ArtXpress 2014: Remember Struggle Create Change

The mural in progress. Photo by Front Room Photography

The mural in progress. Photo by Front Room Photography

There’s a reason why the summer teen program at the Milwaukee Art Museum is called ArtXpress. In less than a month, a group of sixteen high school students came together to absorb the current Kandinsky: A Retrospective exhibition, digest the meaning of abstraction, and collectively orchestrate their own Kandinsky-esque abstract mural to be blown up onto an Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus that will travel routes all over the city. In addition, the teens also mentored Milwaukee Public Schools elementary schoolers through the exhibition, challenging the teens to more deeply articulate the important aspects of Kandinsky’s pioneering work in abstract art.

The teens worked both at the Museum and at Red Line Milwaukee to marry art history and interpretative discussion with studio practice and the vital artistic act of making. The pace of the program forced the students to quickly become comfortable not only with one another, but also with abstraction and the symbolic visual languages of Kandinsky. I can vouch that this is no easy feat: I’m entering the final semester of my undergraduate career, and I’m still grappling with abstraction in my own work. I was impressed with the teens’ ability to pull it all off in only twelve days, and that they created a product that they could truly be proud of.

Community Learning Center student hard at work on her abstract paper collage, inspired by "Kandinsky: A Retrospective." Photo by Jessica Janzer

Community Learning Center student hard at work on her abstract paper collage, inspired by “Kandinsky: A Retrospective.” Photo by Jessica Janzer

I’ve been an Education Intern here at the Museum for about three years now, mainly assisting with the Satellite High School Program. ArtXpress was a wonderful way for me to step out of my comfort zone and assist a different leading teacher and work with teens to create not only ideas, but actual, physical artwork.

I assisted program educator Tim Abel, along with Natalie Schmitting. Natalie is an artist-in-residence at Red Line and Tim is an experienced art educator/artist. It was invaluable to gain perspectives from both of them, as I am an aspiring studio artist as well as an emerging art educator myself. With each of our unique talents, we all led the program in unison. Each of us would step in where the other left off, generating an atmosphere that the teens grew comfortable within. We demonstrated working together through our teaching methods, and the students imitated this process quickly, fostering a creative breeding ground for art and ideas.

Anaeli, Xai, Diamante, and Clarence discuss ideas for the composition of their portion of the mural. Photo by Jessica Janzer

Anaeli, Xai, Diamante, and Clarence discuss ideas for the composition of their portion of the mural. Photo by Jessica Janzer

It was amazing to witness and be a part of the unique collaborative process that manifested in the students, myself, and the two other teachers/leaders of the program. Students who had never met each other before ArtXpress were playing games together on our lunch breaks, giving each other drawing and compositional design tips during work hours, and were comfortable enough to give constructive criticism when it was needed.

College intern Jessica considers linocut printmaking registration with ArtXpress intern Angel, while other teen interns work on their prints. Photo by Tim Abel

College intern Jessica considers linocut printmaking registration with ArtXpress intern Angel, while other teen interns work on their prints. Photo by Tim Abel

It was really a privilege to be an intern for ArtXpress this summer. If I had to describe ArtXpress in one word, it would be “collaboration!” (Exclamation point to emphasize the excited pace of the program!)

We welcome you to join us for the opening reception today, Saturday, August 23, 2014, from 2-4 PM, to see the teens’ mural in person on the MCTS bus!

–Jessica Janzer, Teen Programs Intern

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