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Write? In art class?!

My students were gazing at a large color reproduction of a splatter painting by American Expressionist, Jackson Pollock. Each of their faces showed they had already formed an opinion of this work. When I asked what their opinions were, they could hardly stand the wait to be called on. In turn--for the most part--they spoke loudly and confidently. The consensus of opinion was that it was a joke, and not art at all. When I described Pollock's manner of flinging paint from cans out onto a large canvas laying on the floor, many sneered all the louder. The sneers subsided somewhat when I brought the painting around for them to view up close. "What can you see in there?" I asked. The predictable few took this seriously. The rest continued their tirade against the pretender, Pollock.

After quieting down, they were asked to button-up in paint shirts for the painting experience of their lives. In a scene that would frighten any parent, the children were free to splatter, splash drip tempera on large pieces of paper. A few worked on the floor. Although they were draped in paint shirts (some in as many as three to protect new clothes), many went home more colorful than they had left morning.

As the work progressed, the mood of hilarity became subdued and thoughtful. The students seemed to become personally involved with their creations. There were requests for specific paint colors and much discussion on how certain effects were achieved. The paintings lining the tables and floor took on personalities of their own, some lyrical and dancing, others vibrant and throbbing. At cleanup time, several students complained that they were not finished, and needed to stay until they had carried out their vision.

The resulting artworks were matted and displayed in the artroom and in the halls. The walls were transformed with color, energy and dramatic personal expression. Students and adults alike paused for long thoughtful looks at these paintings, letting their eyes wander over the tapestries of flowing color and travel with the artist through the journeys of their creations.

The following week, the students arrived in class to find pencils and a stack of lined paper waiting for them. Today they were to write.

"Write? In art class?" they gasped.

"I want you to write because I want you to think carefully about your opinion," I explained. "Imagine you are in an art museum. You are with a friend, looking at a painting by Jackson Pollock. Your friend turns to you and says, 'That's not art. That's just a joke. Anyone can splatter paint all over a canvas. This should not be hung in a museum.' What would you say to your friend? Before you begin to write, think about your opinion. Think of what you know about Jackson Pollock and how you felt when you painted the way he did. There is no right answer here. This won't be graded. It is simply an opportunity and defend why you have it. I would like you to write for fifteen minutes."

Why did I have them write their opinions instead of discussing them in class? The act of writing gives students a chance to think for themselves. It gives each of them a voice, which sometimes class discussion does not. The process of creating and then writing about it encourages one to think about one's own thought processes. It gives one time to consider and think before writing, as well as to reconsider, erase and start over. I believe each student owned his or her opinion more completely by writing it. In fact, I am sure many opinions were created in the process of writing. At right is a selection of what the students wrote that day.
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Title Annotation:art lesson on splatter painting
Author:Frank, Joan C.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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