Making Art History Fun

Term: 2 Year: 2019

Last year I attended a great professional learning workshop at Zart called, ‘Making Art History Fun’, facilitated by Lou Chamberlin. She presented a range of practical activities based around familiarising students with iconic artworks. The ideas were fun, diverse and offered a way for teachers to tweak student’s curiosity about artists and art history. One project particularly caught my interest and that was “The Barbie Project”.

The Barbie Project is an appropriation project where students select an iconic artwork and reproduce it sculpturally using Barbie and Ken dolls and a painted background. The project offers students skills in critical and creative thinking and develops their understanding of aesthetics and art history. The goal is for the students to be able to replicate the aesthetics of the chosen painting and position the modified Barbies to capture the body postures and mood of the original painting.

Enthused, I set about organising this unit for my year 10 students. I started by selected a range of 25 paintings where the placement of the figures offered students a challenge, but also gave them an opportunity to create a successful outcome. I spread out the images and students chose the one they were interested in and then they began their research task, looking into the artist and art movement the work came from. We then set about planning for the project and learning about the design process.
I rushed off to “Savers” for bundles of budget-friendly, bagged-up Barbie dolls while the students started planning a materials list of what they thought they might need to complete the task using art room supplies and found/recycled objects.

I asked students to trial colour samples and match them to the original artwork. This was supported by teaching some colour theory using complementary colours to darken bright primary and secondary colours. I also taught fine brush control and asked then to think about how they might replicate the textures in the work and make a list eg: woodgrain, foliage etc… This was a great chance to explicitly teach aesthetics, analysis and critical and creative thinking.

The students had heaps of fun and were engaged throughout the entire unit of work. Their understanding of the artist’s intent, the aesthetics and the historical and cultural context of the works was enhanced by spending so much time scrutinising the small details. As a teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed this unit even though I was on my feet the whole time gathering scissors, glue guns etc.! The Barbie project was fun, offered many opportunities for rich conversations with students, and was satisfying to see their results and their sense of pride in the works themselves.

A big thank you to Lou Chamberlin and Zart for inspiring me to launch this great unit!

Kerry Kaskamanidis
Visual Arts TEACHER
Epping Secondary College