The content included in this unit regarding Maya culture is a necessary and integral component of the unit; however I feel that this unit will meet another very important purpose: that of teaching students to see art as active viewers looking at the components and visual elements of the objects which we will explore .
Art is a way of knowing about the outside world through reaching into our own experiences and as a way out between reality and ourselves. Unlike language, which is read from left to right, sequential, and which depends upon signs to communicate and express, the visual arts are spatial, non directional and we first see it as a whole. The various components are presented as a whole. It is only after we perceive the total configuration that we begin to experience the individual elements and the relation to each other and to the whole. This experience is, however, more than the individual parts. It is in the interrelation and interdependent function among the different parts, as well as the individual parts, that make us perceive the art object.
In describing objects through language I have used to this date the characteristics of a series of manipulatives that probably every teacher in the elementary classroom has: attribute blocks. These blocks consist of five shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, circle and hexagon); three colors(red, blue, yellow); two sizes (large, small); and two thickness (thin, thick). These blocks provide the students with a very concrete vocabulary and a model to describe and categorize most of the objects that surround us. However, the attributes are limited in scope and are not entirely useful in describing and viewing art objects because they focus on the parts and not the whole. I want to be able to expand this limited formula and make use of a broader model to see everything that surrounds us.
Weismann describes three different kinds of seeing: operational, associational, and pure (Weismann, p.18). In the “operational” way of seeing there are no remembered feelings, ideas concerning the object, and leave the object unexplored. An example of this type of seeing is crossing the street looking at the cars going by where your eye sees but does not perceive any characteristics related to the object. In the “associational” type of seeing, a chain of reactions is unleashed when the viewer associates the object with a word. To follow the example of the cars going by, the object is related to the word “car” and the viewer in his or her mind might think how once got close to been hit by one and how he heard the breaks screech and later tried calming down by sitting on the curve. In the “pure” mode of seeing we are interested in the “how” the object is; in the specific qualities of the object. This mode of viewing is a learning discovery process through the study of the qualities, characteristics, and attributes of the object,
When we look at the world around we respond to the visual elements of: position, size, color, shape, line, texture, and density. We perceive and are affected by the position of things in relation to ourselves. The relationship between things, which can be large, small, or equal in size, affects our visual awareness. One of the most significant visual elements of an object is that of color and it is the most difficult to deal with in words. Color has two attributes, value and intensity. The intensity of color refers as the brilliance of color. The hue or chrome, refers to how much lightness (tint) or darkness (shade), on an ideal scale ranging from between white and black.
The shape of an object or geometrical figure refers to the “external form or contour”(Weismann, p.26). The endless diversity of shapes is perceived in two or three dimensions. We refer to a three-dimensional shape as an object that occupies more than one plane and a two-dimensional shape as being located in a single plane. In the use of three-dimensional shapes we talk of “positive” and “negative” shapes. The former is the shape composed of the material substance (clay, limestone, marble, etc.) and the later refers to the non material shapes (the inside of a vase). One of the most important visual elements is that of line referring to the “threadlike mark produced with a pen, a pencil fine brush, or anyone of a variety of engraving and marking tools.”(Weismann, p.31).
In discussing texture, as a visual element, the reference is to how light shows in the surface of things and it is therefore texture of surfaces. It is the degree of smoothness and roughness. It comes to us via our vision and our touch. The texture can also be implied (made to look like cloth, as an example) versus the actual texture (clay). The final of the visual elements, density, is the “degree of occupancy of the format”. These elements do not exist in isolation from each other, but in an endless combination making an infinite number of configurations possible.
In looking at the Maya works that we will be studying, I will incorporate the above elements in a way that the children will include in their oral and written descriptions the seven elements of position, size, color, shape, line, texture, and density to begin to see those works in a “pure” manner. All of the Maya artifacts that will be study will belong to one of the following types: altar, ball-court sculpture, column, cornice, fragment, hieroglyphic stairway or step, jamb, lintel, monument, mural painting, panel, pilaster or pier, stela, tablet, throne, or zoomorph.