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TeachNet NYC  |  Lesson Plans  |  Teachnet

So, So Surreal Self-Portraits

Project URL:

How it works:
Take your class on a virtual trip back in time to 1924 when a Dada manifesto sparked the Surrealist movement in Europe and the United States. Students learn about the history of Surrealism and visit online galleries of notable artists of the past and present, immersing themselves in the dream-like qualities of Surrealism and discussing its influence on contemporary art, design, and entertainment. They plan a surreal image of and/or about themselves by merging a digital photo with a painting or other illustration and write two paragraphs describing what the portrait represents about them. They also combine their digital photo with images from the Internet, alter the portrait using Photoshop or another imaging program, and then write an artist's statement to accompany the finished work. A classroom bulletin board or online gallery can then be assembled to display these creative works of art. 

Standards addressed:  
Students understand the visual arts in relation to history and cultures; apply media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts; use viewing skills and strategies to interpret visual media; understand the characteristics and components of the media; and gather and use information for research purposes.

Materials used:
This program uses a networked Macintosh lab with Internet connection, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Word. A digital camera and a scanner are optional.

The students:
So, So Surreal Self-Portraits was created for heterogeneously mixed 6-12th grade students at the Institute for Collaborative Education (I.C.E.), a small, diverse New York City public school. It  was one of the workshops offered at the 2003 I.C.E. Opening Project, a tradition wherein during the first week of each year the entire school body works together  in mixed-grade interdisciplinary workshops on a specific theme. 

Overall value:
This is a project that students with little or no art history and digital art skills can jump into and get results quickly. The Surrealistic movement appeals to young people today and feels as fresh as ever, demonstrating the adage "everything old is new again." Students are amazed to learn that artists who are older than their grandparents did work that was exciting and rivals/inspires the images they see on MTV or their favorite CD. They can gather imagery from Internet resources and bring in their own photos to scan or draw upon.
This unit was designed to be a quick introduction to the integration of history and hands-on digital imaging. Elicit from the students how a piece of art can be a portrait without showing the face (possible answers: use the hand, the person's favorite things, etc.). Encourage the students to follow their daydreams and make their So, So Surreal Self-Portraits as wild or dreamy as their imagination allows. You can make a Web project quickly out of the students' images and statements with Photoshop's Automated Web Photo Gallery capability.


About the teacher:
Meryl Meisler, digital art teacher at the Institute for Collaborative Education. began teaching in 1979. She has received a Disney American Teacher Award in visual arts, serves on the Teachers Network Board of Directors, and is a consultant to the Whitney Museum's online learning department. Meryl is an accomplished artist in her own right.


Subject Areas:                            

Grade Levels: 


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