Self Portraits and the Exploration of Identity, History, and Art

At Allen-Stevenson, art is an in-depth study of history, composition, and style, with a touch of real-world education thrown in for good measure. And in Fifth Grade, where our boys are studying self-portraits, that interdisciplinary approach is never more present.
Led by Julia Kunin, Head of The Art Department, and Art Teacher Alex Exposito, the portrait project was a multi-step endeavor. First, our boys focused on studying eyes and drawing black-and-white portraits. They observed how to use white and grey tones on black paper to create highlights, and bring focus to different areas while pulling it away from others. This helped teach our boys how to use light and shadow to create form. 
 
The study also tied in art history with a discussion of portraiture. Boys looked at works by Albrecht Dürer, Alice Neel and Kehindy Wileyadding another layer of curriculum to the activity.
 
“Self-portraits reveal how you want to be seen in the world” says Julia Kunin. “It’s a perfect example of art used for self-expression and representation. 
 
Finally, boys learned about the color wheel and how to use colors. Ms. Kunin, and her student teacher Kate Butler, a graduate student at Pratt Institute, taught the boys that when you use two complementary colors, it creates a “push and pull” contrast effect in one's art. They encouraged the boys to play with that dramatic tension and they loved it! 
 
“I encourage the boys to work big,” said Ms. Kunin. “Layer paints. Mix colors. Try new things. Experiment. Art is just as much about self-expression as it is self-exploration and discovery. There are no mistakes in art. I try to reinforce that by letting the boys express themselves, however, they see fit.”
 
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Allen-Stevenson’s distinctive “enlightened traditional” approach educates boys to become scholars and gentlemen.