African Landscapes

October 14, 2012

Are you an artist?

You probably don’t think so. If you do, it’s probably because you’ve had formal training and people like to look at the things you create. But back to the people who would not consider themselves artists. I’m guessing you still colored, finger-painted, playdoughed your way into preschool. Once you got there, chances are, if you’ve had all of your education in US public school which contrary to popular belief can be pretty awesome, you had weekly art class. Maybe in high school you stopped but there was always a project to do—drawing a house for Spanish class so you could label all of the rooms and items, arranging photographs on a display board, or visiting an art museum for a class trip.

Ok, so even with all that, you’re not really an artist (sorry about that). But still, all of it adds up to some basic artistic knowledge. And this puts you leaps and bounds ahead of many people around the world, including here in Swaziland, where you would be a kinda-sorta-artist by comparison.

Because there is almost nothing here in the way of arts education. There are a few basic things built into the syllabus but if the teacher doesn’t have the supplies or knowledge of how to do it, it just doesn’t get done.

However, one project that must be done by each seventh grader is a big, year-end practical arts project. 7th grade is the last year of primary school so there are a lot of big, culminating projects for them to do (except I really don’t know what was leading up to this specific request). The students have a choice of what project they want to do and half of the class decided they wanted to paint. I offered to help because I have watercolors and because I think art is important.

But then I was at a loss as to where to start. Like any elementary school, the kids here doodle. I remember the 3-D rectangle being all the rage in my 6th grade class and here it’s a funny looking flower and a boxy shaped car that the kids draw in the margin of their notebooks. But that was pretty much all the 7th graders had to go off of; there was no lesson on perspective, these kids hadn’t sketched before, didn’t even know how to use a brush.

My friend, Megan, told me to start with mixing colors. So, we made a color wheel. I know in about grade 3 or 4, they have a lesson on primary and secondary colors, but only learn the theory. It was really fun watching the students’ amazement at being able to make so many colors from just a few. Except for purple that is. It was the last color and turned out kind of brown and they suddenly seemed skeptical of my color making abilities again.

Over the next few weeks we covered a few random topics that I thought would help get things going. Some of it the students enjoyed and some of it I enjoyed alone. In the end though, all the students got to the point of painting their landscape. I hovered a lot, trying to give tips (hey, I took a studio art class in college) but my pointers were largely ignored. I chalk this up to my students’ confidence in their own unique art styles rather than in my poor teaching abilities.

Here’s some photographs of the students and their work. They are very proud of what they have accomplished and I’m happy to share their work.

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Rebecca is reading: The Housekeeper and the Professor
(Also, she just finished reading the entire Bible)


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