Art Projects Based On History

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"The more they draw, the better they get," said George Conley, Payson High School's instructor responsible for teaching art to about 140 students.

Last week most students in Conley's beginning art class were busy creating a children's book from a storyboard.

"We used a piece of paper to plan out our story. It had six little squares. We do each page in a square in chronological order," said Sherah Cline, a senior. Her children's book is titled "Biggy the Toe."

Students work out the concept and artwork of the front cover, four-page story and back cover. This project on illustration covers about seven or eight school days. Conley has taught his beginning art students how to sketch correctly using proportion, texture and value (shading, which creates the illusion of three dimensions on a one-dimensional surface) by giving them a lot of sketches to practice on.

Conley said, "All year long we've been learning different types of colors and value and texture and organic shapes, geometric shapes, so they are trying to make this book interesting, but they are also trying to gear it toward a grade -- say first through third grade -- as though they were trying to get it published.

"Sometimes they will put a dedication page in here: ‘to my little brother.' Some of the gals have put ‘to my future children.'"

When the Lil' Longhorns daycare starts in January, the art students will go and read their picture books -- like Robert Frazier's "Major Tom and the Space Mission" -- to the children enrolled in the program.

Jonathon Coleman, 17, had finished his book about a cat titled "Where is Spot?" and was just beginning the next class project Conley assigned: a collage.

This is Coleman's fourth year in art. He said he doesn't have a favorite medium.

"As long as it's art, I'm happy," Coleman said.

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Payson High School art teacher George Conley

Coleman is nearly blind, so his helper puts pinholes on the lines of whatever design he is working on, so he knows where to paint or color.

The assignment is a mixed media autobiographical collage using torn paper, pen and ink, and paint.

"It doesn't have to be a self portrait, just something about them, place they have been, people they know, interests they have, social issues they think are important," Conley said. "You may think of a collage as elementary art but Bearden made a living and was very well known for his collages," Conley said, showing examples.

"Bearden was a black man who grew up in Harlem. His artwork is kind of autobiographical - (one picture showed) the inner city projects, but he opened up a building to show with his art that there is poverty in New York City. He was very well aware of it because he grew up that way."

Conley showed another example of a face made up of 15 torn pieces of paper along with pen and ink drawing.

"We talk about aesthetic theory: is it going to be realistic like a photograph like when somebody draws a picture of you? Am I going to do it just so it is a nice design or formalism? (Bearden) represents emotionalism because it is trying to make a statement about poverty."

The class follows art history timelines, starting out with prehistoric cave paintings, the first art ever made, and finishes up with modern art and surrealism, said Conley.

Teacher and students discuss what was going on during the time, socially and culturally, that made a particular artist want to create the work they did. Because the object of the lesson is not just what was created, but why.

There are 20 to 30 projects in beginning art and most projects are two-dimensional because they can be stored flat, but students get a taste of three-dimensional techniques.

"When I teach the sculpture project, they will be in a Renaissance art unit, talking about Michelangelo and how he created sculpture out of marble."

PHS students will be using plaster of Paris.

In addition to quizzes, papers and a final exam on art history, students are graded on their projects for work ethic, concept, following directions and neatness.

Conley said he knows, "not everyone is a super great artist, but if they work hard and follow directions and they try in class they can get a good grade."

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