Inspired Artists

Jul 16, 2015

Kay Keziere presents her final project—a digital portrait inspired by the work of Vincent Van Gogh—for Elizabeth Menges’s art class at nearby Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS).

This spring, three of Elizabeth Menges’s art classes at nearby Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) enjoyed regular visits to our galleries. These sessions, taught by members of our Graduate Student Teacher internship program, introduced the museums in a way that would complement the high school students’ curriculum.

After the formal work at the museums concluded, Menges assigned her students a final project to draw from that experience: create an original work of art inspired by a famous artist.

“I wanted the students to pick whatever artist or artwork resonated with them, based on our museum trips and a slideshow I’d put together about artists from different movements,” Menges said. “It was nice to see them create art that was different from what they’d produced during the rest of the year.”

The results were impressive. Students chose artists representing a broad range of styles and periods—from Leonardo da Vinci and Monet to Banksy and Jenny Saville. One student digitally edited a photograph of a friend to achieve striking similarities and contrasts to Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Another student, inspired by Faith Ringgold’s painted story quilts, created a three-dimensional mixed-media work containing small items and personal mementos. Others used paint, marker, and found objects to create their works.

Correna Cohen, who is a curatorial fellow in our Division of Academic and Public Programs and one of the six graduate student teachers, visited the CRLS students during an exhibition of their final projects.

“I’d talked to the students about artworks by other artists but hadn’t had a chance to see what the students themselves were creating, so it was nice to complete that piece of the puzzle,” said Cohen, who is also a CRLS alumna. She took special note of a large-scale work on paper inspired by Jackson Pollock and featuring layered drips of black, blue, and green paint.

“It had a direct connection, if not to the Harvard Art Museums’ own Pollock (No. 2), then at least to the larger history of art and abstract expressionism as a movement, which we discussed together on a tour,” Cohen said. “I spoke to the students who created it, and I was really impressed with the research they had done—they answered all of my questions about Pollock’s process and even told me some things I didn’t know.”

Cohen found it especially gratifying not only to help the CRLS students become familiar with objects in our collections, but also to observe “how creating artwork in the classroom helped the students connect to the history of an artist.”