On our first graduate studio visit with the students from Innovations High School, we explored the working environment of SAIC fashion designer, Kristina Sparks. Kristina was completely open in describing her unique style, technique, and motivations to the high school students. She even allowed them to model the elaborate, somewhat abstract jacket designs she had on display. This invitation prompted a wealth of interaction between the artist, her work, and the audience of teenagers. They modeled the attire with excitement and enthusiasm, posing for pictures and entertaining their peers. By actually putting on something the artist had designed, the students could ask questions about the physical nature of the clothing—the weight, the texture, and, most importantly, the effect it had on them as they wore it. This could not have happened without Kristina’s welcoming nature. She did not display even a hint of apprehension when the students adjusted the sleeves of her designs for a better fit or fumbled with the overall orientation of the jacket. She simply allowed the students to be part of something she had created.
Aside from the participatory exercises of the preceding gallery exhibit, this was the most involved the IHS students would be all afternoon. They demonstrated that art could impact the adolescent viewer on a far greater level if it possesses an interactive element that invites participation. Even with limited exposure to art museums, these students have experienced the watchful, often overbearing, gaze of museum staff as they walk through an exhibit. But, in Kristina Spark’s studio, they were given free reign to experience artwork on multiple sensory levels. For an artist, the studio space can become like a second home—this is where they invent, explore, and gain a greater understanding of themselves. When they invite other people into this sacred space, they are inviting them to take part in these important events. Kristina Sparks even allowed her visitors to try on her clothes. This is something teenagers cannot get from a piece of artwork mounted on a wall, behind a roped off space, with a title card next to it.
If I could go back to the short session of art making that followed this studio visit, I would focus on the student response to the impromptu fashion show. We could discuss the colors and imagery that this visit in particular inspired. In realistic or abstract terms, we could brainstorm how this experience could be represented through the visual arts. There seemed to be a disconnect between the observational elements of our time with the IHS students (gallery and studio visits) and the time we had to work on a project. Perhaps it would have been beneficial to have the instructors simply introduce the ideas for art making, recounting the events over the last two days with images taken from the Institute and, if possible, images taken from the studio visits. This could prep students for a third day devoted solely to creating personal works of art.