How did we get here? And what is important? These are big and lofty questions, central questions for any artist, and they are questions that have been plumbed by students who’ve participated in the sustained projects that have grown from Chinati’s ongoing and rich partnership with Marfa ISD. The Longform Workshop allows the student to think about a topic over an extended period of time. Out of town visits, guest speakers and an emphasis on critical thinking are all hallmarks of these programs, which can span several days or several months.
The workshops described below originally incorporated multiple visits to Marfa ISD by Chinati educators, various visits by students to the museum and different trips to cultural sites and museums in other cities. In our experience with working with out of town districts we’ve found that many of them can be executed remotely, abridged or adapted into shorter programs.
A delve into the work by Chinati artist John Wesley leads to comic-making for students. Collage, pen and ink and block print techniques are taught, and students are urged to blend media and juxtapose words and images. Wesley sourced imagery from cartoons, magazine, ads and photographs and used tracing paper and grids to make his distinctive paintings. Marfa students used similar methods to produce and publish cartoons in which fantastical things happen: rhinos chat with otters; parents run away from their children; planets collide. The rawness of experimentation allows freedom and absurdism to surface in their work, which is wildly creative, sometimes obscure and often funny.
Teachers from Marfa High School and Chinati partner each year to explore the power of poetry with ninth graders. First up is a visit to Carl Andre’s poetry in Chinati’s collection, 270 typed and handwritten works that each pack a graphic punch. Using typewriters, India ink and collaged photos, the students begin the process of writing their own poems, carefully considering word choice and the way their words and letters look on the page. Chinati educators likewise lead sessions that focus on lines (draw an angry line!) and words (draw the word secret!) and local poets and artists visit the class to talk about their practices.
Seeing Poetry culminates a public reading of their poems and the publication of a 100-page volume full of humor, insight and a charming, homemade visual sense.
To personalize and contextualize their individual and cultural place in current events, Marfa students studied a number of artist manifestos and created their own by employing stencils, spray paint and poster board. By guiding high school students through this long process of realization and questioning, we hope that they’ll gain a better understanding of the complexities of expression and, eventually, learn the power of their own voices.
Students learned to capture depth on a flat surface in this exploration of perspective drawing. Led by Marfa teacher Mary Mois and Chinati educators, students began by thinking about the fundamentals of this technique. They drew high school hallways, the exterior of the school, street scenes. They visited the Robert Irwin space at Chinati and drew that. Toward the end of the semester, 20 kids piled into a bus for a day in El Paso, considering how perspective is also a personal point of view. At the University of Texas El Paso’s Rubin Gallery, students experienced the frenetic, political installation by Mexico City artist Luis Safa and muralist Zeke Pena. In the city’s historic Segundo Barrio neighborhood, they met with muralist Jesus “Cimi” Alvarado, who shared how his murals depicted the culture and history of his hometown.
Back in Marfa, the students were given digital cameras and asked: What is your Marfa? What story of Marfa do you want to tell? With that, they recorded their own hometown. Fully one third of all Marfa High School’s student body participated and certain themes came up repeatedly: friends, family, pets, dream cars, football. A number of photos represented friends who’d passed. Working in teams of three or four, the students combined and collaged their photos. These were enlarged and projected onto large canvases, which the students then filled in with black, white and gray.
The result was 13 canvases which tell stories of Marfa that are authentic, real and personal to the artists who created them. It’s an accurate portrayal of how these teenagers perceive their town, their school, their families and their place within the community – an extraordinary glimpse into their world.