Fifteen Minutes of Warhol Fame
Communications Tips from a Fifth Grade Art Lesson
I recently taught a Warhol-inspired art lesson to my daughter's fifth grade class, as a volunteer via the Art in Action program. These lessons are a ton of fun. I'm able to share my love of art, spend some time in the classroom, and use my own communications best practices-- bringing in authenticity, storytelling and improvisation.
Here are my lessons from my fifteen minutes of fame in the classroom...
Authenticity with a Hot (and Goofy) Start
Whenever I teach an art lesson, I look for a way to add some wow and bring it to life. Everyone knows it's hard to get an audience's attention after lunch. Try a pack of ten-year-old kids after recess!
Just as I'd recommend for a business speaker, I look for an attention-grabbing "hot start." Since it wasn't a formal environment, I went with fun and entertaining-- surprising them by playing some rocking music from the Velvet Underground (a band Warhol produced) and putting on a Warhol-like wig!
Yes, it was silly (and thankfully, my daughter did not perish from embarrassment), but my enthusiasm was definitely authentic. And it was a great way to creatively tell the story of Andy Warhol-- with sound and visuals that went beyond slideware.
Storytelling with an App
The lesson plan required me to share historical facts, comment on a specific art piece, and impart specific instructions so they could create their own Warhol-inspired project. But I didn’t just spit out the facts. I framed those facts within stories and colorful anecdotes-- like the fact that Warhol ate soup for lunch every day for 20 years, and that his studio was called “The Factory.”
I also brought in a modern element so the kids could relate, explaining that Warhol's style has become so iconic that there’s even an app for that, and showing them a Warhol-like illustration of my dog.
Improv in a Fifth-Grade "Factory"
Even in a business environment, speakers need to be prepared for when things go wrong-- AV equipment going haywire, or simply losing their train of thought.
But there’s nothing like a room full of elementary kids and a whole mess of paint to test your improv skills.
Once we got our fifth-grade "Factory" going, the mayhem started. The kids had to move around the room to various paint stations. The multi-step process of applying paint to their foam stamps four times was labor-intensive. Each foam piece had to be rinsed, and re-rinsed. I found myself no longer overseeing, but relegated to the sink rinsing station.
Stationed at the sink, I wasn't sure how the kids were doing. But I soon realized I could manage it all on the fly, right there while we rinsed and dried. It became an opportunity to check in with each student and I could tell -- from those quick conversations, plus looking at their stamps-- if they'd applied too much paint, if they didn't like how something came out, or if they needed to dig their stamp design in deeper. The chaotic sink duty actually became a perfect place for me to engage the students, and offer them tips and encouragement.
It was a wonderfully fun and messy afternoon that resulted in some fantastic artwork.
And I suspect the Warhol afternoon will have the students recalling the artist's famous wig, his favorite band and the fun experience of creating their own art factory-- all key elements I wanted to impart.