“I liked the idea that you’re never too young or too old to be involved with art. This could be proven in the fact that the leaders of Studio K.O.S. started this club when they were very young, and despite becoming older they’re still able to hold onto the same message/idea they had when they first started this club at a young age. Another thing that stuck with me was that art can be found in literature, in Invisible Man, we were able to find the art in the words that were used, and I find that beautiful because it’s not typically what people think about when they think of art.”
–Tylia K. 11th grade, WACTAC member
Born out of an after school art making program run by the late artist, Tim Rollins, Studio K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) is an artist collective composed of Angel Abreu, Jorge Abreu, Robert Branch, and Ricardo Savion. Today, Studio K.O.S. continues to evolve the work they began as middle school students in the early 1980s exploring the transformative power of literacy and how it can encourage social and personal change. In their work with Rollins, Studio K.O.S. (then just K.O.S. as the group Studio to their name after Rollins’ passing) developed an art making process that created connections between literature, social justice, and art. In what would come to be called “jamming,” Rollins or a member of K.O.S. would read from a text while the group simultaneously ripped, cut, painted, collaged, and drew on the pages from the same text. Through discussion, they would also connect their own lived experiences to the content and communicate those experiences and interpretations formally through color, shape, arrangement, scale, and relief. Following the passing of Rollins in 2017, the group continues to evolve and adapt the jamming process to fit the changing needs of learners today. Studio K.O.S. is the 2020 Art Resources Transfer (A.R.T.) Distribution to Underserved Communities Library Program Honoree. A.R.T. will celebrate Studio K.O.S. by distributing over 25,000 free art books to 625 public libraries, schools, and prisons in the group’s name. In partnership with the Walker, and following workshops and public dialogue, Studio K.O.S. will co-create the fifth installment of A.R.T.’s Reading Resources teaching guides
- Community building by encouraging participants to share and hear the personal experiences of their peers
- Multi-modal critical thinking by fostering an environment where students communicate their textual connections and analysis through art making
- Literacy and meta-cognitive thinking by asking participants to do close readings of canonical texts and developing phonological awareness (thinking about the sound structures of language) and encouraging textual analysis.
Studio K.O.S designed this process for smaller classrooms of 15-20 students and encourage its use for students experiencing significant barriers to opportunity and limited arts access.
Below are the steps for facilitating jamming adapted by Walker Art Center Education. Curriculum source material can be found on the website of Studio K.O.S. member, Angel Abreu. If you’re interested in more ideas for how to adapt this lesson for your classroom or informal learning environment, see Art Resources Transfer’s Reading Resource on Studio K.O.S.
Time Needed: 2 Hours
- Malcolm X – Civil and human rights leader who spoke for racial equity and liberation by any means necessary
- William Shakespeare – 15th Century English playwright whose canonical works include Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet
- Harriet Jacobs – Abolitionist and feminist writer known for her memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
- James Baldwin – Writer whose deeply poetic works explored masculinity, class, sexuality and race
- Dr. Martin Luther King – Civil rights leader responsible for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and the Selma voting rights movement
- Nathaniel Hawthorne – 18th Century New England writer best known for his investigation of morality in The Scarlet Letter
- W.E.B. Du Bois – One of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) whose essay collection The Souls of Black Folk is foundational to discourse on race
- Franz Kafka – German writer who used a combination of fantasy and realism to explore alienation, bureaucracy, and existential anxiety
- Mark Twain – Influential humorist whose works The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer shaped the American literary canon
- Stephan Crane – Impressionist poet and author of The Red Badge of Courage
- Ralph Ellison – Novelist and essayist known for Invisible Man, Shadow and Act, and Going to the Territory
- Giordano Bruno – 15th Century Copernican astronomer and poet
These authors are typically for an advanced reading level, but their messages are relevant to all. For Minnesotan English Language Arts classrooms at a 6th Grade level, the Walker also recommends the prescribed text Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.
Suggested Art supplies
Format & Process
Introduction: Ground the activities by introducing the work of Studio K.O.S. This overview article of the collective will allow you to show their art, history and formation to students. Older students might also like watch this interview between Studio K.O.S. and Attorney General Keith Ellison. Members of Studio K.O.S. like to start the lesson with a call response asking students if they’re ready to make history. Even if the class is already acquainted, it’s still helpful for students to do a “go around” or “get to know you” question to start practicing opening up about their personal experiences and to find common ground. Examples of these questions include:
- Share a moment from this past week that has been a real highlight for you and why?
- Describe a moment or activity that is a time when you feel incredibly [choose one] calm / empowered / excited / energized ?
- Tell us about an object in your life that is very meaningful to you.
Reading in the Round: If jamming with a new text, it’s helpful to provide students with an informal plot synopsis. Studio K.O.S recommends using music, video, and other AV supports to engage multiple forms of retention.
Select a passage, and have students take turns reading aloud from the text (each student can read one page etc.) As the educator, you are encouraged to read aloud as well. Call on students to read, or have them “popcorn” to their peers.
Reading aloud is key to the jamming process. Some students may feel anxious or uncomfortable doing so. Try to ease their stress by sharing that this step is designed to create a space where everyone is hearing, listening, and participating equally.
When you’ve finished your reading selection, lead a conversation prompting students to make discursive connections in the text, and/or to their own experiences. The conversation topics might include personal beliefs, sources of hope, personal narratives or challenges, and politics.
Sample questions to catalyze conversation:
- Imagine the text visually (lines, expressive gestures, patterns, etc.)
- What do you notice about color symbology
- How does the language evoke feeling? What feelings are evoked?
- What is the rhythm of the dialogue? How does that help create meaning?
Remember, sometimes asking that extra “why” when a student shares their thoughts can make all the difference.
Art Making: As the reading and discussion are happening, or after, each student creates an original artwork in the style of Studio K.O.S. To do so, each student begins with the base of the actual pages from their book or if done virtually, from a scanned image of the text. The goal is to encourage students to cover, highlight, or obscure parts of the text to carve out or feature select passages and to use their aesthetic choices to communicate and support a formal art making choice. When reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Studio K.O.S. usually uses a format where they use colors, lines, patterns and materials to manipulate the letters IM superimposed over the text to evoke questions of identity. Depending on the text, students may create their own lettering, symbols, or appliqués to do this.
In person, students might cut, tear, paint, or draw on the actual text. Virtually, students have a wide range of options to alter their image of the text on Google Slides by using drawing tools, line patterns, gradients, and shadows. An advantage of Google Slides, is that students can make multiple pieces in rapid succession – not being precious and avoiding spending too much time on a single artwork is another important facet of jamming.
Conclusion: Wrap everything up by having the students share out their artworks and to explain their reasoning behind formal decisions. Encourage commenting on each other’s work and asking more questions. To close out, ask the students a check out question to see what they thought of the workshop, or how they are feeling