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Student Art Provides an Antidote to Unsettling Current Events

 by Tina Piccolo
“Diversity Makes America Great”
6th Grade Studio Art Combines the Power of Protest Art with the Skill of Painting from Observation

When they returned to school in September, the students in my sixth grade Studio Art classes were inspired to take action against the divisive rhetoric and violence in the recent Charlottesville, Virginia, protests.

Using the visual arts as a means of communication, the students learned how artists historically have countered negative ideas by powerfully communicating truth with positive symbols and visual narratives of love, friendship, and unity of all Americans.

They began their work by examining the art of Diego Rivera, Kehinde Wiley, and Shepard Fairey’s Hope Posters including: We the People are Greater than Fear, and We the Resilient, by Ernesto Yerena. Through this exercise, they learned how to contrast and compare visual qualities and symbolic content. The students also looked at works from The Whitney Museum’s exhibit, An Incomplete History of Protest Art. The class discussed immigration and the enslavement of human beings to understand that the economic greatness and rich cultural history of the United States was built on the backs, dreams, labors and hopes of so many diverse people from all over the world.

The children’s painted compositions representing the diversity that makes America great, were painted from a staged tableau of realistic mannequins with different features, skin colors and identifying clothes. These figures were surrounded by a set-up of American and Rainbow flags, the Statue of Liberty and other symbolic props related to the ideals of freedom and liberty.

The students learned about color theory in mixing many shades of skin color and controlling the tempera paints in order to create texture with the use of varying brush sizes. They practiced organizing a composition to bring the viewer’s eye to the visually important parts of their painting, developing a conscious understanding of how the juxtaposition of subject and object inform meaning.

Next they created titles for their paintings. These titles allowed the students to think critically about the content they were designing and additional imagery that could be included. It was the earnest hope of the children to communicate a message of love, friendship and unity of all people living in the United States through their works of art.