French philosopher Henri Bergson said art sometimes resembles the artist. That’s the point of one assignment, a mixed-media self-portrait contour line collage, in Mrs. Shanae Dees’s art class. But other projects this semester, including accordion books and candy wrapper grid paintings, revealed the budding Shelbyville Middle School artists in more subtle, Bergsonesque ways.

Although middle school visual arts classes are designed to intrigue the novice, Dees, who holds a degree in ceramics from IUPUI Herron School of Art, also challenges students to develop their artistic acumen.

“I love to see eighth-grade students appreciate the fact that I have pushed them with rigorous studio assignments over the past three years to make them grow,” she said. “Although they see the assignments as frustrating and tough in the beginning, they have the realization that doing hard things has made them better artists.”

Her students soon learn the science of art.  

Seventh-grader Haydee Dircio recently spent seven class periods on a “These hands have…” accordion book. She learned contour hand drawings from observation with her non-dominant hand as a drawing source. She then used the marker monoprint process, in which she applied Crayola washable markers to a Ziploc bag, sprayed the bag with water and then pressed paper onto its surface, the water droplets and marker creating a tie-dye effect of unique patterns. She then dyed an 8” x 18” paper in contrasting color to her hands to make them more visible, and used the paper as pages of her accordion book. She also dyed smaller paper for cover wraps.

All of that only to lose the project and complete it again in three days.

“Although it was a bit rushed, I had a lot of fun re-doing it,” Dircio said. 

She and her classmates then self-critiqued and edited their artwork before choosing the five best hands in the class. Dircio was thrilled to make the cut.

But she wasn’t finished yet. She and her classmates next created sentence starters with a life event they had experienced using their five senses as a guide.

“Students used a form of personification by writing these experiences through the perspective of their hands,” Dees said. “We know that your hands cannot physically taste something, but they were with you when you might have tasted the saltiness of the ocean.”

Dircio’s hands thus “tasted the Mexican food my mom made”, smelled “the spring coming” and “heard the laughs of my friends.”

The text and hands were combined in the composition, and students assembled the books with glue and a ribbon for a tie. They then chose an interesting title and added it to their covers. Since it is an accordion format, the books can be viewed from both sides.

Other class projects are just as intricate. Eighth-grader Reagan Spannuth said she liked creating 2D and 3D designs in clay. She also drew the crushed cans visible in the top photo.

“I chose to do a Coke can because I got to drink it on day two,” Spannuth said. 

Mason Miano, a sixth-grader, said middle school art is giving him a chance to explore drawing and sketching, both long-time interests.

“I use several different tools such as pencils, markers, colored pencils, blending stumps and pens,” Miano said. “I think the most important thing that I focus on when drawing is the details.” 

His mixed-media self-portrait is at the top of the photo above.

“Seeing the finished product helps me understand what I am capable of doing with my art abilities,” Miano said. “I always have the goal in mind of improving from one drawing to the next.”

Seeing such commitment to craftsmanship makes teaching art a satisfying career, Dees said. “I enjoy seeing their faces light up with confidence when they discuss taking their finished works of art home to share with their families and put on the walls of their bedrooms.”