Malcolm S. Forbes once said: "Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one."
This quotation exemplifies the ultimate aim of my art unit for elementary students. I found it interesting that Forbes chose not to say that education's purpose is to fill a mind (the opposite of an empty mind) but to open one. We can "fill" our minds with rote information acquired from facts or other sources, or we can open our minds to approaching subject matter from a critical stance and draw our own conclusions. Opening the mind to analyzing ideas and to solving problems creatively can allow a student to form critical opinions on various subject matters. The role of the teacher, whether it is of language arts, math, history, science, or as in my case, art, must then be to teach students how to think critically about subject matter, and ultimately, become independent thinkers about the world around them.
The saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" is very fitting for this unit. Being able to discuss and write about one's artwork is an essential task of the contemporary artist and one that young artists should begin to develop. Often times people respond to modern art with: "That's art? I could make that!" Or, "what is that? I don't get it!" Without knowing how to interpret an artist's intended meaning critically, a viewer can often be confused. It is the goal of my unit to teach students the process of art criticism-- how to view, analyze, and respond to artworks critically so that they can begin to develop their skills of interpretation and "open their minds" as independent thinkers.
In creating this unit I found myself being faced with the task of how to approach teaching art criticism and critical thinking skills to my students. It occurred to me that I could relate the process of art criticism to processes taught in other disciplines, specifically, in language arts. Although my students have had little or no exposure to authentic art criticism, they have had to analyze literary works and characters in their language arts classes. Understanding how concepts in language arts relate to those in the visual arts will give students a more holistic view of critical analysis. Within this unit students will be exposed to three contemporary artists who depict characters in very different ways within their artworks. To bridge students' understanding between the literary and visual arts, students will be provided with opportunities to learn how techniques used in the analysis of characters in literature can be applied to the analysis of characters in artworks.
Objectives and Goals
While conducting research for this seminar I happened upon this quotation by Alphonse Karr that I found fitting: "Every man has three characters that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has." I would like for students to learn about various ways to develop, view, and interpret themselves and their peers: how we see ourselves (that which he has), how others see us (that which he exhibits), and how we would like to be seen (that which he thinks he has). Student will explore these three types of interpretation through the artwork by Hanoch Piven (who creates character portraits with objects), Kara Walker (who expresses characters in silhouette form), and Cindy Sherman (who transforms herself into a character in her photography work).
As part of the New Haven Art Curriculum, students are asked to answer essential questions as part of each lesson. For this unit they will answer the questions: How does an artist view him or herself? How does he or she express this in his or her artwork? How can an artist interpret what he or she sees in others and express what he or she knows in the creation of an artwork? And how can an artist use him or herself as a model to create an expressive character in his or her artwork.
Throughout the unit, students are forced to think beyond what they simply see before their eyes. Usually, this can pose a significant challenge (for both the students and the teacher). My goal is to guide students gradually by employing character analysis strategies within each lesson, so that students may emerge as critical thinkers of artworks and of character in written work. I view authentically integrating literature and literacy skills into my art lessons as a key component of my curriculum. I feel that this unit will provide students with opportunities to learn how to incorporate character analysis with the process of art criticism. By creating a cross-curricular connection, the ultimate goal of students becoming holistic learners may be achieved.
Who, What and Where I teach
I teach K-4 Art at East Rock Global Studies Magnet School. East Rock is a large K-8 urban magnet school comprised of a diverse population of students. The majority of our students are native to New Haven. About a third of the population, however, are recent immigrants from over 100 countries. East Rock also has a large special education population, which includes a number of hearing impaired students. Because of these factors, students' learning needs and styles vary considerably. I have found, however, that the hearing impaired students and many of the English speakers of other languages (ESOL) are visual learners and benefit from visual learning strategies. Therefore, the art room is a classroom in which they tend to grasp concepts and are engaged in learning.
As teachers we are asked to address the unique and individual needs of our school and student population. Although a student body that includes individuals from over 100 countries makes for a diverse population, many students are unaware of the cultural differences that exist between them. More importantly, they are often unaware of the similarities that they may share. A key component of this unit is to provide students with the opportunity to explore how they see themselves and how others see them in writing as preparatory work for the creation of three distinct character portraits. Through the first two activities, students will be able to develop their skills of critical analysis of art as well as character analysis, which will prepare them for their final assignment of creating a fictitious character. This sequence will not only develop students' skills over time but also allow them to look more closely at the views that they may have of themselves and of others.
I am a fairly new teacher in New Haven. I began teaching part time a little over four years ago. After teaching for a few months, my supervisor asked me to join a team with five other teachers to assist in writing the new art curriculum for New Haven. Our district was just beginning the process of redesigning all curriculums within each discipline area. After lengthy discussions and debates, it was decided that the framework of the curriculum was to be based on the elements of art and principles of design. The elements of art are: line, shape, color, texture, value, and space. Each grade level would complete a unit based upon each element of art within a given timeframe of the school year. The principles of design would be worked into each unit and vary within each unit according to the individual teacher's approach.
In addition to the elements and principles of art, the curriculum also called for teachers to implement art history and art criticism within each unit of study. As part of each lesson students are asked to answer an "essential question" for the lesson. These are based upon the concepts being taught within each lesson. The overall design of the curriculum's framework would allow for all students to be learning similar concepts at the same time, while allowing teachers the freedom to create their own lessons based on the concepts to be taught. This design is very helpful within New Haven's district as many students change schools from year to year or within a given school year. Approaching the curriculum design in this way would allow for all students to "pick up" where they left off and give continuity to student learning throughout the district.