The learning process looks a little different in Menaul School’s Upper School Art classroom, but not because of the reasons you might think. Students are using personal artist journals to think and behave like professional artists. 

Students research, investigate, explore, and practice in the pages of mixed-media journals that themselves become unique and vibrant works of art. Students draw or cut-and-paste “thumbnail” images, paint unique color explorations, and write notes that show their questions, reflections, and analysis as they negotiate the art making process. 

In the past, students in Ms. Crockett’s class, were required to complete the same assignment. “All of their assignments looked the same!” By making the process the important learning experience, students take ownership. Rather than comparing their work to others, they dive deep into an area of interest. “It’s like athletics—it’s about the practice you put into it.” 

Senior Madison works on her art piece with several different mediums.

Students experiment with new techniques, which often allows them to go out of the normal boundaries of art, according to Crockett. 

Students first build their skills in the Foundations course. Ms. Crockett pointed out an arranged still life, a combination of gourds and vessels. In the new “TAB” curriculum, once students have their Foundations, “they go deep into bigger subjects, such as empathy, and issues or experiences important in their personal lives”. Their participation is active throughout the entire process, with teacher acting as guide and coach. “They can get onto the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] website and see Byzantine ceramics” or whatever draws their interest, to use as references, rather than being given assignment requirements by a teacher. 

“They go deep into bigger subjects, such as empathy, and issues or experiences important in their personal lives.”

Senior student Kai explains that he’s “not that into landscapes”. He is more interested in learning abstract techniques. In a recent piece, “I experimented with the interaction between different colors”. He showed several journal pages where he researched influences such as the artist Basquiat and explored color composition using amoebic shapes, taking up a page in his journal. “I’m happy how the finished product turned out”. Kai created a large drip painting which then, by happy accident, transferred onto a newspaper page placed under the painting.“It happened to be the art page!” says Kai. 

Here is a page from Kai’s mixed media journal which shows his drip art and the newspaper it transferred to.

Both Kai and Ms. Crockett remarked on how it was unexpected, but they felt that the transfer was just as exciting as the painting itself.  Kai experimented with finding just the right consistency for the paint to drip for effect he wanted, using three colors that he liked from his color experiments. “I liked the amoeba-thing.” This humble response is illustrative of how real artists work and think. The pressure of trying to create a masterpiece becomes a student-driven process, one in which the student has the tools needed to create original works. 

Ms. Crockett explains that she made the decision to change the curriculum when the classes went online in the spring. She wanted to find a way for students to make art using the materials that they had at home. She also wanted more buy in, so “it’s on the students to figure out ‘what am I gonna do!’”. The process is now 75% of the student’s grade. They do critique each student’s portfolio, set up in the adjacent professional gallery space, but in Ms. Crockett’s point of view, it’s not the goal for high school students to be creating the next masterpiece. It is about them developing different thinking habits and taking ownership of their own development. 

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