Self-portraits in art classes are very common, but students in grades 2 through 5 in the Lower Division art have recently completed a fun and “laughable” twist on this age-old assignment. As their first studies of the year, they looked at the Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minjun, who is famous for his maniacally laughing self-portraits in various settings. In discussing Mr. Yue’s work, students found the self-portraits variously funny, strange, grotesque, sad or disturbing. They also learned the word for “self-portrait” in either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, and discussed concepts of observation, facial symmetry and proportion all in their respective target languages.
Each student then embarked on making his or her own self-portrait, while first being asked not to draw their mouths and hair. In the following week, students attempted to draw a mouth that was out of proportion with the rest of their heads. They also used paint and colored pencils to add color to all of their facial features. Finally, students collaged their face and hair onto their heads and cut them out. Many of the results are now hanging in the art suite on the fourth floor in our school building at 259 Tenth Ave., both on doors and on a large background mural that some of the older students are working to complete.
While this project required some step-by-step instruction, it also asked students to use their observational skills and look beyond what is considered “normal” to their conventional notions of a self-portrait. Many students found drawing a large mouth very difficult while others were delighted to do it. The feeling of drawing a face that wasn’t quite “right” was the key lesson here, and that artists have the creative freedom to challenge a conventional artistic genre. What’s more, the lesson brought the classes together in that every student completed a head that could both look like them, and make others laugh.