Consenses at Emerson College
February 2020, Sally visited set designer and teacher Janie Howland’s Consenses classroom at Emerson College. The students’ played a game of ‘Essences’ with this painting by Mary Ann Wakeley as part of the curriculum in which they had to consider
“If this painting were a color what would it be?” “If it were a flavor what would it be?” “a person in your life?” “an emotion?” “a sound?” “a smell, what would it be?” Ask yourself these questions now and then scroll down to explore what this Consenses group at Emerson saw in this painting and what they created in reaction.
Here is what each student created in reaction to the painting…
Sarah Bord performed this tap dance (intended to be heard not seen). these are her ‘Essences’ metaphors from considering the painting:
“I really connected to its haphazard and layers look. It didn’t feel forced or stressed it just felt like it was allowed to be. I knew I wanted to tap because the painting had a sound to me. The first sound I heard was the tap dragging on the floor because of the smeared look. I also knew it didn’t have a constant beat or rhythm, it was very random. If may dance could speak it would say, ‘I am not perfect because I am not meant to be.”
Cassie Cormier painted her nails in response to the painting and chose these metaphors to describe the essence of the painting.
“If the painting were a color it would be cream with a raspberry swirl. If it were a flavor it would be confetti, like the birthday cake flavor of ice cream. If it were a person it would be an eight-year-old girl who fell asleep on the way home from her party with her friends. It would be the story of when sleeping beauty wakes up. If it were an emotion it would be tired like a lost sock. If it were a sound it would be giggling with your friends. If it were a smell it would be like Nonnie’s upstairs bathroom. If there was one thing to wrap it’s essence up it would be a bath bomb.
My first reaction was to make a bath bomb but I don’t know how to do that. But all I could think about was an 8-year old’s birthday party. My essences sheet resulted in sparkly nail polish. If what I created could speak think it would dance and laugh and scream and playhouse and chase the cat and only eat a few bites of dinner and not wear shoes and I think it would ask to go swimming.”
Kirsten Davis styled this outfit to express the essence of the painting.
“I interpreted the colors first. The bright colors, in particular, remind me more of my childhood and being very expressive in color. When I was a kid I was a lot less afraid of being judged for what I wore. Also, the way it’s painted reminds me a little of finger painting or something I might do in an elementary school art class. The more gray aspects of the work and the white/gray empty making the painting feel a little more foggy like a memory. This piece feels like the memory of a bright and colorful childhood.
The first piece of clothing that came to me was my overshirt with vinyl records on it. It’s colorful and reminds me of my childhood. Translating this piece into an outfit was very challenging. I really wanted to make it colorful but with a little more of a mature look since this piece reminds me of a memory of childhood. I wanted this to be like a person bringing the colorfulness of youth back to a more sophisticated look. Being mature does not mean you have to not be expressive in what you wear.
I think my outfit would remember the things that brought Brough you joy in your childhood and bring some of that liveliness back into your life.
Sophia Klokinis created a food collage to portray the essence of the painting and had this to say about the painting.
“If the painting were a color it would be pastel, sickly pale, candy colors. If it were a flavor it would be bubble gum, sweet and articficle. If it would be another mother, Coraline’s fake mom. If it were a memory it would be a nightmare, when your dream becomes a night mare, running to the exit and getting no closer. If it were an emotion it would be unsettled, something is wrong but you can’t figure it out. If it were a sound it would be a pop, bubblegum pop, hereditary style.
The first thing I thought of was gum, and I was stuck on it for a while when trying to determine the other components. I felt that cum captured the color, but the feeling of unease evoked by the spindly lines and perspective toward the hole in the middle of the painting gave me another layer to unpack.
The gum came to me first inspired by the colors of the piece. Next came the incorporation of an unsettling element just beneath the surface. Chewed food is gross and makes people uncomfortable, so I decided to hide this element beneath a pretty layer of nice gum. The bright colors distract you from taking a closer look at the horrors beneath.
If my artwork could speak it would entice its victims with sweet tones and promises of sweet dreams come true, only to eat them once they’re lured in!
Carter White wrote a poem to express the essence of the painting.
If the painting were a color it would be beige, sand not an office, deep within is many lost shells. If it were a flavor it would be a blueberry jam sandwich on a spring day! If it were a person it would be an ice skater. If it were a memory it would be a day in Chicago, a day I spent wandering around Chicago this summer. If it were an emotion it would be wonder, maybe not the last time in history. It would sound like a synthesizer, plus the sound of a pencil drawing a line. If it were a song it would be Circles by Mac Miller. If there was one word to describe the painting’s essence it would be arrival, of hope into what has always been.
The first things that stood out to me were the painting’s use of color and negative space. The colors and their arrangement hated at a larger world, pulsing with light and activity. And the vague star shape at the piece’s center yearned to make itself known. The items that came to mind felt like they had their saturation raised.
The poem was definitely the first thing that came to me, it encapsulated my reactions to the painting plus many things I was feeling at the time I wrote it. I wanted to incorporate the aforementioned color and negative space, which is where my piece’s high-saturation colors and value star-shaped outline came from. With these elements, that last line continued to ring: “We are here!”
If my poem could speak it would say,
“Let water fall, let edges smooth.
We are here, but also
you are here.”
We’d like to thank the students at Emerson College for sharing their perspectives with us. What do you see? Share your answers with us on social media @ConsensesArt or take the Consenses Professional Development and bring the curriculum into your own community. https://classroom.consenses.org/