One of our county-wide visual art assessments focuses on abstract ceramic sculpture, so I spend a lot of time trying to come up with engaging ceramics lessons that not only encourage personally meaningful idea development but also build skills in order to better prepare my students. Each year I try to build my students ceramics hand building skills and sculpture craftsmanship while engaging their creativity. One of my favorite sixth grade ceramic sculpture lessons is one that was originally developed by our visual arts office. After viewing a variety of art images that make connections between symbolic items and the human form, students are presented with the challenge to create a figurative ceramic sculpture that incorporates their personal interests. Students use a graphic organizer to brainstorm and sketch a variety of their own personal interests, then use these ideas to create an original design for a sculptural figure.
Approaching abstraction and juxtaposition through ceramic sculpture makes these complex ideas less intimidating, and students created expressive sculptural self portraits without the usual hangups of making it look realistic. Some students choose to go more realistic and others chose to go completely abstract, but this was left open for individual students to decide.
Each finished sculpture incorporated multiple ceramic hand building techniques combined to create an original solution to the art-making challenge. Students are presented with art exemplars and are expected to exhibit ceramic skills and good craftsmanship, but the ideas are their own and they are required to find a personally meaningful solution to the art making problem.