Images of distorted, gargantuan hands are scattered across Andy Cunningham’s wall.
No, Cunningham is not a doctor inspecting a severe case of elephantiasis. He’s the replacement teacher for Studio Art I, II and III and AP Studio Art, and those misshapen appendages are the results of a recent Art Studio assignment.
Students were asked to draw their own hands without looking at their paper, a task that’s easier said than done.
But interspersed among the hands on the wall are a couple of unexpected pictures: a butcher storefront, a man with a colorful mohawk and a pair of scissors.
This hodgepodge of artwork is a classic example of the environment in Cunningham’s classes. His students start off on the same page, but by the end of the first semester, they become “individualized” and start to work on independent projects.
“One person might be doing a drawing of scissors and a bowl, and another person might be out in outer space,” Cunningham said. “Students don’t necessarily need to be on the same track.”
Cunningham, who has taught drawing electives for 13 years, said that he will teach his Studio Art classes standard lessons on painting, drawing, printmaking, color theory and maybe even sculpting, in addition to other art techniques and methods, while being sensitive to the fact that student artists have their own preferences.
“There are some things, like direct observation, that are good to know but aren’t for everybody,” he said.
“Sitting there with a light on an object for two weeks will drive some people insane. Sometimes you have to push through that, and you might find something on the other side, but it’s not for everybody.”
Cunningham said that he does not want to drag students away from projects that they are passionate about because it goes against his belief that students don’t learn if they don’t spend an appropriate amount of time devoted to “throwing themselves” at a piece.
While Cunningham doesn’t have a clear idea of what he will change about former art studio teacher Patricia Kelly’s classes (because he was notified that there was an open position just a couple weeks before school started), he said that his homework policy will likely differ.
“It’s hard to assign a grade to a piece of art,” Cunningham said. “For me, high school art classes are more of a decompression zone. I don’t need students stressing on their artwork. In the art room it’s all about just finding something in the art.”
Because Cunningham had little time to prepare, he said that he is “building the classes as we go.”
“I’ve been likening (teaching art) to a mountain climb,” he said.
“You do all the exercise, you get ready for the climb, you know where you’re going, but you don’t know where all of the handholds are or what will happen.”
On top of taking over Kelly’s classes, Cunningham will also take on the duty of organizing the annual National Art Honor Society Chalk Mural on Friday, Oct. 13. Cunningham said that he will rely on AP Art Studio students to help him select an artist to feature, coordinate with the squaremasters, sketch, clean, and run the show since they’ve had more experience.
—By Sonja Hansen