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Experiencing Basquiat

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

One painting can evoke many interpretations. That was the lesson members of our visual arts elective learned on a recent visit to the Brooklyn Museum to view the One Basquiat exhibit.

Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat

“Our visual arts elective gives these budding young artists a chance to explore different mediums of art and channel their creativity,” said Mrs. Ashley Barnett, who leads the elective. “Art connects to our creed because it requires you to be bold and creative. We encourage our students to focus on self-expression, rather than on the end result.”

Students in the elective have visited the Brooklyn Museum twice recently. These trips provide inspiration and help to inform our middle-schoolers’ artistic choices, Mrs. Barnett added. “That’s especially true when they’re able to view the work of African-American artists born and raised in New York, like Basquiat.”

The One Basquiat exhibit pushed the students to examine every part of the canvas, delving beyond their first impressions. Initially, they were taken aback by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s landmark painting, Untitled. Some said it looked “scary,” while others saw rage.

However, upon observing the artwork more closely, they began to notice additional details that expanded their perceptions. “The white seems to be a symbol for hope, while the black is darkness,” said one student. “The x’s and o’s seem like a way to pass or count time,” observed another.

Although every student had a different take on what Basquiat’s piece meant, they all agreed on one thing: Basquiat’s artwork is open to interpretation. “The more I looked at the painting, the more new things I saw,” said Lia, an eighth-grader. “Basquiat showed me that art doesn’t have to be perfect. Imperfection can be beautiful.”

Eighth-grader Delali also liked Basquiat’s nonconformist approach. “The painting felt free, as if the artist was saying, ‘I’m not going to color inside the lines.’ That’s inspiring.”

After a few minutes sketching the painting, the students searched the museum for another “head” to sketch and then compared the two. It was perfect preparation for their next visual arts activity – creating Basquiat-inspired artwork that explores what is going on in their own heads.

Students with their Basquiat-inspired artwork.

Thank you to the Brooklyn Museum and to Tom Healy for helping to facilitate the trip.