Inspiration can be found almost anywhere. Over the summer a group of coworkers and their sons invited me to join them to hike a small portion of the Appalachian Trail. The trail runs from Georgia to Maine and takes roughly 6 months to thru hike. Summers aren't that long, of course, so we planned a 4 day hike. You can read more about it here. While hiking only a few things occupy your thoughts: moving forward, hurting feet, water, and miles to camp. You notice incredibly beautiful things around you and carefully avoid the scary things, like snakes. Sometimes other things hit you. An intensely strong desire for a cold glass of lemonade, or a cool new idea for an art project. I was struck by both!
Dave and Erin Good are a married couple that teach at my school. They're always up for an adventure and they have a great sense of humor (my favorite type of folks), so I knew they'd be perfect for an American Gothic Parody! A parody is a silly version of a serious work of art. For example, Weird Al sings parodies of popular songs. Anywho, American Gothic is probably the most recognizable work by Iowan artist Grant Wood. It's so famous that it's often parodied in advertisements. While visiting Knoebels Amusement Resort with my family over the summer I saw that their baked potato stand sign was a parody of American Gothic. Farmers Only used a cartoon parody in their first wave of tv commercials. A former student gifted a pin to me from the state farm show a few years ago that had a chicken and rooster in the iconic pose. If you know the famous original, you'll notice parodies of it all over the place! I've seen 4 parodies of it on social media this week alone! Knowing bits of cultural art history is like being in a cool club! You understand humor that others don't appreciate!
Back to the trail...When we stopped for a water break I asked Dave and Erin if they'd be willing to pose for me and they very happily agreed! I told you they were fun, but this really upped their cool factor! I carry my sketchbook everywhere, so when we were sitting in camp later that evening I did a quick caricature of them posing as American Gothic. I didn't want to lose the idea. In the sketch I added details from our hiking experience. In place of the white house from the original painting I drew the large tarp that we tented under during a rainstorm. Instead of holding a pitchfork, Dave proudly holds a roasted hot dog on a stick, our first hiking feast! All of the parts make sense together and are easily recognized as a parody of the original. So how does this work in the classroom? To prep for this project I hung several parodies of Mona Lisa around the school. Students had been noticing and commenting on them for weeks. What are they for? They saw a Star Wars Mona Lisa by the library doors and a Lego Mona Lisa by the stairs. They know the original version plays an important role in the art room, so what's with the silly stuff?
When they came to class I projected this image at the front of the room. I wanted students to read the picture, to think about what they were seeing, to look closely for clues that would help them answer the questions. I wanted them to own the information instead of me just jibber-jabbing facts at them. Many noted their attire. People don't really dress like that these days. They were standing pretty close to each other so they couldn't be strangers, that'd be uncomfortable. Some thought they were married, but others thought the farmer looked too old for the lady standing next to him. Maybe it was his daughter? They must be farmers because there's a barn and he's holding a pitchfork. Maybe they're in England? No, this could be Pennsylvania because it looks kind of like where we live. They shared a lot of good ideas, and then we discussed the answers, justifying them with the clues. Students were excited when they were on track with their thoughts, and I was too! This was all pretty serious business, so we added a dash of whimsy fun viewing several parodies of American Gothic. Now the silly Mona Lisa pictures were making sense! They're parodies! I shared my Appalachian Gothic with them and explained the parts of the drawing. So why were we looking at parodies of famous art? Because we were making our own! Oh, the possibilities! What could we draw inspiration from?! From things we know...
Students needed to brainstorm 2 characters that made sense together. Darth Vader and Princess Leia make sense together, they're from the same movie franchise (Star Wars, a family favorite). But Scooby Doo and Mickey Mouse wouldn't work at all because they're from totally different cartoons. You get the idea. How could there be a Scooby without a Shaggy?! One of the characters needed to be holding something to represent the pitchfork. In my example Dave is proudly holding a stick with a perfectly roasted hot dog. Then students needed to have an idea to replace the white farmhouse from the original work. I drew a tarp behind the Goods. Darth Vader and Princess Leia might have the Death Star behind them. That would make perfect sense, since that's where Darth Vader hangs out! They needed to draw LIGHTLY, breaking things down into basic shapes that they could add details to. We were careful about the size of our characters. How close were they standing to the viewer (that's us, the folks looking at the picture)? The kids loved this project!
Some students chose characters from movies and cartoons they love, others chose characters from favorite video games or books, and others chose real people that they know, like their friends and family. Everyone was thoughtful in their choices. I like giving students the opportunity to choose whenever possible so I showed them several ways to add color to their work, including colored pencils, crayons, markers, markers blended with water painted over them, watercolor paints with salt sprinkles, and various combinations of those. It makes it more personal when they choose. Maybe it's something they've never tried before, or it's their favorite art supply to use, but it's theirs. Can I do this all the time? No. There are techniques and materials they need a formal introduction for, but can we experiment from time to time? Absolutely!
These parodies are personal. Students chose subjects for their work based on what they like and then chose supplies they enjoyed to fill them in. They did a fabulous job! Be watching the hallways for these beauties in the near future!
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