When one views a work of art at a museum, the medium the artist used to create it is fairly apparent. A sculpture carved from wood differs greatly from one fashioned from metal; a photograph is typically distinguishable from an oil painting.
What might not be immediately obvious is the inspiration behind the work. It is this component of visual art that Kirsten Anderson, one of the art teachers at Lake Forest Country Day School, wants her students to consider in their final semester of her class.
“These students have learned about so many mediums, and have obtained so many skills,” Anderson said. “By the time these students reach eighth grade, I want them to combine those skills with their own motivations to create a piece of art with a message.”
To get her students thinking about the inspiration that propels artwork forward, Anderson and her class research several well-known modern artists — from American pop-art painter Roy Lichtenstein to conceptual portrait photographer Cindy Sherman — to younger contemporary artists such as Brian Jungen and Tom Friedman.
“During our research, I’ll ask a lot of questions,” Anderson said. “‘How do these artists transform everyday objects?’ ‘How do artists use things that we might throw away, and how to they reuse or repurpose those objects?’ ‘Is the artist using a smaller or larger scale to represent this object, and what does this mean?’ In listening to each other’s answers, they really begin to understand the message these artists are trying to convey.”
The students are then encouraged to think about a message they want to express. For many, the idea of mass production, consumption, and waste was a central theme.
For eighth-grade student Rachel Cantor, the issue of credit card usage and debt became her primary focus. To deliver this message, Cantor created a Papier-mâché piggy bank, covered with images of credit cards cut out of magazines.
“So many people get credit cards, but have no money to pay their bills,” Cantor said. “That’s why I cut a huge hole into the top of the bank—to show that the pig is empty.”
Nick Ehrhard fashioned four delicate flowers out of aluminum cans to make a statement about recycling and pollution.
“I used the aluminum to make flowers in a way to symbolize that we, as humans, do not have to make a negative impact on the earth for everything we do,” he wrote in his artist statement. “We can help the earth and the environment and live side-by-side with it.”
Other students were interested in technology and its effects. Sophia Platcow says an interest in the transition from new to old methods of communication influenced her two mixed media pieces, titled “The Flight Path of Communication.”
In one piece, scrolls are tied with red ribbon and adhered to a canvas. In the upper right-hand corner of the piece, a small bird is perched.
“The scrolls, made of old book pages, represent a time when letters and hand-written notes were the only way to send a message long distance,” Platcow said. “The bird, carved out of an old book cover, represents the Twitter bird and how social media sites now allow you to send a message halfway around the world in less than a second.”
Platcow’s second piece — a “computer” created from a vintage book with cut up library book check-out slips for keys — makes an additional statement about the way our society reads information.The screen is a page from a book published more than 80 years ago.
Anderson said there were no limits in regards to the size of a piece of art, what materials the students were allowed to use, or whether the artwork was two- or three dimensional.
“My only requirement was that they needed to weave an original idea into the piece,” she said. “I wanted leave them to leave my classroom with the tools for finding inspiration for the artwork they’ll create in the future.”