January 18, 2012  |  Events & Programs
Art Underground: Teens Explore the Artist’s Life

Anna Deavere Smith, Letters to a Young Artist, front cover.

What is an artist’s life like? This year, teens in MoMA’s Art Underground free Friday night program are looking at how artists we love lived, while discovering their own creative existence. Last November, Art Underground took a new approach to this process of discovery, using writing as medium to explore sense memory. Inspired by Anna Deavere Smith’s book Letters to A Young Artist, writer Crissa-Jean Chappell (author of Total Constant Order and Narc) and our team at MoMA developed a writing workshop for teens to find their inner artist by using their own lives and experience as a starting point for creative expression.

Crissa led the teens in a group reading and discussion of selected letters from Smith’s book. Crissa chose themed letters on procrastination and sense memory, and one titled “The Death of Cool.” Each of these letters offered advice on how to discover a path to becoming an artist, from finding motivation to becoming comfortable in one’s own creative shoes. Crissa also shared her own experiences as teenager, from recognizing her own quirks to learning how to embrace them as a writer. After a brief discussion, Crissa led the teens in timed writing exercises to recall early childhood memories. Using this and Smith’s book as source material, teens created new worlds from their memories in narrative poems, being careful to follow Crissa’s sage advice: “Never let the reader feel like they are reading something.”

After the last Miles Davis tune faded, each teen shared their work with the group and went home with a copy of Smith’s book, their own writing notebook, and a personal understanding of how artists draw from their own experiences for inspiration. Check out a poem from the workshop, called “Little Altered Boy.”

The Artist’s Life is the central theme for this year’s Art Underground program—from newly developed writing workshops like this to film screenings, the education and film team at MoMA has reshaped the program to provide teens with a broader experience of what art making can be, while exposing them to the range of resources MoMA has to offer. Look out for upcoming programs like an artists’ book–making workshop and screenings of films like Vik Muniz’s Waste Land and The Gates, a documentary about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s magnificent installation in Central Park in 2005. And last, but certainly not least—and absolutely new this year—Art Underground will be shining a light on short films created by New York City teenagers at our Youth Media Night on March 16. Come see their films and hear the filmmakers talk about their work!

And be sure to check out our full list of programs.