Sitting in on Secaucus High School’s third period art class, one thing becomes clear: teenagers think about more than dating, music, and sports. They think a lot about relationships with their family, and with people outside of school.
On Tuesday, Art Teacher Doug Depice gave his freshmen through seniors in “Intro to Art” a new project: They were asked to translate their emotions into cartoons.
But as the students worked, they also got to know each other.”This class is different than, say a math class – it’s more of a physical thing.” Depice said. “Just getting up out of the seat to get a jar of paint can result in 12 different interactions [with other students.] The kids connect; there’s a certain amount of excitement and that triggers something new. Visual expression enhances verbal communication.”
How students relate
Some of the 25 students used themselves as the starting point for the assignment. Others looked at the students around them.
“We were supposed to put what’s in our hearts into the drawing,” said Daniel Padron, 16. “You look at problems, or what you want to be and then work with freestyle drawing.”
Padron said he was drawing himself as a superhero because he would like to be invincible.
Derek Bieber said all relationships involved taking chances, and that most students learn by trial and error. “Just like with art, you learn by mistakes,” said Bieber. “Relationships can be an obsession – it’s on everybody’s mind.”
The student’s in Depice’s class clearly like their teacher and each other. There is much camaraderie and joking. “I used Eddie and Shane [as my cartoon topic],” said Jodi Giambona, 16. “They are always fighting. Not fierce fighting, but constant arguments. Eddie likes to yell.”
“Hey – that’s not true,” mocked Eddie Vorobeychik, 15. “Well, it’s a comedy routine. It gives us something to do.”
Shane Nagel, 18, said that the pair is comfortable enough to joke around.
“I flip out on him sometimes, but I know he can handle it,” said Nagel. “Like if he’s playing with my mirror in the car – I can go off on him.”
Giambona said, “A lot of students talk about [romantic] relationships – how to get into one, how to get out of one, how to handle it. But then there are relationships with each other, our friends and family.”
Olivia Guillaume, 18, is not in the class, but comes during the period to paint. She said she enjoys using pastels because of the ease with which she can manipulate the medium.
“You can get your emotions into the lines you use, deep into the artwork,” she said.
Giambona said that the exercise also becomes the conduit for understanding.
“Besides being a lot of fun, the project also helps me get out a feeling and how I experience things,” she said.
“Mr. Depice is more than a teacher. He is a real artist and a friend, and he helps us see ourselves and each other.”
“Catoonists translate their life experiences into what may be seen as child-like gestures,” Depice said. “I want the students to see that it is more than that. Things in their life that are sad, odd or strange can be exaggerated to make a statement through humor.”
Depice gave the students examples of cartooning techniques and told them that cartoonists often express real-life situations in humorous forms.
Depice told the class about Charles Schultz, the creator of the famous Charlie Brown comic strip. Schultz was working as a teacher in the 1940s where he met a friend named Charlie Brown and a girl with red hair who broke his heart.
Schultz’s own experiences of unrequited love were parlayed into the comic strip called Peanuts. The cartoon characters have made people laugh in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries.
Students in the class get to experience a wide range of methods and disciplines like painting, drawing, and sculpture. The locker-lined art room contains three large worktables covered with splashes of paint and charcoal. “Not a day goes by without a smile in here. A life without laughter is not worth living,” said Depice.
Artwork from both professionals and students lines the walls, along with quotes from traditional and 20th century masters. The smell of turpentine and oil paint is mixed with the energy of adolescents.
“I always liked to draw, but never really learned about it,” said Jorge Nonell, 16. “I like to do realistic stuff as a hobby. I learn how to concentrate on it for a few hours here.”