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Wholly cow!!!

Exciting students about art history and its impact on their own productivity and creativity, continues to be a challenge for me in my classes. No matter how excited I am by the work of O'Keeffe, Monet or other artists, ordinary lectures with reproductions or slides have not generated the desired amount of student enthusiasm. My challenge was to provide an encounter that would provoke my advanced art students to explore the aesthetic decisions artists make--to step into their skins and find out how they communicate their own personal visions, and the vocabulary and elements which enable them to do so.

Inspired by Modern Masters

Twenty-three of my advanced art students and I pooled our talents to bring the artwork of the masters to the walls of Burr and Burton. Inspired by the thematic grid paintings of contemporary artist, Paul Giovanopoulos, we picked a cow as the source for our common imagery. Because our school is located in Manchester, Vermont, we wanted to pick something that was indicative of our state; something simple and basic that everyone could relate to. I took a rubber stamp and gave the same stamped cow image to every student, then they drew the name of a "superstar" artist from a hat.

I focused on artists from the Impressionist through contemporary periods because of the diversity of styles and techniques this stretch of art history offers. Students did research to discover what movement the artist was connected with, what colors they would have used in their palette, and the techniques they would have utilized to apply pigment to the surface. After the initial period of research, students were given the opportunity to trade for another artist if they found that they could not relate to a particular style or technique. I wanted them to feel comfortable with their assumed artistic identity.

Assuming the Style

Students soon discovered that, just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is definitely more than one way to paint a cow! What form would their cow take--would it closely resemble the contour of the original stamp, or would their artist have extended the traditional silhouette for a more interesting and innovative form?

Seemingly easy techniques such as Jackson Pollock's drips and splats presented a real challenge for Tarique Johnson. Maybe there is more to it than just throwing paint at a canvas. Robin Cueman lost track of the hours it took to do her rendition of a cow in the style of Op-artist Bridget Riley. The tiny grid squares made of all straight lines, give the illusion of curves and roundness, as contrasting colors enhance the effect of movement on the flat surface. Finding a way to reproduce the look of benday dots in Lichtenstein's work was a difficult task for artist Greg Olmstead. He settled for the texture from a Ping-Pong paddle for the small dots. For the larger dots, he punched holes in acetate with a paper punch and stenciled the dots over his painting. Kevin Hand was continually frustrated by the acrylic medium in trying to replicate the smooth, blended technique of Surrealist Salvador Dali.

Udderly Successful

Students presented their finished works to the class with information about their artists and examples of their work. Upon the completion of all the individual 12 x 16" (30 x 41 cm) acrylic paintings, the masonite panels were glued to a larger piece of wood, approximately 4 x 8' (122 x 244 cm), to create a mural. The finished product has provided a source of visual trivia as students, faculty and members of the community have enjoyed trying to put names with the imagery. We provided a grid key to help identify the style you recognize, but are helpless to credit the creator with an identity. Although the degree of craftsmanship and sophistication evidenced here is due partly to the age of the students, the enthusiasm generated by the project motivated them to excellence. I think that the problem could be tailored for any grade level using imagery that is particularly appealing to each group.

What started as a desire by my students to do something to cover an antiquated mural of a burger and fries in the school cafeteria, resulted in one of the most productive and successful student projects I have encountered in my years of teaching art.

Betsy B. Hubner is Art Teacher at Burr and Burton Seminary, Manchester Vermont.
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Title Annotation:Variations on a Theme
Author:Hubner, Betsy
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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