Who are you?
That’s a question that many adults struggle to answer, but that’s exactly what was asked of students in the first year of IB Visual Arts. Using materials in the classroom, students were asked to represent who they are with collages. The directions from Mr. Fran Poisson were limited: Make a collage that represents you.
Three bins of magazines later, the class had collages pinned to the corkboard in the classroom, and each piece of art was discussed.
Everyone failed the assignment.
That was the expectation and part of the learning process, and how IB classes challenge the way students think. “These collages represent what you like, not who you are,” said Mr. Poisson. He was right. “Why did you choose that image? Why do you like it?” He asked students to search for deeper meaning, not settling for the response of, “I just do, I just like it.”
Try again. Mr. Poisson told the class to do a second collage, this time using no more than three images and a background. He asked, “Can your collage be condensed into one image? How can you change your collage?” The instructions were still limited, but he posed deep thoughts to consider: You as the artist are responsible for everything you post and use, he said. Allow some mystery in your work to invite the viewer in and interpret the work. Make a collage that represents you.
What was produced in the second round was definitely different than the first. Collages with more depth to them were shared and discussed. Mr. Poisson added another dimension to the discussion, asking if the artwork produced truly told the story the artist intended, or did it need the support of the artist explaining it? My minimalist, one-image collage (yes, I did the assignment, too) was an example of this dilemma. On its own, no one understood the symbolism; but once I explained it, it made perfect sense. How can I change my piece to stand alone and be just as powerful without my verbal explanation?
Instead of walking away feeling like I failed, even though I technically did, I walked away inspired. The gears in my head started turning, thinking about ways I could improve my piece to better reflect who I am without verbal explanations. I could see this happening with the students every time they stood to present their work as well. We all wanted to take our art to the next level, challenge ourselves and our creativity.
The takeaway from the class was greater than just how to represent ourselves in collages. Students were asked to think deeply and apply greater meaning to their thought processes. We cannot settle for the simple and easy answers. We must encourage deep and meaningful thought, self exploration and exploration of the world around us in order to find greater meaning.