Throughout my career, I have worked to make a name for myself as a thought leader in the independent school world, specializing in strategic marketing and communications for schools. Having held positions in both admission and marketing, I used my passion for education to help make a private school accessible for students. Let’s face it, you can’t attend a school you don’t even know about!
But something many people don’t know about me is that I have also taught creative classes to students. Throughout my career, I have worked with talented middle and high school students on a variety of creative projects. I helped a group of high school students completely revamp their newspaper and create an awesome publication. I worked with middle school students teaching public speaking, digital photography, and yearbook – all elective courses. And, I worked with domestic and international students on marketing projects ranging from design and illustration to blogging and video production. I have to admit, I absolutely LOVED working with the students in the classroom, especially leading them in creative and artistic activities.
For most of my life, I was envious of people who were natural artists, able to realistically replicate the world around them on paper and canvas. I grew up at a time when computers weren’t in every home and didn’t contribute to the creative world like they do today. But, I attended a high school and college that fostered a love of not just art, but creativity. I never mastered drawing, but what I took away from those experiences was the knowledge that I could be an artist, and that art and creativity weren’t mutually exclusive. As a result, I found a creative passion that I never knew I had within me.
Fast forward a little more than a decade. I was a teacher and administrator at a junior school in Massachusetts. The summer before my fourth year at the school, I took a trip out to Mass MOCA to view an exhibit of the work of Sol Lewitt, an artist I studied in college who helped me even further widen my once narrow vision of what constituted art and creativity. I walked away feeling energized and excited about bringing some new inspiration to my classes.
One of the many hats I wore at that school was Yearbook Advisor, an elective course for seventh and eighth graders. I had this wonderful idea of infusing our yearbook with influences from Lewitt, but my enthusiasm wasn’t translating to my students. I showed them slides of his work and talked about his work with publications. They weren’t nearly as excited as I was, but the reason why wasn’t what I expected. It turns out, I was thinking too small. The yearbook wasn’t enough.
Why would we want to just do something in a yearbook that was created by a small group of students and would get looked at for a few months and then put on a shelf? We wanted to do something bigger, better, more permanent, and involve the entire school!
Enter inspiration from Sol LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing #797” – an intricate piece of art created by multiple artists working together with precision, patience, and persistence. This isn’t an easy piece to create. Check out this time lapse video from Blanton Museum of Art, as they create Sol LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing #797.”
But a little challenge never bothered me. So, I charged my students with re-recreating this, involving the entire school. First, we created a “smart” wall drawing using the smart board in the computer lab, teaching them about the process that would go into this type of installation.
A School-Wide Project
The process was the most exciting part. As the preliminary drawings within the class itself began to unfold, the students started to realize the importance of consistency and staying close to the previous line, and they knew the type of line that was drawn with greatly impacted the type of final product we would get. They had a plan to create a school-wide project and it was time to get started.
We found a long wall that we could work on, behind the auditorium. We did the math and learned that if every student and faculty member in the school added one line, one drawing wouldn’t fit. Accounting for the fact that we likely wouldn’t be nearly as precise as the artists in the video above, we made the decision to split the wall and create two individual wall drawings. Fortunately, the space we chose was perfect for this.
The class decided to not use the same primary colors as the original wall drawing, and instead opted for one drawing to be in warm colors (red, orange, and yellow) and the other to be in cool colors (blue, green, and purple).
We started with eighth graders, who stood on benches to draw their lines at the top of the wall, and worked our way down the grades, all the way to the PK-3 lower school. Every student was invited to participate and had the opportunity to draw a line. The art teachers were supportive of the effort, and most opted to take one period from each class to come over and add their lines to the wall. Some students were so excited that they wanted to autograph their lines or draw lines on both walls. It took several weeks and a lot of collaboration, patience, persistence, and even begging to complete our two wall drawings, but we did it.
The best part of this project was what my students took away from the effort. They learned that the length of the wall made drawing the lines a bigger challenge than they expected. In fact, drawing a line was harder than they expected. They also realized that it was nearly impossible to “fix” a rogue line. When a student didn’t stay close enough to the line and large white spaces appeared, some students tried to fill in the space with extra lines, but then they realized that the new filler line wouldn’t match the subsequent line and would also mean that the color sequence would be off.
As the wall was coming together, the students started coming up with ideas on how they could improve it if they were to do it again. They talked about using paper to block off space below the lines, forcing people to stay closer to the original. There was an idea to time the artists so they didn’t rush their lines, forcing them to move slowly to avoid making lines too flat or adding swoops in where they didn’t belong. While initially autographs weren’t part of the product’s scope, the students started to embrace the idea of signing their work. But, they realized there needed to be some rules. So, they suggested having a designated place for signatures, keeping them neat and tidy and not randomly spread around, disrupting the flow of the drawing. This was all exactly what I wanted to hear. The students were learning, improving, and preparing for future initiatives. As a teacher, I couldn’t have been more proud of my group.
Was the finished product perfect? Absolutely not. But was it awesome? Absolutely yes. This wasn’t about creating the idyllic Sol LeWitt replica; this project was about bringing together our community to create something special together. Each perfect and imperfect line is representative of the students and faculty member who drew them, and how each of us plays a role in creating a community.