An important dilemma for me as an art history teacher is how to make the evidence that survives from the past an interesting subject of discussion and learning for my classroom. For the art historian, the evidence is the artwork and the documents that support it. My solution is to have students compare different approaches to a specific historical period because they will have the chance to read primary sources about each of the three images selected, discuss them, and then determine whether and how they reveal, criticize or correctly report the events that they depict. Students should be able to identify if the artist accurately represents an historical event and, if it is not accurately represented, what message the artist is trying to convey.
Artists and historians interpret historical events. I would like my students to understand that this interpretation is a construction. Primary documents provide us with just one window to view history. Artwork is another window, but the students must be able to judge on their own the factual content of the work and the artist's intent. It is imperative that students understand this. Barber says in
History beyond the Text
that there is danger in confusing history as an actual narrative and "construction of the historians (or artist's) craft."
Merriam Webster Dictionary
defines iconic as "an emblem or a symbol."
The three images I have chosen to study are considered iconic images from the different time periods they represent. My students will determine if these images are historically accurate portrayals. The three images I will examine are: Dorothea Lange's
, and William Powell Frith's
These images do not have to be used consecutively, nor do they have to be used to build on each other. The images, from different time periods, have been recognized as iconic. They can be used individually at different points in the curriculum, if your curriculum is set up chronologically. This unit can be used for a photography course, art history course, US history course or even an English course studying literature of the Great Depression or of Dickens.
This unit will help me teach "reading for information," which has become a requirement in all classes that are taught at my school. The students will read historical documents that refer to the artist's background, biography, or reviews. This unit will give me the chance to bring to class not only documents that are effective and connected to the artists we are going to study, but also interesting documents that will certainly improve the students' reading abilities and their knowledge of this subject. These will help improve their critical and thinking skills.
This unit directly analyzes how life is reconstructed through images, colors, details and shapes. Specifically, this unit will help me and my students to look at an image and determine whether certain details led the artist to alter the reality behind the image. I want students to questions and ask, "How is this image biased?" In this view, the image that makes history can open a window on the past and also teach what distortions are present in history and can be avoided in the future. As historians we must question all documents and media. They were not created with complete "factual accuracy and dispassion objectivity."