MoMA
July 21, 2010  |  Events & Programs
Brushes, Canvases, and Paint Optional

What’s so unconventional about painting?  According to the teens in MoMA’s Unconventional Painting class, a lot.

Who needs a brush? Students create paintings with spray bottles and feather dusters.

These sixteen young artists entered into their summer of art making with some strong ideas about what painting is—and some strong ideas about what painting isn’t. As one student said in her application, “I never thought that you could make a painting without a brush.” And she certainly isn’t alone. Many of us immediately associate painting with the lessons we learned in high school art classes. But MoMA’s In the Making classes are all about testing preconceived ideas. And so, two weeks into the free six-week class, those steadfast ideas that students arrived with are already beginning to stretch and swell.

Pollock-inspired paintings, made without brushes.

Do you have to use a brush to make a painting?
Maybe not. Or maybe everything is a brush. As students quickly learned, anything and everything can be used to make an image. In the studio teens spent a day applying makeup…to paper. Lipstick, nail polish, blush, and other kinds of makeup morphed into paint as students explored just what these materials were capable of. From eyeshadow to water guns, the next day students leapt into action painting, using “brushes” from the 99-cent store. Sponges, bubble wands, feather dusters, and spray bottles became vehicles to get liquid watercolor onto paper. With each splatter and streak of paint, the class looked to see if the energy an artist uses when he or she makes a mark is visible in the mark itself: Does a blot made from a sponge you throw look different than one made from a sponge you drop gently?

But shouldn’t it at least use paint?
Apparently not. Students explored different kinds of lines using colored masking tape. Suddenly, the walls (and floor and ceiling) of the classroom were transformed into a canvas. Students navigated the corners and textures of surfaces while considering how a landscape can actually alter a space, not just represent it, as you see in the video below.

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Now wait—do you even really need a canvas?
Again, of course not! Just ask pioneer cake decorator Colette Peters. Last week students visited Colette’s Cakes in the West Village to learn about her innovative ways to “paint” on cakes. After a brief discussion about the creative tricks of the trade and how one goes from getting an MFA in painting to becoming a celebrity cake decorator, each student received a cake canvas. Eighteen-year-old Josh Rosario got to work immediately, changing an image he had developed in a more traditional medium into an edible painting.

Cake painting by Joshua Rosario (left). Unconventional Painting class with their edible masterpieces (right).

Not bad for their first two weeks at MoMA. Turns out, painting can be pretty unconventional when left in the hands of a group of bright, young, New York City artists. From conversations about Lee Bontecou and Jackson Pollock to studio challenges and explorations across the city, the teens in In the Making are engaging in some sophisticated investigations into what it really means to paint unconventionally.

Same goes for the teens taking part in our three other In the Making classes this summer: Social & Political Video, Building Art, and Globalization & Art. On field trips, in class discussions, and definitely in their artwork, the seventy teens in MoMA’s four summer classes are learning to redefine what it means to make a work of art—and they’re doing it on their own, often unconventional, terms. They are making art that challenges, critiques, and resists the boundaries of conventional thinking. Contemporary art isn’t confined to MoMA’s galleries—come peek in the windows of our classrooms to see for yourself!

Four weeks remain until the final exhibition of student work from this summer’s In the Making program. Brushes, canvases, and paint just might not be necessary.