Making Connections Between the Analysis in the Writing Process and the Analysis in the Art-Making Process
This first strategy allows students to see the correlations that exist between the visual and verbal arts, and it will be used throughout the unit in various ways. Artists and writers share similar ways in which they move through the process of making their work as they plan, make, revise, and reflect upon their work. First, both the visual arts and the verbal arts have their own vocabularies used to discuss and make works within these disciplines. During the planning stages both the visual artist and the writer view and analyze examples of works related to the work they plan to make and generate ideas through various similar forms. While making works, both the artist and the writer consider the form in which they will make their work, consider their audience, and make revisions. Both the visual artist and the writer can reflect upon works using similar critical analysis techniques. Throughout this unit and at the beginning of each of the three portions of this unit (developing an art vocabulary, making art, and responding to art), the aim of this strategy is for students to recognize the idea that the skills that they have learned in their language-arts classes may transfer over to the skill which they will learn in the art classroom.
For the first portion of the unit, students will focus on developing an art vocabulary. They will learn to describe artworks in a variety of ways: through the tools an artist uses, the surfaces he or she work on, the materials used, and the elements an artist incorporates. Students will draw upon comparisons between the vocabulary of a visual artist and that of a writer. This activity will familiarize students with these terms and to see the connections between the visual and the verbal arts by having them create Venn Diagrams as a whole group.
Both visual artists and writers use tools to create their work. Whereas an artist uses a paintbrush, chisel, loom, palette, exacto knife, tape, modeling tools, a pen, and various resource references, a writer uses pencils, pens, computers, paper, dictionaries, and resource materials.
Both visual artists and writers work on particular surfaces. Whereas an artist may work on a canvas, paper, stone, a metal plate, or a wood panel, a writer may work on paper or a computer screen.
Both visual artists and writers work with materials. An artist may work with various paints, dry materials such as charcoal or pastel, clay, metal, stone, or fabric; a writer may use graphite (pencil), ink, or printed characters such as with a printing press or with a keyboard.
Both visual artists and writers employ a variety of elements to compose their works. Visual artists use the elements and principles of design: line, shape/form, space, texture, and color/value. Writers use nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions and a variety of punctuation. Both the visual artist and writer use the elements as the basis for their work.
Composition and Structure
Both the visual artist and the writer will then take these elements and apply structure to them to complete their compositions. A visual artist may apply design principles such as repetition/pattern, emphasis, unity, balance and contrast. A writer may consider word choice, sentence structure and punctuation choice. Arranging the elements and structuring them help both the visual artist and writer get their point across.
For the second part of the unit students will learn how a visual artist and a writer may share a similar process in creating their works. Both the visual artist and the writer make plans, chose a form, try to maintain the interest of the viewer, and make revisions to their work. During this portion of the unit, students will learn how artists brainstorm, plan, choose a particular form to present their ideas, consider their audience, and make revisions to their work.
Both a visual artist and a writer must first brainstorm ideas as part of the process of making their art. Both the visual artist and the writer can formulate ideas by thinking about how to answer a series of questions. For the visual artist these questions include: "What do I want to make? What person, place, thing, or idea do I want to show? What message do I want to convey? What is the function or purpose of this artwork?"
The writer may answer the questions: "What do I want to write about? What person, place, thing or idea will I write about? What message do I want to convey? What is the function or purpose of this writing?"
After brainstorming, both the visual artist and the writer begin to plan their work. The visual artist may make sketches, lists of ideas, or use various graphic organizers to help plan out his or her work. The writer may make an outline, lists, or may also use various graphic organizers to help plan out his or her work.
Both the visual artist and the writer must create their work in a given form. A visual artist may make a painting, sculpture, photograph, print, drawing, collage, textile, or installation artwork. For the writer, forms may include: a novel, short story, play, poem, essay, or report.
There are two forms in visual art that can be directly compared to two forms in verbal art. Whereas the self-portrait in visual art can be compared to an autobiography in writing, a portrait can be compared to a biography.
Both the visual artist and the writer must consider their audience. The visual artist may answer the questions: "How can I get someone to notice my work of art? How can I maintain the viewer's attention?"
The writer may consider: "How can I attract a reader? How can I keep the reader engaged, interested, and involved?"
Both the visual artist and the writer make revisions as part of the process of making their work. An artist may redraw, modify shapes, build up or remove material. A writer may add or remove: nouns, verbs, or adjectives they may make corrections to punctuation, change paragraph structure or indent spaces.
After students have learned about vocabulary and the process of making art, a major strategy of this unit is to utilize contemporary artists to help guide students in understanding how an artist may interpret history and use historical context in their artwork. There are six artists whose work I use during this portion of the unit: Michael Ray Charles, Kerry James Marshall, Ellen Gallagher, Glen Ligon, Pepon Osorio, and Dawoud Bey. After being introduced to the vocabulary of an artist, students will play the game "Art Dominoes." For this activity, I will have students make connections between selections of laminated artwork reproductions-- connecting the works of art through their similar themes. For this activity students will work in teams of four and each group will be given the same set of artworks by the artists. This will be an open-ended activity with the aim of having students learn unfamiliar concepts while having fun. It will allow students to see a variety of similarities between artworks based on how different groups of students choose to connect the artworks. This strategy will not only familiarize students with art terminology but also with the artists on whom they will focus within the unit. Also during the Art Domino game, students will learn how to analyze an artwork utilizing reading strategies. The aim of this portion of the unit is to have students transfer the knowledge learned in language arts and apply it to another discipline- the visual arts. The New Haven Public Schools System uses a variety of reading strategies with students in elementary grades, including the reading strategies developed by Nancy Boyles. In her book
, Boyles describes metacognitive strategies used in reading such as: connecting, questioning, determining importance, and inferring, among others.
Students will be asked to connect the art reproductions of the artworks by the artists through these various themes.
Using Reading Strategies to discuss the Artists and Artworks during Art Dominoes
Is there anything familiar in the artwork? Can you make connections to the people or objects depicted? Are the people depicted like you in any way or like other people in one of the other artworks? Do these artworks look similar in some way?
What questions would you ask the artist about his or her artwork? Think about asking questions that begin with: who, what, where, when, or why.
What do you notice about this artwork? What is the title? What materials did the artist use to make it? Do you notice any similarities between two artworks?
What do you think is most important in this artwork?
What do you think this artwork is about? What do you think the artist is trying to say?
The Artists used in Art Dominoes
During the Art Dominoes activity students will be introduced to a variety of artists. Students will play Art Dominoes and focus the connections they make on Nancy Boyles' reading strategies. After this open-ended activity, I will discuss with students each individual artist and his or her artwork. After this whole group discussion, students will play Art Dominoes again taking into consideration the newly learned information about the artists and their artworks and will draw comparisons between artworks based on this new knowledge.
Glenn Ligon is a contemporary artist who uses text within his images. Sometimes he uses text as his image--recycling and reusing found advertisements- at other times he uses coal dust to stencil words or quotations over his images. Not only does he reference historical moments such as the Million Man March but he also references his own personal history in relation to historical events. Of the artists who are the focus of this unit, his work uses text in the most literal sense and therefore will be the first to be introduced to students.
Ellen Gallagher is a contemporary artist who, like Ligon, often uses advertisements as found objects in her mixed media collages. Her work also makes many connections to literacy and to written work. She utilizes techniques that can be linked to literary techniques used by poets-- repetition and revision. It is through her use of repeated advertisements of similar theme, size and color and her reworking of these images to change their meaning that she is able to ask the viewer to rethink history. In reflecting on her own work, Gallagher realized that it was not the images she was drawn to but the related text on the pages that made her want to use them in her art. This textual element allows her visual work to act as a "narrative." She is also an artist who is influenced by the connections between visual and verbal artworks. She cites the visual paintings by the artist Agnes Martin as well as the repetition in the written work by Gertrude Stein as influences for her own work. Her work can be viewed critically both through its formal structure as well as through the content of the narrative historical story that she tells.
Kerry James Marshall
Kerry James Marshall is a contemporary artist who draws upon African-American pop culture, makes historical references and draws upon personal memories and reflections in his work. Like Gallagher's, his work can be discussed on two levels: both the formal structure of his work and through the social statements he asks his audience to contemplate when viewing his work. Marshall is an artist who actively considers his audience. He believes, "you still have to earn your audience's attention every time you make something."
His work, like Gallagher's, makes connections to literary form. "RYTHM MASTR" takes the form of a comic book, reinventing the histories behind the African gods of the Yoruba tradition. Part of the motivation for this work, according to Marshall, was to address the issue of the failed black super heroes presented in traditional comic books who are unable to attract the attention of young black readers. Through his work in "RHYTHM MASTR" he hoped to address the need to present young readers with strong models of super heroes while telling the stories from African tribal traditions. He says, "I am trying to find a way to make our knowledge of African history, our knowledge of mythology, and our love fantasy and super heroes and things like that all come together in a vital and exciting way by connecting it to a story that is meaningful, historically and culturally, and that says something about the way in which we can carry these traditions into the future so that that don't have to dissipate and die."
In this way, Marshall is able to bring history to the present and allow it to stretch into the future.
Michael Ray Charles
Whereas Marshall considers his audience before he makes his work, Michael Ray Charles' work has been considered "very controversial" and has evoked strong responses from audiences. He states, "I didn't think about this component. I didn't envision myself going out on the road, and talking about my work as much as I have. And now that I look back, I think a lot of people react to those images; there's a lot of emotion. They've reacted to these images based on gut emotion."
His work speaks to audiences on a whole yet has the ability to evoke a personal response, as well as a personal relationship among the viewer, their personal history, and his work all wrapped up in one. His work draws comparisons to Ellen Gallagher's in that they both use historical advertisements and ask the viewer to think about these images in the context of the present moment.
Whereas Ligon, Gallagher, Marshall, and Charles reflect on the past within their artwork, Pepon Osorio reflects upon the present to create new narratives in history by recreating moments that a viewer can connect to his or her own lives. He says, "I borrow from the past to deal with the present, and present tense."
Like Michael Ray Charles his work is known to evoke strong, uncomfortable reactions in people. And like Marshall, he hopes that his work may provoke social change. Similar to Gallagher, he considers the formal qualities within his work: the colors, forms, and the repetition of these elements. Osorio introduces the element of space in his work through his medium: installation. With these constructed spaces Osorio is able to transport a viewer into a space and time- a space with which the viewer may or may not be familiar, but one that is present within his or her community, somewhere, nevertheless. He is able to show viewers a piece of his or her community. If an audience member happens to make a personal connection to the piece, if it seems familiar to him or her, Osorio's work has the ability to connect the viewer to art itself. On the other hand, if a viewer is unfamiliar with the created space he has constructed, his work has the ability to ask a viewer to reflect on this type of space and to consider it a space that exists within his or her community.
Dawoud Bey is the final artist students will learn about. Bey is a photographer whose work focuses on high-school students. His large-scale portraits are juxtaposed with written text, a personal narrative written by the student. By presenting a visual portrait with the student autobiographical writing, Bey's work asks the question: To what degree does one's interpretation of an image change after reading the text, if at all? His work is an example of how students can act as change agents within their communities. Not only can their portraits/autobiographical writings ask viewers to question the stereotypes they may hold, but they also allow an artist (Bey) and a subject (the students) to work together in creating new narratives in history. His work acts as personal narratives that may become examples of the ways in which art can act as a historical document to reshape the ways in which a particular time, people, or place is viewed.
The Curated Art Show
Last, I will present students with a selection of the artwork from the curated shows of Thelma Golden, who runs the Studio Museum in Harlem. Through the ways in which she curates her shows and displays work, she is able to present the viewer with central themes that question our notions of history and how people may be defined. Students will create an art show for this portion of the unit. They will select a theme, choose artworks to include, and write written descriptions and wall labels to accompany their work. The ultimate aim of this portion of the unit is to bring together all that had been learned throughout the unit and for students to be able to present their own new view of art history to an audience and to their community.