Thanksgiving Reflection: The Importance of Art Education


Each semester for the past 3 years, I get to work with a new group of Asheville Middle School (and Now Montford Northstar Academy) students teaching a darkroom photography program. For two semesters now, I've partnered with the Asheville Art Museum teaching a joint darkroom photo and mixed media class. On this year's Thanksgiving, I just wanted to share this work that's near and dear to me. I wholeheartedly believe that every single child deserves to be introduced to art in order to explore their creativity and personal voice and I'm thankful that I get to play a small part in these students' lives. 

Here's a glimpse into what we've been up to these past 10 weeks: 

Digital Photography

In order to create our alternative process images, we first had to create content. Our first day, we simply walked around campus taking turns with the cameras (mine, theirs and their phones'); each student taking five photos of whatever interested them. As I culled through them, I loved getting to see from the perspectives of these 6-8th graders what caught their eye and how they framed it. 

Our second digital day, we focused solely on portraits. At first, I had to suggest ideas for more than the simple smile-and-click portraits, but soon the students were throwing leaves to create movement, shooting from different angles rather than straight on and even capturing candid emotions.

Cyanotype Prints

One of my favorite projects to do with my middle schoolers is cyanotypes because they get the opportunity to turn their own images into works of art. I've talked about these before (like with my TAPAS program at AHS) but the gist is that we print our digital images inversely onto inkjet transparencies to use for film. We then coat our watercolor paper with light-sensitive chemicals and expose them in sunlight, finally developing them in water. It's a simple process both in steps and in materials needed, so it's a great way to show students that it is possible to create art (and, by extension, share their story visually) without hundreds of dollars worth of supplies and a studio. 

For cyanotypes we get to explore the mysteries of the darkroom, setting up our "print sandwiches" as I call them - board, paper, film, glass - and then spend the rest of the time soaking up the sun and being loud; a perfect mixture of learning and creating while getting to release their energy. 

Hand Tinting

This year we wanted to incorporate a wider variety of projects into our portfolio books. Hand tinting was the natural choice for it's small materials list as well as high potential for creativity, so we printed our digital images onto watercolor paper and went to town with watercolor pencils. At first, they simply color-blocked the photos, but as they explored the process they realized they could mix and create new colors, add different patterns and even create objects that weren't originally in their photos. 

Xerox Transfer

Our final project was a new one to me too, so I'm thankful to Sharon for teaching it! To create these colorful collages, we first painted backgrounds onto watercolor paper and then glued xerox paper printouts of our images onto the watercolor backgrounds. Once they'd dried, we gently wet the xerox paper and slowly started to ware it away to be able to see the image. Once they figured out the process, the students started to think out of the box with these, too!

Final Portfolio

Throughout the whole program, we collected our images to be able to put in our books. On our last day, we arranged and glued our images into our portfolio books (including our sun-printed author cards.) As we did so, we chatted about what projects they liked most, what they might do differently next time and what they were doing for Thanksgiving. Sentimental as it sounds, truly the best part of this program is getting to watch my students make friends with people they hadn't previously know, or had class with but never talked to. It was a good reminder that even as they were talking too loudly or running around together between projects, they were getting to just be kids. 

Bonus: Lola was so happy with her digital negatives that she wanted to take them home to be able to use again!