I am a visual arts teacher at Cooperative Arts Magnet High School (Co-op), an inter-district magnet high school. Approximately 65% of the students are from the city of New Haven and 35% come from surrounding towns. The students apply for a lottery to come to Co-op and choose an area of the arts to study. This art form will be their area of intensive study for four years. The students may choose from music (choral or instrumental), visual art, theater, creative writing, or dance. The Visual Art students take a double period of art, approximately 90 minutes, everyday.
Students come from districts other than New Haven to attend Co-op rather than their local public high schools, primarily because they are interested in studying the arts in a smaller setting. Co-op has 624 students enrolled in grades 9-12. The student population is 65 % of female and 35% male, 49% Black students, 24% Hispanic, 26% White and 1% Asian American students. The main languages spoken are English and Spanish with 1% English language learners (ELLs). The school has 7% students with special education needs. The proportion of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches is 66%, a figure that is higher than the state average.
Co-op is fortunate to be located one block from two of Yale University's world-renowned museums, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art. Teachers often take their students on mini field trips to the galleries. The Art Gallery owns a copy of
and the Center for British Art owns an engraving by Auguste Blanchard after Frith's
The AP Art History students that I teach have a rigorous, college-based curriculum that includes the following objectives, which appears as follows in the syllabus that I wrote for the course:
Students will gain knowledge of architecture, sculpture, painting and other art
forms within diverse historical and cultural contexts. Students will examine and
critically analyze major forms of artistic expression from the past and present and
from a variety of European and non-European cultures. Students will develop an
understanding of artworks in their context, considering issues of patronage,
gender, politics, religion and ethnicity. Students will examine the interpretation of
a work based upon its intended use, audience and the role of both the artist and
work of art in a particular society.
The unit will begin with several objectives: To use historical documents as educational tools for the experiencing of history, to use primary sources to make connections between artwork and history, and to examine works of art to determine if the images that we have named iconic are accurate depictions of history. I want my students to question the historical accuracy of the artworks in question as well as the intentions of the artist.
My unit will be essentially focused on the analysis of primary sources and their specific details to understand, interpret, and analyze, and draw conclusions about the artists' choices in depicting an event. Each primary source will be studied following the four levels of critique that we use in the art classroom. These questions are part of the critique process that the Visual Art department at Co-op has developed: Describe, Analyze, Interpret, and Judge.
The most challenging part for my AP Art History students is number 4 – Judge. In order to know the artist's intent the student must know the context of the work itself: the historical, political and societal connections. The students need to study historical documents to be able to synthesize the information that the artists used to construct the artwork. The students should also study the artist's background to understand how the art work is a reflection of the artist's beliefs and prejudices. Then students will be able to make judgments about whether the artwork accurately depicts historical events.
Part of my unit will also be reserved for the analysis of propaganda in representing an image of a specific event. My aim is to improve my students' skills as independent thinkers who do not accept every word or every image they see, on the Internet, in print, or in movies. Also, the students will be able to make a powerful, personal connection to their own artwork and that of others.