Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. ~Twyla Tharp

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cave Art - Sort Of

A long time ago, during that magical time called summer vacation, I was having a chat with my friends, Antoinette and Sue, who are living the retired life up in the mountains of western North Carolina.  The conversation involved emojis and the cryptic conversations of today’s youngsters.  Antoinette, a retired public school librarian, recently acquired her first smartphone so as to communicate with the yoots in her life.  (Bonus points if you can name that movie!)  Now, let me be clear that back in the day, Antoinette was on top of the technology of the time.  Throw anything computery her way and if she didn’t know it, by golly, she would figure it out in no time.  Having been retired and living a life that I can only dream of (you know, outside, in the sunshine, doing real things) she has gotten a little behind on the current trends of techy pop culture.  As Sue said during our conversation, “I am woefully uninformed.”

Somehow, the conversation turned to the evolution of language and how all those emojis that we use nearly every day aren’t all that different from cave painting and the symbolic written languages of the past.  I started thinking (even though it was summer) and realized that there was an art lesson in there somewhere.  Antoinette mentioned the cave paintings in France and Spain.  I immediately thought of cuneiform and hieroglyphics and realized that these written forms of communication are no different than emoji language that we use today.

I intended to write a lesson plan and do this as a getting to know you activity as soon as school started back but like most plans, I didn’t actually get to it until second semester. When I finally got around to it, I put together a slideshow about the history of written language and we watched a youtube video of some of the oldest cave paintings that were found in Spain. We talked about the ancient Egyptians and how they communicated their ideas and we learned how our alphabet came to be.

Then, I asked them, in my best art teacher voice, “How many of you have a smartphone?” 99% of my student’s hands went up.  I think, out of all of my classes, MAYBE 3 kids don’t have a smartphone.  I asked, “How many of you message your friends on facebook or some other form of social media.” 100%.  No kidding.  100% “Who knows what emojis are?”  All hands up.  “How many of you have ever sent a message or text to a friend using ONLY emojis?” ALL HANDS UP.  “How is the way that you communicate with pictures and symbols different than the way that cavemen, ancient egyptians and other civilizations that used pictures and symbols to communicate?”  Well, gee, MizzSmiff, it isn’t.  

So then, I suggested that we try to write a short autobiographical sentence to share with our classmates.

I projected mine as an example:

Yeah, that’s right. MizzSmiff likes the beach, cats, sunshine, cheeseburgers and art.  I’m a simple girl.  I didn’t put the wine glass on there because, well, school.  And honestly, we all know that truth.  

For our project, the rules were simple:
1. Use 7 emojis
2. Take up the space on your paper (which, my friends, were scraps leftover from cutting down 12 x 18 pieces to 12 x 12 squares from a prior project. BOOM!)
3. We should be able to learn something about you by reading your sentence
4. Use your best art skills.

I gave them a packet with every emoji known to mankind and they had at it.  It was a quick 2 day project and we learned a lot about our classmates by the time we were done.  For those of you that are not up to date on your emojis, there is an actual Emojipedia.

One of the things that I like the best about my job is listening to the conversations that take place while we are making art.  There was a lot of giggling at one table while we were working so I gravitated that way.  I sat down and heard the 7th grade girls (WHY IS IT ALWAYS THE 7th. GRADE?) talking about the dreaded eggplant.  Jesus, take the wheel..  I told them that if anyone ever sends them the eggplant, unless it’s their mother telling them what is for dinner, to block that person immediately.  DO NOT mess with the eggplant.  EVER.

On the news this morning, I heard that sometime this summer there is going to be a release of a bunch of new emojis for the iPhone.  I have to say I am excited about the avocado, bacon and the Pinocchio liar face.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that my favorite youtubers, Rhett and Link of Good Mythical Morning played a game of Emoji Charades on the same day that I wrote this post!  No kidding!  It’s like we are likethis.  If you are unfamiliar with Rhett and Link, they are North Carolina boys now living the life in California as world famous (kind of) 'internetainers'. If you ever find yourself awake at 2 am with nothing to do, I suggest binge watching a couple of dozen episodes of their daily morning show.  It’ll be time to get up and go to work before you know it.  You’ll start your day a little bit tired but with a smile on your face.  I speak from experience.

There's always that one kid who has to add a little extra...MizzSmiff, can I have some tape?

How many of our emoji autobiographies could you read?  This was a really neat, fun and QUICK project.  I was able to ease my students into art and my expectations for artwork and taking care of materials and supplies while doing a project that taught me a little bit about my students and their likes and dislikes.

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