Monday, November 9, 2009

Students Learn The Value Of Album Cover Art With Assignment

By Robert Benson

Vinyl records are enjoying a bit of a resurgence with sales on a slow but steady increase in the last few years. What makes vinyl so attractive to music consumers is of course the sound quality and the pleasure of actually owning the physical product – you can hold it, admire it and study the album cover art as you listen to the LP.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Schnitzer, an art teacher at Williston Middle School in Wilmington, NC who has a special assignment for her art students. As part of their course work, she has the students design their own album cover art. Let’s learn more about this innovative and interesting assignment:

Where do you teach and what subjects?

I teach Visual Art-Grades 6, 7 and 8.

When did you first start this project?

In 1989, when I began teaching in Allendale, New Jersey. I actually had done the project six months before I got my job, when I was a student at Clifton High School, in Clifton, NJ.

I would imagine that over the years that you have seen some great ideas from your students, do you have any cover art that stands out, sort of a top ten list?

All my students turn in creative art work and I have had students do some really impressive and creative album covers for Metallica, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC- lots of heavy metal covers, I think that the music just lends itself to some dramatic visuals.

I would have loved an art project like this when I was in school, are the students excited and interested in the assignment?

They really enjoy the project. It is one project where they can really be as creative as they’d like, without specific instructions, except that the covers must be in a 12 inch by 12 inch format (the dimensions of album covers).

You told me that you have generated a list of good album titles to help the students, can you elaborate?

I have a list of about fifty or so album titles from over the years, some really translate literally, which is a bit easier for middle school students. Some of them are: Cyndi Lauper Hat Full Of Stars, Billy Joel Glass Houses, Aerosmith Permanent Vacation, Jimmy Buffet Off To See The Lizard, Meatloaf Bat Out Of Hell. Also on the list is Neil Young Harvest Moon, Jethro Tull Thick As A Brick, Rush Moving Pictures, Cream Strange Brew, David Bowie Ziggy Stardust, Supertramp Breakfast In America, B-52’s Wild Planet and many others.

How may of the students actually have vinyl?

Not too many, but they definitely come in and tell me about their parents’ collections after we start the project! There are also two record shops in town which sell a lot of collectible vinyl.

What are your favorite album covers, what do you think of Sgt. Pepper?

I’m not actually a huge Sgt. Pepper fan and I generally prefer drawn or painted covers rather than photography, but I will say my favorites include Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti (great concept for the cover), Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus and any of the Neon Park covers he did for them and also Supertramp’s Breakfast In America cover, which was photography, but very surreal.

You state that you have brought in some of your own albums for the students to look at, do they have any favorites?

They love most of the Led Zeppelin covers (I have them all so I bring them in to share); also, they love the story behind Abbey Road and Paul’s supposed demise and such. Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is another favorite- due to the dirty little pictures all over it.

What kind of requirements do you place on the students for the assignment, are they allowed to use a collage, pictures, certain colors?

When we do this project, my 8th graders are at the point in the semester where we have worked with so many mediums that they are allowed to use anything we’ve used up to that point including fabric, yarn, glitter, paints, inks, magazines, etc. The album covers have to stay clean and within the 12” x 12” limit.

What is the appeal, why is this project important?

Since I am a child (teenager) of the 70’s, I try to instill in my students the intense enormity of album cover art and how much of a part of our social scene that they were! I saw over thirty concerts between my three years in high school, beginning with Steve Miller in 1976 and I tell them that music was much more social back then, iPods have isolated folks and music is not shared as much, which to me is very sad. We all had a hard enough time actually seeing our bands in music videos, which really changed music in a positive way. When we were in high school, we often didn’t see the musicians unless they were on the Midnight Special, Don Kirschner’s Rock Hour or Saturday Night Live, and when you did get to see a band you liked it was such a special treat!

Let’s look at some of the creative album cover art that has been turned in:

It’s encouraging that an art teacher recognizes the social and cultural importance of album cover art and teaches these values to her students. And as vinyl record sales continue to rise, more and more young music lovers will soon embrace the superior sound of vinyl and get to know album cover art personally.

Written By Robert Benson Copyright 2009

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