As an artist and teacher I am familiar with people and students exclaiming disapproval for modern art. Responses such as, “why is that famous?” or “my little brother can finger paint better than that”, and even “that’s stupid” are common and unfortunately expected. Most beginning (and even experienced) art students have misunderstandings about modern art because they do not understand the complexity of the work including but not limited to: the formal qualities of the design’s structure or the influences that inspire idea and subject. Observing how people tend to dislike what they can’t understand has prompted this unit and it’s purpose to connect students with factual background information that can transfer to critical thinking about appreciating art and motivate their own creative process.
At first glance, modern art can stand as visually unclear, chaotic, or pointless; contributing to some (passionately) misinformed criticism. There is an appreciation for the level of naivety carried by students (which simultaneously mirrors the general publics level of ignorance) due to recognizing where it stems from. In the art room, the lack of information students have when confronted with modern art typically leads to negatively impulsive reactions, stifling student motivation and creativity, obstructs the learning process from gaining proper momentum, and eliminates the possibility for future opportunities to think critically. As a high school teacher, implementing factual background for art bridges context, narrowing the wide gap of uncertainty that students have when thinking, reacting, and processing art. Also, the bridge serves to cross students over to understanding how to look at artwork objectively, instead of only subjectively, while learning the difference between both approaches and their results. The unit will develop an appreciation for art that takes students beyond noticing the art’s aesthetic value. The unit is supported with information relating to the culture in America during the 20
The unit will be instructed in Exploring Visual Design, a foundational art class, consisting of a combination of four high school grade levels. The experience demographics in each class are extremely diverse and not every student is a beginning art student. Some students have been fortunate enough to have taken art classes through middle school and back in elementary as well, a few may have had private lessons of some sort, transferred from an arts magnet school, or have a strong interest in art. On the other side of the scale and weighing more are students who have had limited or no experience with art including any formal education in earlier grades. All this can make for a very challenging dynamic for a teacher to address and sustain. There is a common thread however that all students have, regardless of experience in the subject and that is their motivation being greatly influenced by their desire (and perceived ability) to connect with the subject.
There’s a myth about art class and that it’s not really serious because it’s perceived as not academically important. It’s commonly thought of as a class where academic learning objectives or expectations don’t exist. Experienced art teachers are aware that art class can be extremely intimidating for many students, contributing to motivation deteriorating. Students frequently confuse that they need to be ‘talented’ already to do well in class instead of realizing they are in the class to learn how to ‘do’ the subject. The unit is designed to be rigorous in challenging students at the high school level, taking into account the variety of former experience that contribute to class dynamics as well as the special circumstances for students on IEP plans, 504 plans, and who are English Language Learners (ELL). The unit bridges art with cultural history to explore and reveal the influences culture has on art, the intentions that motivated artists to execute their visual expressions, and the impact that art makes on its audience. Lessons and activities in the unit expose art from a technical standpoint and through the historical context of American culture.
At Engineering and Science University Magnet School, where I teach, students are required to take EVD in order to graduate. We are a STEM magnet school. Our school has a wonderfully diverse ethnic population and a stronger male population. The examples in art were selected because they support a sequence and describe a continuous story, and also because I found relevance to our schools’ academic focus. This unit could also be adapted for US History or Civics classes where the project medium could be changed to making a poster or collage or writing a paper. The design is user friendly in the way that the format for connecting history, culture, and art could be easily altered for other subjects and supported with relevant content and examples that serve a high school teachers humanities based curricula.