This unit is designed to integrate art appreciation into the art curriculum at the high school level. Many students come to art class with little respect for the subject. They feel that it is not a “serious” course, but rather something trivial and certainly not exciting.
In order to change this perception about art, we should consider the type of visual information that many students are currently receiving and how it is being delivered to them. Teenagers in our culture are constantly exposed to images from advertisements in magazines and on billboards, from commercials on television, and from movies and videos. This information, produced as powerfully persuasive messages, is designed to have an instant impact on the viewer. Only a short attention span is needed to comprehend the point of a commercial or a TV sitcom. The receiver need not reflect on what he or she has just seen, because there isn’t time—something else immediately pops up on the screen to engage the eye and the mind. Most of this information is created to sell some kind of product and requires “passive” viewing. One can accept or reject what one has just seen, but interaction is not necessary.
In direct contrast to commercial images, art such as the examples in this unit demands “active” viewing. Each work is presented so that analysis and discussion will lead to informed opinions from the students, instead of instant rejection or acceptance. This process of becoming an “active” viewer will be discussed later under the heading of
Objectives and Strategies
The artists to be considered: Archibald Motley, Jr.
William H. Johnson
all African-Americans, were chosen because they project a personal viewpoint within the American cultural experience. Their subject matter can be interpreted as socially or politically significant, or as examples of the Black experience in America, but, ultimately their art has intrinsic value because it reflects specific times, places, and events through the individual artist’s perspective. These works speak to the viewer about feeling and spirit within us through a universal language of form.
This unit is designed for a student population in an arts magnet public high school. It is aimed primarily at grades ten through twelve, or for those who have completed at least one semester of art. This population contains students who are college-bound as well as those who do not know what they will do with themselves, even if they graduate. Some students come with a sophisticated art background, but most do not, and this curriculum is directed towards the less sophisticated students, enabling them to build onto what he or she already knows.
In my school, most students’ ethnic and cultural backgrounds are Afro-American and Hispanic. There is a high level of visual awareness among these high school students with regard to dress and hairstyle, and they coordinate rich patterns, colors, and textures into inventive, attractive combinations of clothes, shoes, hair, and makeup. These students tend to lack a vocabulary to describe the details of their look, and cannot take this awareness out of context. For example, it is very difficult to get them to paint with the colors they wear. Even when they learn to control color mixing, they often do not see the fitness of using these mixed colors for their art work.
Most of our students have very good gross motor skills and a strong kinesthetic sense. Many are involved in dance and drama, activities in which they exhibit these abilities with confidence. However, a large percentage of arts students seem to lack experience in using their fine motor skills; therefore, many are frustrated with three-dimensional techniques such as folding, cutting, and gluing, and are dissatisfied if their work appears messy or comes apart. Much of this frustration can be alleviated through careful demonstrations of techniques. The arts classes also contain learning disabled students, some of whom exhibit extraordinary abilities, particularly in drawing or painting. These students often need special help in understanding directions or in trying something new. Also, the arts magnet school has plenty of completely unmotivated students who are uncooperative and seemingly uninterested in the arts.
The lessons in this unit have been designed to help students to produce satisfying works of art in a relatively short time. All art activities should take between 3 and 5 regular class periods.
The whole unit is designed to be used at the beginning of a semester, when students are still relatively unsure about the expectations of the class. It should last between six and eight weeks, depending on the school calendar of events and the speed with which activities are completed. Students should be allowed to proceed at their own pace as long as work is continuous.