Teaching artist Kiran Chandra has been taking the teens in her Text & Image workshops on a trip through the strange and sometimes confusing arena in which the written word and the visual arts collide. Whether viewing the work of Raymond Pettibon, Christopher Wool, and Paul Chan, or traveling down to Chelsea to meet with the staff of Printed Matter, Inc., these activities have definitely expanded the participants’ ideas of what it means to “write” an artwork or “read” a painting. Here, she discusses one of the group’s earliest art-making experiments.
—Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator, Teen and Community Programs
One of our most successful in-class exercises was writing a personal artistic letter. This letter could be to someone or something the students wanted to see changed in their world, or it could be a letter to themselves at age ten. The materials were limited to brush and ink, which was new to many of the students in class, and the size of the paper that they had to fill was a whopping 18 x 24 inches. We wanted them to really show people what they were feeling—no hiding behind some small little artwork. Students negotiated this scale issue in their own individual ways. Some wrote in large and painterly letters, others in their regular handwriting while filling the page, yet others in cursive or large, block letters.
I gave them twenty minutes for this project, and when time was up, we hung the images as a group and viewed them together for the first time. We discussed how the final products worked as both posters and images, as well as expressions of the teens’ private messages and ideas. Some students said that they enjoyed working with the fluidity of ink, and others liked it for its bold and dramatic qualities. Reading each other’s letters was also a window into getting to know each other a little better. As the students come from a wide range of high schools and backgrounds, we’re constantly looking for new ways to get them to interact and open up to one another. A few students wrote in Spanish, and we discussed the idea that, even if you were someone who couldn’t read the language, the words might still be seen as visual images in themselves. One student wrote about his fear of the dark, while another wrote to world peace, and yet another bemoaned the state of politics today in light of the recent U.S. midterm elections. These letters became surfaces where the personal and the private met. Where language and image met. They also became a filter for the class to see themselves, and each other, a little better.
This exercise allowed for the understanding, via art making, of what the ideas of this class would be. Language and imagery intersected and the understanding of how text works as image was gleaned. Everyone was thrilled with their “letter drawings,” and the class with a funny name started to make a little bit more sense!
Applications for Spring 2011 Museum Studies, Art and Science of Conservation, and In the Making Classes are available now at MoMA.org/momateens. Classes are offered free of charge and are open to all NYC high school students.