The study and appreciation of great and enduring works of literature, art, mathematics and science that have defined world history is the very pedagogical theme around which our entire learning curriculum is built at Ross/Woodward Classical Studies Magnet School. Among the first things that any visitor to our building will be greeted by are several large mural-portraits of distinguished artists in their own fields-- Martha Graham, Langston Hughes and Frida Kahlo--reflecting a wide diversity of talent in the twentieth-century Americas. At each grade-level students at Ross/Woodward are encouraged to explore in Paideia seminar style progressively more complex notions of what constitutes a great work of art and how such works impact human society, beginning with the ancient, "classical" civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, but coming to focus on our contemporary, twenty-first-century society in the United States. In this way we call attention to the inherently dual nature of the society in which we live--reflecting, on the one hand, on our separate, traditional pasts, and, on the other, our common American world of today, in which we are all related to each other.
Returning to the large murals that grace the entrance to out school, I have noticed that my class of first-graders has taken particular interest in the portrait of Martha Graham, which happens to be a distinctive example of the very striking work of Andy Warhol entitled "The Kick." Young people are especially fascinated by the various kinds of representations of modern life that we find in Pop Art imagery. Pop artists' delightful use of color and, often, brief texts, and their genius for turning the most common images into art captivate the attention in the same way that advertising and tele-media imagery do. Warhol, in particular, challenged not only the idea of what art may be but also the way people are supposed to respond to it. The "special role of the observer," as Warhol saw it, was to respond to his work in whatever way they wanted. He was quite reluctant to say anything about his art, leaving the entire understanding of its "meaning" to the viewer. I feel that my young learners would be able to really appreciate much of his work because it depicts subjects with which they are familiar, the photographic medium that he employs being the kind we all know from ubiquitous advertisements and entertainment media.
My real interest in this unit is to help my students to realize that they are, in fact, the young people that they really are--that is, the way they know themselves to be in their own homes with their families, and in their own bedrooms and playgrounds and school-rooms with their friends and their teachers who love and care for them. As a way to introduce this idea, I thought that Andy Warhol's novel suggestion that "everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes" might be given an actual try. That is, students could be shown how to transform enlarged photographs of themselves into beautifully colorful self-portraits that "glorify the commonplace" by turning plain reality into an exciting art-form in the manner of Warhol's eminently imitable style. As an important part of the "fifteen-minutes of fame" presentation, students could be asked to write and read aloud what they would like for the world to understand about their portrait, what it would like to say if it could speak. Other, especially liberating projects will involve encouraging the students to select someone or something of interest and significance in their lives, such as a friend or family member, or a pet or their bicycle, or perhaps a favorite room at home or school, and recreate the image in the same Pop-Art style. The real function of art--is it not?--is to ennoble our own, actual lives. Through art we can discover ourselves in creation--an activity that my young learners are just beginning, and, hopefully, will not too soon be ending
In this unit I plan to help my students develop an understanding of art as a highly adaptable vehicle for self-expression through the exploration of and experimentation with the many styles and the more elementary techniques employed by the well-known Pop artist, Andy Warhol.