PYP Exhibition in Visual Arts Lesson 1

The PYP exhibition is an event where students are given the opportunity to share their understanding of a real-life issue or topic they've inquired into. When I first started on my own PYP teaching journey decades ago, I found this six week unit a struggle because for the first 3 weeks, the kids were still in the early stages of inquiring into what topic they were going to choose. It's tough to create artwork about a topic that you don't have a good grasp of yet!

I got around this by spending the first three weeks of the unit focusing laying the groundwork by focusing on artists that use the visual arts to express their ideas about an issue (here is a list of artists that are great for PYPX) and by diving into the ways that artists can manipulate the emotions of a viewer and challenge the viewer's beliefs or even change those beliefs and behaviour.

This year, we started with the concept of Symbolism.

Why might an artist who is trying to raise awareness about an issue use symbols?

Which symbols might be more effective than others in making people think deeply? Why?

My aim is to steer them away from the most obvious and trite symbols from the very first lesson, so we start with looking at two images that are trying to send a similar message. We talk about what message the artist is trying to send and which might be a more effective way of sending it.

Where we live in Sri Lanka there has been tremendous political and social unrest over the last few months so this was a great opportunity to interweave what is happening on the ground here with PYPX. There is a big push to oust the current government and replace them, so I showed the kids this image and had them brainstorm what they think it meant. We also talked about context and what a person would have to already understand in order to really grasp the meaning of the artwork below.

Even if the class is short, I always make sure that the kids create something when they come into the art room. Before they left, I asked them to take an issue (could be their PYPX issue) and draw 3 symbols that represent it somehow (maybe the cause, maybe the effect, maybe some other component). The Level 1 symbol was the most obvious, generally the first that comes to mind-- the second takes a bit more thought and digging and the third would be something that only people with more knowledge of the subject might understand.

My example is below-- from the "no smoking" sign, then lungs, then cancer. This is just to get the kids used to thinking visually about all of the elements of a given topic, not just the obvious ones. Hope that this might help you in your PYPX journey! My next post will be about what we got up to in Week 2 of PYPX-- how/why artists might use Juxtaposition to express ideas about an issue.


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