Student mandalas

Catherine Gersich, an art teacher at Bellingham High School, has shared her thoughts on an annual art project that focuses on the history and creation of mandalas. These mandalas were created by her students in Art Two in Spring 2019.

GERSICH: In the classical Indian language of Sanskrit, mandala loosely translated means “circle.”  A mandala is far more than a simple shape though. A mandala is often a symbol that is utilized to help people focus on meditation and achieve a sense of oneness with the universe. Mandalas can contain both geometric and organic lines and can also contain recognizable images that carry meaning for the person who is creating it.

In essence, mandalas represent the connection between our inner worlds and outer reality. Designing mandalas can be both inspiring and therapeutic.  In my Art Two class, we always begin the semester with this project which both teaches the elements of “Line” and “Color” but is a relaxing way to ease into the class as well.  It’s easy for students to personalize the mandalas and this project is often more stress-free than other projects so it’s a great way to start the semester.

I introduce the project with a PowerPoint that includes history, examples of a variety of mandalas including Monks making sand mandalas, and a discussion about the art form. Then I demonstrate how to start and show the steps to the project. The students are at that point free to work on their projects and I encourage them to challenge themselves to do the best quality work they can!

We use pen and watercolor for this project and students can personalize them in many ways through color, shapes and line-type, variety and pattern.

Art is a common language shared between cultures and across time. It’s important that I weave history and art from various cultures into many of my projects to give more depth to the assignments.  I think understanding how and why people have created art for thousands of years, enables students to find more relevance in their creations. Art history helps shows visually how it felt to exist in certain location, a specific society and in a particular time!

Many students enjoy looking and talking about art from other eras and cultures and appreciate considering the emotional impact of the art, the historical context of it, and analyzing the circumstances of its creation and purpose. It inspires ideas for their own art and creates deeper meaning about the world around them and our place in it.

Gersich has been an art educator for 29 years. She spent her first two years teaching in Oregon and joined Bellingham Public Schools in 1993 as art teacher at Fairhaven Middle School. In 2010, she started teaching at Bellingham High School.

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