Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Art class in Ulsan: Self-portraits

In high school, I was just as full of angst as the worst of my teenage students. Writing and art served as outlets to my restlessness, and I spent hours in the art room, outside of class, working on art projects.

While I loved art, growing up in a small town in Idaho, I had no idea about art museums. I had no idea Idaho even had an art museum. I had no idea that in University I would develop a passion for art history and volunteer at an art museum. And I had absolutely no idea I would teach an art class in Korea.

Luckily, when I was sixteen, the art club took a fieldtrip to the Boise Art Museum (BAM). We were given a brief tour of the current exhibition, and then we sat in front of this painting.

Gregory Grenon, I am Burning, 1994 (BAM permanent collection)

As a group, we discussed questions similar to these:

What colors do you see? Why do you think the artist chose to use the colors he did?

How does the woman in the painting feel? How do the colors help convey this emotion?

How was it painted? (Oil on plexiglass)

The discussion will forever be etched in my mind. During my first exposure to really sitting down and analyzing a work of art, I did what anyone would do as a broken-hearted teenager, I projected my own emotions onto the painting.

After the discussion, we went to the art education room. We each sat by a mirror and worked on self-portraits inspired by the technique Grenon used. Like Grenon, we painted on the back of plexiglass. The whole experience was new for me, and I loved it. I loved my finished self-portrait, and I still have it in the basement of my parents’ house.

So, when I ran into plexiglass at the art supply store while shopping for this art class, I seized the opportunity to have a last minute lesson plan change. I bought the materials. I got a digital image of Gregory Grenon’s portrait to show my students, and I used the whole lesson as I remembered it.

The results are stunning.

Vincent, David, Jacob, Aidan





MANY THANKS to those who inspired me and developed this lesson plan: Melanie Fales, Shawn Phelps, and Terra Feast.


  1. I love this! It reminds me of the amazing art at the elementary school I'm volunteering at. It's an arts magnet school. Once they had their own reproductions of Van Gogh's Starry Night, they were so awesome!

  2. Good job! It looks like you have some "talented" artists.

  3. What? Shane and Angie? MY Shane and Angie??

  4. haha - Yes, Scottie ... YOUR Shane and Angie ;) Shane's got a blog up and rolling as well http://shaneobrienblog.blogspot.com/

  5. Nice! And he teased me about having a blog. HA! :) Thanks!!!