Good news came after the summer holidays. 50 Huijia students entered the global TOP100 of the 2019 AEP Ecological Art Competition, with the work ‘Affectation’ by Chen Qianye from the 9th Grade winning the Best Concept Award.
As one of the most prestigious events in the art world, the AEP art competition requires the participants to have not only high-level artistic literacy but also the awareness of environmental protection and the ability to innovate. Every year, the competition attracts enthusiastic participants from more than 100 colleges across China.
AEP Ecological Art Competition
Launched by the Los Angeles Government and the South Pasadena City Council in 2012, the AEP competition is a global charity project dedicated to creating boundless artistic and cultural exchanges platforms for young people around the world.
With the theme of environmental protection, the competition encourages students to express their thoughts through various artistic expressions, including but not limited to painting, photography, handicrafts and devices.
By creating such a convenient and unbounded exchange platform for the young art lovers in China and the United States, the competition, since it was first organized, has gained wide attention from the art education circle, universities and media from both China and abroad.
We believe the success of Huijia students in this competition is not simply represented by any single piece of award winning artwork; in fact, it is a qualitative change after a long-term accumulation of art study. The art education methods advocated by the school plays a crucial role in the growth of our children and is worth exploring and sharing.
Now, let’s look into Huijia’s art class and see what happened before the competition.
01 Interpretation of the Works
First of all, let’s take a closer look at some of the award winning works and the thoughts behind them.
Many of the so-called environmentally friendly industries and business projects nowadays only focus on their own profits rather than truly aiming at achieving the goal of environmental protection. This painting, as the name suggests, is a satire on this kind of phenomena.
The women wearing a veil in the painting seems to be confessing in tears. However, the tears are in fact the shining diamonds and she is wearing a fur coat, which means she is not crying over the damaged environment nor the scarred earth but rather for money.
This painting is mainly intended to satirize those who claim to protect environment but in fact only think about making money.
‘Affectation’ Chen Qianye, the Best Concept Award
This work reflects urban land and air pollution using silver paint, plastic bottles and waste plastics that represent the rubbish scattered everywhere in the city.
I hope that cities can be better protected and more space could be given to the plants to allow them to grow freely.
‘The Wandering Earth - City’, Chang Yuanyuan, the Top 100 Finalist Award
My work was inspired by the water purification plant and the creek next to my home. I was shocked when I found that the water entering the purification plant was black and the little creek had been in a devastating condition due to all the man-made damage.
I used a blackish blue color as the background of my work to represent the polluted water, I then used a large mineral water bottle which I picked from the garbage bin beside the school to represent all the so-called water purification plants and creeks in the world.
The theme carried by the work is a simple and straightforward one: All the water in the world is being polluted and we need cherish water, as it is the source of life.
‘Imagine there’s no water’ Shi Peixi, the Top 100 Finalist Award
My work consists of a foam ball representing the earth, a plastic ball representing the plastic garbage that covers the entire earth, a black veil representing the smoggy sky and a piece of wooden board that symbolizes the beautiful universe.
The black veil extends beyond the ball as if it is going to destroy the neighboring planets. Meanwhile it also implies that humans will eventually leave the earth, continue with the destruction in the new expedition and create another so-called ‘beautiful home’.
‘Under the Dome’ Cheng Xingran, the Top 100 Finalist Award
Self-mockery was my only purpose at the time. When I heard about the topic of environmental protection, I knew it would be a goal that we could hardly achieve. The gentleman wearing suit in my painting is enjoying his dinner in an elegant manner, however the food is in fact garbage in the shapes of broccoli, steak and chips, the food we eat very often. What I try to express is that if we continue to waste in this way, we will be farther away from the goal of environmental protection and some day we will suffer from the bitter consequences caused by ourselves and begin to eat garbage.
‘Gentleman’ Chen Ketong, 2018 AEP Global Competition Silver Award
We can see clearly some of the common features in these works. Firstly, bold and rich forms of artistic expressions, a breakthrough of the traditional understanding of art. The students are not confined by the means of expression, instead they focus more on the content and feelings they are trying to deliver.
Secondly, the inspirational sources of the artworks are traceable in some maestros’ artistic styles and elements, for instance the classic portrait of Rembrandt and the pop art of Robert Rauschenberg…
Finally, the creative ability of the students. As great observers of life, they are able to form their own independent thoughts and insights on certain social phenomenon and express them in their works, which is the most valuable ability in the art.
02 Refreshing the Understanding
The initial priority of our art class is not teaching kids the drawing skills but helping them to realize that art is not just about the master pieces in galleries, sometimes quick sketches or doodles on notebooks can also be art. What matters the most is self-expression, which can be achieved by everyone.
The above comment was made by Jia, an art teacher in Huijia junior high school. The key to our art education is refreshing our students’ understanding of art and arousing their interests to create. Such a psychological preparation serves as a crucial foundation for the subsequent growth of the children.
To achieve these, well-designed classroom activities and homework are essential. Let’s take an example of a 9th Grade art class at the beginning of the new term and check out how these goals and key concepts are put into practice.
Highlights of the first art class of the 9th Grade
The focus of the class is ink and wash painting. However the teacher did not start with the introduction of the features of ink and wash or the presentation of the masterpieces for copying, instead, he talked about Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat, a famous graffiti artist.
Above: A piece of work by Jean Michel Basquiat
The following: A piece of work by Picasso
The purpose of this is to break the stereotype which students held towards art and expose them to the diverse contemporary artistic styles. The students then were encouraged to create an ink and wash painting, of which the only requirement is ‘being loyal to your feeling and setting yourself free’.
As we could see clearly, these children opened up and they wrote down some intuitive feelings alongside their works, showing great imagination. After the free creation time, every student was given one minute to share his/her inspiration and thoughts, which was recognized and encouraged by the teacher and the class.
No one got entangled in the details such as whether the ink was properly used or whether the face shape of the painted figure was perfectly round or square, all what they cared about was whether the works delivered enough emotions and feelings.
After such an ice-breaking class, everyone has gained a personal experience in expressing him/herself in ink and wash painting, which will serve as an important foundation for their future study of painting techniques. More importantly, as art is considered as a method to express one’s real feeling, it arouses greater interests of the students and makes them excited about the next art class.
Works of the students
As Picasso once said ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’
03 Input and Output
As we mentioned previously in ‘Interpretation of the Works’, many artistic elements and features of the maestros can be found in our students’ works, we believe this phenomenon is closely related to the practice which our students conduct during their regular classes.
Winning an art competition with one single piece of work is almost a mission impossible if there isn’t a large amount of extensive and intensive analysis of artworks as input, as well as continuous and comprehensive creation as output. Accumulation is the key to success.
From the PYP in primary school to the MYP in junior high school then to the DP in high school, art education in Huijia forms a complete and coherent system. In the class, art teachers use all means to broaden the horizons of the students by introducing a rich number of artistic genres, styles and artists and encouraging students to carry out more in-depth exploration.
In primary and junior high school, students form groups to conduct inquiry-based learning, producing and presenting research reports to share with the class. In high school, a more detailed comparative study report is required to be accomplished by every student. The report includes analysis on the artist’s life, history background and the cultural significance of the work. Furthermore, the students are also requited to write up, in great length, about their own interpretation of the work and the inspiration they get from it.
Application comes after the inquiry. During this stage, students will be given the freedom to play around the theme given by the teacher and apply the artistic features which they have researched in their own creations. For instance, after the study of polka dot elements of Yayoi Kusama, students are required to draw their own faces and hair, using repetitive decorative elements.
Works of the students
Throughout the process, art teachers encourage students to express their own thoughts rather than simply copying the works of the masters, as the skills are fixed but the mind should be free. After such kind of practice, our students will become calm, confident and capable participants in large-scale art exhibitions and competitions.
And this is the art education in Huijia, which abandons the old-fashioned strict standards and embraces all the great ideas and thoughts with joy and happiness. We clearly understand that art is a diversified and self-expressive, just like our children. All what we need to do is to cherish and maintain this uniqueness and encourage its spontaneous overflow in students’ artworks.
This is the reason why Huijia students could win so many awards and this is where the vitality of art exists.