Artists and Their Work as Touchstone “Texts”: Unpacking Craft with Write-Around Conversation Strategies

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Our AP Studio Art class and teacher Dorsey Sammataro continue to move forward with their current explorations on what inspires art and action and how art can be a catalyst for service and social change.  After watching a video on the Genesis photography project by artist Sebastiao Salgado and reading this NY Times article about him and his work, Ms. Sammataro designed 5 reflection questions for us to use in our “write-around” questions activity.  As I always do with write-arounds, I first gave students a quick primer on what the written conversation strategy is and the guidelines for participating.   This is the first time I have done this activity with an art class or a class so small (there are about a dozen students enrolled), so I wondered if we would have any difficulties building the conversations and sustaining the energy of them, but the students exceeded my expectations writing and responding to the questions and each other for a whopping 35 minutes!   It seemed their energy and investment in the written conversations picked up the longer they composed and responded.

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The following day, a few of the students were gone with Ms. Sammataro on a field trip to the University of Georgia, but the rest of the class met with me in the library.  I wanted them to have time to process the written conversations, especially since there so many interesting reflections and responses in written format as well as artistic renderings, including sketches and graphic representations.  I encouraged students to walk around for about 10-12 minutes and review the written conversations.  Students then formed small groups of 2-3 and processed their thinking using the See, Think, Wonder strategy.   Students were asked to share their observations:  big ideas, patterns of responses or themes, and big takeaways; they were also asked to think about and share their insights and new perspectives. Finally, they were asked to share their wonderings and questions they had, including two complex (how, why) questions.   They worked for about 12-15 minutes developing their responses on large sheets of paper.

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We then met in a large circle and each group had an opportunity to share out their findings and their peers could then comment and respond to the small group’s thinking.  The substitute teacher who was with us helped video the discussion so that Ms. Sammataro could hear what students had to say, and I shared that video to a shared Google Drive folder with her.

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I think the activity helped students bring together their reactions to the written conversations and make connections to the videos and article they watched/read about the art of Sebastião Salgado. While the activity took two days, it gave students an opportunity to “slow down” their thinking and dwell in it, something that might not have happened to the extent it did if students had answered the reflections in a more traditional setting such as a homework assignment (paper or through a virtual classroom platform) and/or in a traditional group discussion without the written conversation, small group debrief, and big group share pieces.

Next Steps

Students will now be working the next two weeks to create new pieces.  They can look to the work of Sebastião Salgado for inspiration or if there is another “touchstone” artist on their radar, they can pursue the work of that artist.  The wellspring for the subject matter continues to be the issues they are exploring.   We will wait until they have created some new works before we move forward with deeper and more intentional research on our issues and topics, but for the next two weeks, students can work with me individually in a research conference or consultation to find more information as needed to fuel their current works in progress.  While I’m on standby for “research conference/help” on demand as needed, I’m also spending time in the art studio with the class observing their processes and practices.  Today was my first observation, which was a rich experience for me,  and I already have much to reflect upon! I’ll be writing more soon about what I observe and how they approach their craft can inspire how we might re-conceptualize and re-imagine “research”.  I am deeply appreciative of the class being willing to share their work and thinking not only with me, but with all of you, a global audience that I know will find inspiration from their work; if you are on Instagram, you can follow their work here.

4 thoughts on “Artists and Their Work as Touchstone “Texts”: Unpacking Craft with Write-Around Conversation Strategies

  1. Pingback: Artists and Their Work as Touchstone “Texts”: Unpacking Craft with Write-Around Conversation Strategies | DCAD Library's Blog

  2. Love the “write-around” exercise and the link to the slide deck providing more information on how it works and what it inspires learners to produce. Wish I were facilitating a workshop today so I could try it with a group of engaged learners.

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