interpret the person behind the face. A project called What's His Face, developed by the Education Section of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) in Halifax, posed students with just that challenge - finding the person behind the face.


Interested in advocating the importance of art education, the gallery developed this project to tie together several aspects of the gallery's involvement with schools inside and outside of the gallery. Specifically, the objectives of the What's His Face project were to:

* provide students with the opportunity to work with a professional artist.

* introduce students to the portrait in art.

* give students the opportunity to see how an exhibition comes into being.

* give students the opportunity to exhibit their work in a public gallery.

* provide the public with the opportunity to observe student art at various developmental stages.

* observe the many approaches that can be taken to solve the same problem.

The Workshop

Four classes were selected to participate. They represented various grade levels (three, six, nine and twelve), urban, suburban and rural schools, and classes working with and without art specialists. Nova Scotian artist, Charlotte Wilson Hammond, who was about to have a major exhibition of her work at the AGNS, began the project by visiting each of the classes for a half-day workshop. The students talked about the relation between figure and ground in a portrait and the effects of clothing, background, color, and texture on how a portrait is interpreted. Motivated by slides, discussion and warm-up drawing exercises, the students developed mixed-media self-portraits.

Facing the Challenge

After the workshop, the students were offered a challenge. Each student was given a photocopy of tile face portion of a new work in the AGNS collection. Without ever having seen this painting, students were asked to develop their own interpretation of the person portrayed. The face given to them had to appear in their finished work, but it was their task to use whatever media and approach they wished to convey their ideas about the person behind the face. Students could take a traditional approach, or they could extend their work as far as their imagination would take them.

Within a month, each student had a finished work. Now came the hard part. Because the Education Gallery is a small room that would not accommodate all 106 works, some curatorial work needed to be done. Each class elected three student curators to spend a Saturday with the education curator to select the pieces to be shown. Equal numbers of works were selected from each class, and the students selected the pieces from their own grades. One more difficult decision remained: How should the works be arranged? The original idea was to organize by grade, but the grade twelve students felt that they would be proud to have their work hang among that of the younger students. The decision was made to look at the various pieces, and find common themes to organize the work.

To Celebrate Learning

After the exhibition was hung, it was opened with great celebration by the minister of Education for the Province of Nova Scotia, and a spokesperson for the student curators. The opening was the first opportunity the students had to see the whole portrait from which their face came. Self Portrait, Ste Famille Street by Canadian artist Paul Andrew, represents the artist at his easel. His enigmatic face had puzzled and intrigued the students for over a month, and their reactions to the whole work were wonderful to watch and hear. Not one had interpreted him as an artist!

All classes had the opportunity to visit the gallery, and to work on an in-gallery school program that integrated the exhibition with an exploration of portraiture throughout the gallery. Each class also received a kit including a slide of the work by Andrews, biographical information and a questioning strategy for the teacher based on an art criticism model. A teacher's guide for the in-gallery tour program had pre- and post-visit activities, vocabulary and resources for all school visitors. The generous support of a corporate sponsor, made possible an exhibition catalog which described the project and listed the participants.

The students were very enthusiastic about the project. Charlotte Wilson Hammond had not worked in schools previously, but was interested in what artists could do to help advocate art education. She found the program to be a wonderful learning experience. She saw students in action at various levels, and had the challenge of devising an exciting and meaningful workshop. She came away with a greater awareness of the state of art education, and a deeper commitment to advocacy.

The fact that every student in each class finished a work is a true sign of the student enthusiasm. The student curators took their task very seriously and brought many of their friends to see the exhibition, even though several of them did not have a work in the final exhibition. The spokesperson talked of the difficulty he had trying to connect with the face, his satisfaction with his completed work, and his discovery of the amount of thought and work that goes into selecting an exhibition. The teachers wanted to know when the next project would be. We were delighted with the opportunity to work with students in a new way, and by all accounts, we had a very favorable visitor response.
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Title Annotation:Art Gallery of Nova Scotia program for students that allows them to explore the depiction of the the personality behind a person's face in art
Author:Stephen, Virginia
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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