Fifteen Minutes of Warhol Fame

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by Lorraine R. Hamby, Communications Consultant and Art Docent

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!

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.


This article first appeared on LinkedIn