Things That Make You Go Hmmm: The Elementary School Artist Acting as a Contemporary Art Historian
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As an elementary art teacher in an urban magnet school, I am faced with many challenges, from the day-to-day problems that may arise in the classroom to the overall goals of developing a wide variety of skills within these young artists. A major challenge I have found is being able to teach about contemporary artists, those who are making art now within and for our rapidly changing society. Because contemporary artists often weave historical themes within their artworks and because they are responding to these historical moments in the present, I strongly believe that students may be able understand these themes on a holistic level as well as connect to the artwork itself. However, over my course of time as a teacher, it has been difficult to find lessons that utilize these types of artists and that are geared to the young and developing elementary artist. Another challenge of mine has been to be able to authentically integrate strategies used in other disciplines into my art lessons. Often I am asked to help prepare students for the upcoming standardized tests that they take annually by integrating information from other disciplines. I wanted to create a unit that would introduce students to contemporary artists while utilizing strategies from the language-arts curriculum without losing the authenticity of the art curriculum. In addition, because I have chosen to use contemporary artists who use historical themes, this unit asks students to act as art historians while learning about the process of art, making yet another interdisciplinary connection between the visual arts and history. The last challenge that I face and that this unit addresses is to develop within my students the ability to see themselves as members of their community, ones who have a voice and who may be able to ask other members of the community to question and rethink the world in which they live. The visual arts are a medium that often allows a viewer to take a moment and think, question, and wonder. It is a medium that makes a viewer go "hmmm," pondering what the artist is trying to say while looking at an artwork, standing with crossed arms tapping a finger against his or her lips. In this way the visual arts can be extremely powerful and can act as catalysts for the ways in which we as a community may hold views on a particular topic. Throughout this unit students will learn about artists who make artworks that make a viewer go "hmmm," create art that makes their fellow classmates go "hmmm" and finally, curate an art show that makes their community go "hmmm."