Term: 1 Year: 2006
In March of 2005, I presented two workshops at Zart called Engaging Middle School Students in the Visual Arts Classroom.
One project that I used in that workshop was a unit of work based on self-portraits that I currently run at the Year
8 level. When students see connections between the real world and the classroom, their level of engagement and therefore
their learning increases.
Drawing upon popular culture and worldwide events is an excellent way to help students make critical links
between the classroom and beyond the school gate. I am constantly scouring newspapers to find items that I think
would be suitable. In August of 2004 in Oslo, Norway armed men stormed into an art museum, threatened staff at
gunpoint and stole Edvard Munch's famous painting "The Scream" before the eyes of the stunned
visitors. The event contained all the vital ingredients that I needed. The theft could have been part of a television
show or movie. It also contained other potential issues such as – ‘What makes a work valuable?’
The painting itself is gut-wrenching material – just the type of over-the-top emotional content that Year
8 students love. An added bonus was the Munch show that was at the National Gallery of Victoria.
The Topic Step by Step
1. I brought in an overhead of a newspaper article about the work and also a large reproduction of The Scream.
I began by getting the students to look at the painting and begin to ask questions to try to find meaning in
the work. At this point, I did not give them any further detail.
2. I also downloaded some of the massive amount of information about the theft on the Internet. (It is still
available.) I condensed this into a small booklet for students to use.
3. In class discussion, I posed a series of questions based on their discussion such as
Why was the
work not insured?
Where could the thieves sell the work?
Why was this particular painting stolen and
not others near it?
4. I then asked students to use the information we got from the Internet to try to solve the crime. We went
through the notes and found “evidence” or “clues”. From this they wrote what they thought
happened to the work after it left the museum doors. Some students wrote this as a mini-script to a movie or
TV show, others wrote from the thieves’ point of view or that of a visitor or guard.
5. Prior to this work, we had been doing some work on self-portraits. I told the students that they were going
to create a new “Scream” to replace the stolen one, but this time they would use their own face.
6. For reference, I brought in a digital camera and students took photos of themselves screaming – not
literally (there is enough noise in an art classroom!). I then downloaded these and printed off two copies for
each student. Although they protested a bit at having their photo taken, they liked the digital aspect of this
and loved seeing each other’s photos.
7. We then went back to the painting to look at Munch’s expressive distortion. Students cut up their
photos in various ways to exaggerated the heads, particularly the mouth and eyes. These were glued onto paper
and the gaps between the photocopies were filled in to create the exaggerated face. This was particularly effective
for those students whose original photo was dramatic enough.
8. From this manipulated photo, students drew their self-portrait. At this time they could also further stretch
and alter the image with pencil. Permanent marker was used to outline the final image.
9. During this process, students could also be preparing their background, inspired from the original Munch
painting. At this time, a discussion was held about the ideas of appropriation so common in Post Modernism. Students
experimented with different methods of application of paints for the background. The sky, sea and wooden pier
was done on different papers using a variety of tools other than a paint brush, which included cardboard squeegees,
sponges, rollers and cloth. These papers were then collaged together to form the background with the railing
for the pier applied later with paint or markers.
The self-portrait was done as a separate painting. Students looked at a variety of paintings that used colour
in an unnatural, expressive way and chose colours for their self-portraits that they felt conveyed the feelings
and emotions they wanted to express. This effect was supported with different applications – with paint scratched,
swirled, layered and dabbed onto the surface with brushes and knives.
The final paintings were expressive,
dynamic re-interpretations of the original painting by Munch. The entire project covered an enormous amount of
issues, which linked not only with the real world but also with students’ ideas about themselves and others.
Compared to other self-portrait topics that I have used in the classroom, this approach increased students’
interest on many levels. In combining students’ interest in themselves and their feelings, with current
news, events and trends in art, the level of engagement and enthusiasm increased.
I used this topic as part
of a larger program on the human face and portraiture, in Year 8 Art. To see the entire program, please refer
to the Activity page on the Zart Art website www.zartart.com.au
Cathy Price, KLA Leader – The Arts East
Doncaster Secondary College