Ten years ago in January, I gave my first batch of Leadership High School students a New Years’ assignment entitled “Self-Portrait in 10 Years: 2010”. This was my first year as a “real” (mostly surreal) teacher at a pretty bizarre school where we made up the rules as we went along, and where nobody seemed to notice when I gave students psychologically loaded homework.
Students had to write a New Year’s letter to themselves, reflecting on the last ten years of their lives, and make a self-portrait art piece, as well. Since they were only 16 or 17 years old at the time, they had to envision what they thought they’d be like at 26 or 27 years old, and to imagine what had happened in those ten years in-between.
It was made clear that kids didn’t have to be model citizens in this project: they were free to project their futures into this project, regardless of appropriateness. The resultant projects were funny and poignant, especially in thinking about them now. Some students expected to be married with kids. A number of girls expected to be strippers. A couple of kids were fugitives from the law. One kid was working in a shoe store after some prison time. Another was getting out of celebrity rehab. Someone controlled the universe. One girl had a piercing studio. Two students were high tech pimps. Despite the lack of access to the work, I remember many of those assignments well, and I have incredibly fond (if slightly disturbing) memories of them.
I took photos and made copies of all of their work, fully intending to return the projects right around now. (Because I’m sentimental and nuts like that. Not to mention a total pack rat.) Of course, I’m now in Prague and the work is still buried deep in storage in California, so other than a couple of jpegs that ended up on my laptop, it may take a bit longer before I can get the work back to my former students.
Woff and Pizzi with her 2010 project, LHS, 2000
I did some further recall, and realized that I’m still in contact with over half of this first group of students. They were a pretty amazing, funny group of kids, I was a young, beginner teacher, and LHS was a tiny, new school: while I’ve always stayed in contact with individual students, I was probably closer to this group as a whole than any other batch of students since.
Their assignments were wildly inaccurate projections, as it turns out. Not too many strippers or fugitives (that I know of): some grad students, some parents, some teachers, some slackers. Your classic cross-section of San Francisco adults in their mid-twenties, all still precious, interesting and unique.
The “Self-Portrait in 10 Years” assignment became a January tradition for my students over the following few years. This means that in the next few years I’ll have many other projects that need to be returned, as well.
Here’s the original assignment, below.
You know, for those of you who want to do it and send it to me for safe-keeping for 10 years.
Your first art project of the new year is a response to time passing: art being as it is a good creative record of how one lives one’s life, the New Year seems like an appropriate time and method to reflect on who you are and who you think you’re becoming. While many people use birthdays or anniversaries as markers and milestones, January 1 is a relatively universal opportunity to share and reflect with others.
You are to write a long New Year’s letter to yourself, and create a self-portrait, incorporating the things you’ve done, the things you love, the things that surround you in your daily environment.
Let’s make it more interesting.
You are to do this project, as you are, ten years from now.
2010: THE LETTER
1. A New Year’s Day reflective letter/journal entry, as you are in the year 2010, 1.5 to 2 pages, typed single-spaced
2. It should probably include thoughtful reflection about the last ten years of your life: what’ve you gone through since you were in high school? You’re now 26 years old. What have you done? Where’d you go to college (if you went)? Where did you go? Did you travel? Get married? Divorced? Have kids? Are you in politics? In jail? Are you happy with your life? Did some twist of fate take you on a path you never expected?
3. Don’t just list things off (I did this. I did that. Bo-o-o-ring.) Make it personal, interesting, engaging, believable, because this who you truly are, and will always be. Really come up with a sense of who you are, who you’ve become in your 20s. Describe where you are, physically, professionally, emotionally.
2010: THE SELF-PORTRAIT
1. A semi-realistic self-portrait, as you are in the year 2010, mixed media, 9×12 to 11×14 inches
2. Include physical details about your life and present environment. These can include items such as the place you’re living/working/traveling in. They may also include supporting cast members such as family, dear friends, jail wardens, co-workers, children, yada yada yada. Bear in mind that as you age, your basic features and proportions won’t change tremendously. You may fill out. You may thin out. Some low-level wrinkles may start to show. Hairstyles will change. Fashions will change. Have fun with this. Use your imagination. Consider looking at photos of your parents or other familiar figures when they were in their 20s. Use photos of yourself that would make useful references.
Behold: the nerdy “sample” self-portrait I did as a demo for kids on the back of my folder, imagining myself in 2010. Other than having and keeping that motorcycle (which I hadn’t yet acquired at the time of this drawing) until about 6 months ago, I’m somewhat relieved to say my self-portrait was wildly inaccurate, as well.