Collective Identity Essay

By definition, “collective identity” refers to the cohesiveness of a group of individuals who share similar experiences and motivations. The individual identities in the art room B05 are so diverse and eclectic that it is hard to narrow it down to a single concrete identity. We have painters, sculptures, graphic designers, and photographers all working on their own separate projects in various mediums. In a way, a sense of freedom and creative expression might be said to run as a common undercurrent for every piece — whether in a three-dimensional sculpture or canvas painting or charcoal sketch. All of us have taken Honors Art or Portfolio, been subject to the instruction of our art teachers, and have attended Wissahickon High School. As part of this common experience, our instructors have encouraged us to be creative and explore new ideas and methods. Furthermore, many of our works had very limited guidelines which allowed us to experiment with new concepts and mediums we’ve never tried before. This was very evident in the great range of works displayed at the 25th Annual Art Show this past week. There were abstractions, prints, panels of fruit pieces, solar system models, and even huge airplanes made from old furniture. None of the pieces were trite or common. Each piece had a freedom derived from our shared experience as a Wissahickon art student. Despite the great variety and differences from one artist to the next, the cohesiveness and flow from each panel to the next at the art show was very effective. Our collective identity here at WHS is the freedom of artistic expression.

Ethnographic Interpretive Paper (Story based on Isabelle’s Diptych)
There are three things about my great-uncle Henry that sends shivers down my spine.
For one, he was a very eccentric fellow who lived alone in Fort Eckley, Tennessee, by the rundown Keswick theater and sat all day in his attic, making paints and watching paint dry. I never liked Fort Eckley with its sweltering heat and dusty, abandoned roads, and I liked the rundown theater even less. Fort Eckley is a ghost town and has been since 1949.
Second, Great-Uncle Henry was an abstract artist. He left the walls of his house covered in dripping layers of ink and acrylic, running down the wainscoting and leaking to the floor. The paint schemes he did use were out of the ordinary — bright oranges and hues of purple, with the occasional brush of startling blue.
Third, he owned cats — and a lot of them too. Most people would expect an older lady to raise a cat or two, but Henry raised quite more than a few. There were dozens, and one in particular — Nobby, whom I called Snobby, always perched on the top of his head and gave me and my cousin a supercilious glare.
I mentioned Fort Eckley was a ghost town, but that is not entirely true — ever since we moved back to Fort Eckley in 1992.
There’s a very strange presence in the art room — the attic he converted into his studio — that gives it an almost foreboding feel. I never really liked my great-uncle Henry. He used to work in the studio late and he owned a bunch of cats, but as I sit in the foyer in Fort Eckley, I can’t help thinking, just where is that pompous cat?

Prompts/Essential Questions
  1. What relevance does gender, race or class have to the dynamics of the WHS Honors Art/Portfolio Art social structure? The class represents the diverse student population at Wissahickon, with students from Asian, African, Hispanic, and other-European descent. Honors Art includes sophomores, juniors, and seniors, while Portfolio Art is strictly made up of seniors. Half of the class is male and half of the class is female.
  2. What relevance does time (time of day and time of year) have? Honors Art/Portfolio Art Period 3 takes place from about 10:10 PM to 11:53 PM. This course is currently being taught in the Spring Semester. In February, we can see the occasional light snowfall by the courtyard through the large classroom windows.
  3. What relevance does space and place have? Space is usually described as being the bigger of the two. Space takes up more room. Place is more definite and centered in location. Both are important when considering a piece’s composition.
  4. In what ways are norms and values passed from elders to the next generation (elders being students who have had Mr. Miller for 3 years versus first time students)? First time students can learn from “the elders” who have more experience. They can learn techniques and styles like using hair spray to fix down charcoal and chalk pastel dust.
  5. What dimensions of leadership are observable? There is a teacher and a student teacher. Among the students, there are upperclassmen and underclassmen. Upperclassmen tend to have more leadership roles and may be able to help their classmates.
  6. What dimensions of language (spoken and body) are observable? English is the primary language spoken. People also have unique mannerisms. For example, some people might make hand gestures when they talk.

Ethnographic Research: The art room, B05

Day 1, Monday, 2.6.12

Honors Art & Portfolio students segregated
People shading in objects
People using reds and sepia tones
Erasers turning gray with charcoal
Dusty fingerprints on the newsprint

Day 2, Tuesday, 2.7.12

Everyone lining up by their drawers to get their drawings out
People talking about paint ball fights
Tables covered with charcoal dust
Tables crooked and on slants
Patrick eating Girl Scout Cookies

Day 3, Wednesday, 2.8.12

People getting thicker white paper
People moving around the room
People standing up
Pieces getting sprayed outside to fix the charcoal
Stack of finished pieces on table

Day 4, Thursday, 2.9.12

Dimmed lights in the beginning to view the Powerpoint slide
Tanoh turned the lights on
Snow on the ground when I went to spray my charcoal sketch
Really cool black-and-white teapot-pouring-tea painting/sculpture by the window sill
Sculpture of tall pile of cubes in the front of the room

Day 5, Friday, 2.10.12

Mr. DePaulo said he hates erasers
People sitting by the window
People sitting on the tables
Paint cabinet door open
Jar of ebony pencils on cart


Prompt: Object Story


There once was a very old woman who lived by the river Okkervil in northern Russia. One morning, she woke up to find snow falling over her cottage and blanketing the countryside in a sparkling white. As winter settled in and charcoal grew scarce, she knew that she needed more blankets to keep warm. In the war-torn region, new cloth and fuel were expensive at the market. She decided to gather bits and pieces of fabric from old clothing to weave together a thick quilt. In this way, she sewed a patchwork quilt for her five young grandchildren, who visited from St. Petersburg. Every night, she would tuck them in and tell them bedtime stories – stories of times long ago and often stories of pure imagination. One day, her husband, who was a skilled carpenter, made a beautiful matryoshka nesting doll out of carved wood. There were five layers, so that every grandchild could play with a doll. The eldest received the largest doll which held the four other dolls, which got progressively smaller. The children loved the dolls so much that they begged their grandmother to tell them a story involving the nesting dolls. The old woman thought and thought and came up with a story where each stack doll grew to be enormous. In the stories, the wooden dolls grew to be so tall that people looking out of windows only saw bits and pieces of the stack dolls as they passed by. She told stories of the dolls traveling to foreign lands – to Alexandria, to Tokyo, to New York, even! There they ate exotic delicacies – medames, sushi, and ice cream.


Prompt: Object Reflection


Reflection: My original object was a wooden stack doll — a round, gray bear with several patches along its sides and holding a stuffed animal toy. There were four smaller bears hidden within the first large gray bear, each holding a different object but still having the scattered patches. I noticed the pattern of these patches so I tried to emphasize this layering and sort of “patch work” in making my four pieces — the two reworked collages, the two redrawn versions, and the scrap-based work. There was always even spacing as each doll fit inside the other, so I created my pieces so that none of the patches overlapped and none of my collage cut-outs overlapped. For text as a design element, I wrote “patchwork” and “patch” throughout the pieces. My favorite piece from this assignment was my redrawn interpretation of the object as a patchwork quilt. This particular piece had a light-colored, repeating background of patchwork squares and a big patched letter “P” in the forefront. The patch squares ranged from different shades of light blue to light green to light purple. This piece I think focused most clearly on the layering and patches of the original stack doll. For all my pieces, I mainly used chalk pastels, colored pencils, watercolor, markers, and acrylic paint. For my reworked collages, I added color (green for one, purple for the other) by smearing chalk pastel and adding splatter-paint prints of complementary colors on the forefront. Following up on the idea of many layers and pieces piling up together, my fourth piece — the scrap-based project — was an ice cream cone.


Prompt: History, Ideology, & Life Project Reflection

For my first layer, I transcribed the text in the background from a passage in Art History. The passage was  about Michelangelo and architecture of cathedrals and other buildings during his time period. For the second layer, I transcribed my own story — a snippet of a theme I wrote about a fairy tale, starting with “Once upon a time…” The words mainly described the setting of the story. For my third layer, I chose to recreate a painting of a castle from art history because it related to the original passage I transcribed and my own written story. The original painting was of a castle between hills in the distance with a dirt path leading the way from the viewer’s vantage point. After first sketching the picture with pencil on tracing paper, I used matte medium to attach it to my large poster paper. For coloring, I used mostly watercolor and colored pencils to add light hues. I also used a thin-tipped marker to highlight certain outlines of the castle. The final step in the procedure was the add something else to the layered image. For my own additions, I added two trees in the forefont and the words “once upon a time” at the bottom of the page. Instead of ending the tree trunks by the end of the layer 4 tracing paper, I extended them down onto the poster board background. By this extra touch, I tried to frame my overall work and bring together all four layers into a smoother final piece.


Prompt: What is the relationship between history, ideology and your life? What determines whose stories get to be considered integral to a culture? How do we recognize fact from fiction? How might stories evolve over time?

“History is the study of humanity.” Lessons we learn from the past are rooted in our actions and ideas in the present-day. However much we might try to “erase” or distance our selves from the past, it is always a fundamental aspect of our everyday lives and ideology.

Stories that have a wide appeal or are exemplary of their time period become integrated into a culture. For instance, Picasso’s cubism reflected the warring tension of the early 1900s era, while Raphael’s School of Athens reflected a time of intellectual and cultural development — the Italian Renaissance. Each painting or fresco that adorned the walls of classical architecture was telltale of its time period. The choice of perspective, proportion, subject matter, style, and so forth were indications of what was relevant at the time. Thus, many years later, paintings like the Book of Kells or Arnolfini Marriage became set into culture in museums or private galleries as archetypes of an epoch.

Fiction is fabricated and open to the writer’s imagination, while fact is solid and prove-able. It might be difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction before written history, as those stories can only be corroborated by word of mouth. We can only be certain that a story is fact as much as evidence is available.

Stories can evolve over time as people develop their own interpretations and retell their version to others. Homer’s Odyssey is one example in literature where the word of mouth changed the original tale. Art is a similar medium. Each re-drawing or copy of the original changes with each artist’s unique interpretation.