I think it’s probably an art teacher’s worst nightmare to accidentally giggle at a child’s piece of art. Art is an expression of the soul and for many kids, working up the courage to a.) create something and b.) put it out there is very nerve-racking indeed. The What will my classmates think? is a thought constantly swimming laps around the minds of my middle schoolers. So while we have had our share of laughs in the art room, the source of this chuckling rarely stems from the artwork itself.
That’s why this project was so much fun! 7th graders were serenaded with Weird Al music as they walked through the art room doors, accompanied by a “Weird Al” quote-of-the-day to copy down into their sketchbooks.
“I don’t make parodies of musicians to make them look bad…it’s meant to be a tribute.”
We discussed the true meaning of the word “parody” and opened up this lesson by dissecting Grant Wood’s American Gothic. The entire class was familiar with this iconic painting and many were already familiar with the various parodies and renditions associated with it. Students learned some interesting facts, such as the identity of the farmers and the ranch they posed in front of in Iowa. I enjoyed showing TONS and TONS of American Gothic parodies to the class and the room was full of laughter.
After getting our fill of American Gothic, we looked at some other paintings that have been parodied throughout the years. I gave each student a canvas and selection of paintings to choose from for this project: The Mona Lisa, The Persistence of Memory, The Scream, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, and, of course, American Gothic. Students used reference photos of their famous paintings to brainstorm and sketch their parody ideas onto canvas. I found these ‘coloring pages’ on the internet and they were very helpful for the students as they imitated stylistic lines in their sketches.
Students then used watercolor paints as they embarked on the underpainting process. Underpaintings are just a way for 7th graders to get color down on the canvas and map out areas. I often compare the underpainting process to laying out rugs in a new house- it’s a way of identifying space and anchoring an area.
A day or two before they were due, we held a classroom critique. Most middle schoolers are quite quite familiar with these. We displayed the works in progress on our critique apparatus and 7th graders analyzed the work of their peers, giving positive and helpful feedback. They were required to use their art vocabulary words (composition, foreground, background, parody, ect) in their write-ups. The artwork was numbered and anonymous, so students referred to artworks by number rather than student name.
Students received their anonymous feedback the next day and spent the rest of their time touching up their artwork.
So here are the finished pieces…..Without further ado, let the battles BEGIN!
Moving from left to right, I’d like to introduce the “Man-a-Lisa”, the “Dude-a-lisa”, the “Coke-a-Lisa”, and the “Kobe-Lisa”. These lovely ladies (and man-ladies) enjoy a light breeze coming in through the open window…unlike the original Mona Lisa (which is protected in a 7 million dollar climate controlled environment encased in a bullet proof glass room in Paris.) Oh, the life of a parody…no imminant death threats or kidnappings in their near future, to my knowledge.
Sorry, melting clocks, you’ve been replaced! Instead, you will find the Persistence of Cheese and two versions of the Persistence of Technology. One of the technology parodies features apps while the other showcases a melting laptop, stopwatch, and headphones. The big question is: would you rather stumble upon melting cheese or melted electronics? For me, it would depend heavily on the situation and whether nachos were readily available.
Screaming from left to right, you may recognize Patrick (ally of Spongebob), Mr. Clean, and Miley Cyrus. These pop culture references make for very entertaining parodies, if you ask me. While we refer to this painting as “The Scream,” artist Edward Much originally titled it Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature.) In order to adequately judge these fantastic parodies, one could perhaps associate nature with each of the scenarios. With the cleaning products and auto-tuned hits, Mr. Clean and Miley Cyrus are the most ‘unnatural’ of the 3 contenders. Patrick rises in the rankings, due to his starfish status, but his synthetic swim trunks set him back a little bit…
Sit back and enjoy while these iconic couples make their debut. You may recognize Mr. and Mrs. Cyclops, the beloved Bert and Ernie, Bat Man and Cat Woman, employees at Taco Bell, some folks wearing masks, and (apparently) a ‘Vine’ celebrity named Nash Greer (?). The interesting thing is that the people who posed for the original American Gothic really weren’t a couple. The woman in the portrait was artist Grant Wood’s sister, Nan. The man was Grant’s dentist. Apparently Grant was familiar with him due to his sweet tooth, leading to constant appointments. One could argue that dentists are true american heros, making Batman the most fitting parody…but it’s anyone’s game.
The good news: if you’re a Georgia Bulldog fan, there’s a Girl with a Pearl Earring just for you. Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl with The Pearl Earring is often referred to as The “Mona Lisa of the North” because it is so mysterious. The pearl is the focal point of this portrait, so we must ask….Who wears the pearl best?
These were on display in my classroom during Grandparent’s Day and I was happy to see that 7th graders stopped by the art room to show off their work. What better way to celebrate famous artworks than to imitate them in a quirky/original /humorous fashion?! I think this project was a great step forward in the never-ending adolescent process of ‘letting go’ or self consciousness and perfectionism. I’ve never taught anything remotely like this before, so it was refreshing for me to teach and witness!
Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did!