Art Imitates Life
SCHOOLS | April 24, 2020
Art Imitates Life

How Students at Edison Regional Gifted Center Transformed into their Favorite Paintings 

As the fine arts teacher at Edison Regional Gifted Center on Chicago’s North Side, Deni Drinkwater tries to expose her students to as many artistic disciplines as possible—from theater to music fundamentals to filmmaking and everything in between. While she does hone in on different types of art throughout the school year, she says the best way to get students thinking creatively is to combine many different practices together. 

“If we’re working on a play, my students might write the play and create all the props and set pieces,” she said. “They’re integrating visual art with theater and music with creative writing. There’s a lot going on to help them express themselves.”

Even while students are learning at home, Ms. Drinkwater’s lessons have stayed true to her focus on incorporating different types of art into the same assignment. In the spirit of social distancing, one assignment has students choosing an Edward Hopper painting depicting an isolated person and writing a story about it. In another, students created their own prompts, inspiring drawings such as a kangaroo wearing a Santa hat at the beach. Ms. Drinkwater says the toughest part of teaching remotely is that students have to rely on the materials they have at home, which is why she says giving students flexibility is key. 

“All of my assignments are meant to allow my students to have fun with whatever they have to work with,” she said. “I might get some responses that are written in pen on the back of an envelope; other students will literally send me a video of them painting on a canvas. As long as they’re doing their best with what they have at hand, I’m happy.” 

So far, Ms. Drinkwater’s favorite assignment required students to send in a picture of them recreating a painting of their choice. She got everything from a pair of siblings transforming into American Gothic to a version of Dogs Playing Poker using stuffed animals and the family pets. 

“The idea for this assignment kind of just popped into my head as soon as everyone started staying home,” she said. “I knew my students would have the vision for an assignment like this, and I love how hilariously wonderful it turned out.” 

To see some of the Edison students’ transformations, as well as other highlights across the district from the past week, check out the video below.