Interdisciplinary Music and Visual Art Project, Part 1 – September/October 2010
Jennifer Stuart (visual art teacher) & Garth Applegate (music teacher)
San Francisco Friends School, San Francisco, CA
Jennifer Stuart and Garth Applegate have been working together at the San Francisco Friends School for two years. After seeing the Five Themes exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2009, Jennifer developed a visual art project asked students to create short films using Kentridge’s technique of drawing and erasing. The following narrative is the first in a series of posts that will document Jennifer and Garth’s experiences as they implement a new multi-media project inspired by William Kentridge and the William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible film.
The inspiration: William Kentridge is known for his interdisciplinary work, creating dialogue between visual art, theater, and music. His use of drawing and animation allows him to bring a performance to life in a visually compelling and humanistic way.
How the project came about: At our school, the music and visual art rooms are situated right next to each other. After a year of being exposed to each other’s teaching and working together “on the fly,” we decided it was time to create a thoughtful and deeply integrated arts experience for the students. Kentridge seemed the obvious answer for our collaboration. The way he works with both visual art and music allowed us to think about how our disciplines inform and support each other. After watching William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, we decided to have students create their own live performance incorporating music and performance. Our subject was the artistic process.
- What is the “artistic process”?
- How can music and visual art inform one another?
- How do artists and musicians collaborate to make an interdisciplinary work of art?
Description of the project: Starting with found objects such as pencils, bottles, toys, and a mallet selected from our music and art classrooms, students will play and experiment with combining these objects to create figures that represent the creative nature of working as an artist and a musician. Students will create a series of drawings and photographs in order to animate their figure in a way that expresses their interpretation of the artistic process.
Students will work with both music and visual art in order to produce a final piece that is the result of the dialogue between disciplines. The live performance, which will be shared with the school community at the annual Winter Festival in December, will be an original composition in music and a projection inspired by Kentridge’s work in theater, opera, and the work Black Box/Chambre Noire (2005).
IN THE CLASSROOM
In Week One, we began to discuss the work of William Kentridge with our students. Garth and I told the students about our plans and the three framing questions that are driving the project. In order to introduce Kentridge’s work to the students, we showed several sections of William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible — including Chapter 2: Drawing & Animation, Chapter 4: Music & Opera, Chapter 5: Illusion, and Chapter 6: Studio Process — looking closely at how and why he makes his work. Students wrote notes on post-its as they began to answer questions about the film segments we presented. Here are some of the responses:
How does Kentridge make art?
- “By layering and reversing and fast-forwarding drawings he has filmed.”
- “Getting ideas (being inspired by) sounds, events, and music.”
- “He collaborates to make visuals, designs, and compositions.”
- “He uses different materials to make funny, dreamy art pieces that include drawings, collages, projects and real people.”
How do music and art inform each other in his work?
- “The music and the art tell the same message.”
- “Music and art can work together to convey an emotion. They make each other more pronounced.”
- “The feeling [Kentridge] gets when he listens to music is included in his art and gives him a sense of what to draw.”
Why does Kentridge make art? What is he interested in investigating?
- “To mix music, art, and drama.”
- “He is influenced by his background and his family history.”
- “He is interested in making something different than art that just hangs in a gallery.
- “He is interested in investigating difference and impossibility.”
Many of the students thought that Kentridge’s technical skills were outstanding and were amazed by his work, particularly The Nose (2010). The class was extremely excited to do a piece that involved both visual art and music. They were curious about many aspects of the project. How will two sections of 6th grade make one work of art? How will students get a chance to work on both the music and the visuals? What if they want to focus on the technical side of the process? How will we as teachers coordinate all of the work?
Since this was the first time Garth and I have done anything like this, many of the details will be figured out as we go. We asked them to trust us.
The second week began with students gathered in Garth’s music studio so that they could reconnect with the spirit that Kentridge’s work had inspired the week before. Students were reminded of the fluidity of the project—that they would be working in both music and visual art and would participate in all aspects of creating the final work. Many of the students brought their instruments and showed great enthusiasm for this aspect of the process.
Music: In the music room, Garth spoke with the students about composition. They discussed different ways a musician might compose a piece: playing with harmony or melody, thinking about a story, or just improvising. With the first section of 6th graders, he worked from a plan. He gave them “parts” (starter notes) that they played with and expanded into their own works. The students ended class with two short, rough compositions that Garth referred to as “cells.” In the second class, he introduced the project in the same way but then allowed students to work on their own, without any “parts.” They created melodies that Garth helped translate into different keys. The results were compiled into a single “cell.” Garth recorded everything on his computer rather than writing the music down.
Visual Art: While working in the art room, students were also told about composition—bringing together elements to form a larger whole. They were asked to search the art room and music room for objects to be combined into “figures.” They were encouraged to play with the objects, combining them and recombining them to move beyond their initial ideas. Finally, when they reached a combination that seemed interesting to them, they drew the figure using pencil on paper. After seeing the drawings, Jennifer realized that the use of pencil was not the best choice. While the combinations of objects were fascinating and lively, the drawings were stagnant. She plans to have students revisit their object combines with Conte crayon, ebony pencil, charcoal, and erasers. In her demonstration of these materials, Jennifer will show examples of drawings by Kentridge to explain different techniques and the emotional quality of line.
Our next step is to play the music created by the whole class. These seeds of this initial musical composition will inspire students to create figures that are actually characters connected to the story the music has begun to tell. Those drawings will in turn be used to flesh out the story that the music will tell. However, working with two classes of 6th graders that meet twice a week has posed a bit of a challenge. We’ll be sharing music and visuals from both classes with each other so that the final piece does not seem like two separate creations, but rather a unified work.