Art in the Classroom Part 1

Teaching art in the elementary classroom has dwindled in perceived importance over the last few decades. It has given way to tighter financial constraints and the ever increasing need for paperwork and extra duties of the teacher. Yet, studies are finding that art taught as a core subject can not only enhance the entire curriculum, but is proving to be an asset in areas of writing and comprehension.

A non-traditional application of art has been taught across the nation. Called a discipline-based art education it has been sponsored by the Los Angeles Getty Center for Education in the Arts. The concept is that while most children enjoy art when exposed to it, some simply do not like to draw or are turned off when they realize they aren’t talented in art.

The method of scanning a work of art, such as a painting, was developed by Harry S. Broudy, a professor emeritus of the Philosophy of Education at the University of Illinois. This technique is heavily used in the discipline based art teaching.

When students learn to scan, they ask themselves questions using a vocabulary that begins with the sensory aspects of a work: line, shape, color, texture, and value. Are the lines straight or curved, thick or thin, vertical or horizontal, and so on. Then, the formal principles are tackled next, including rhythm, contrast, emphasis, unity, and balance. Then they explore the expressive qualities, asking how the artist might have felt. Few of these students will actually become artists, but there is a need to develop their knowledge of art and the aesthetic qualities of life.

Some teachers will feel that going into the obvious, formal properties of a painting is best. This has been done for a long while. But one thing happens far too often: the child feels as if he or she must “say something”, and responds in a way they think is expected. They become rather like the adults who attend the museum reception, but won’t express an opinion until they have read the reviews in the morning paper.

When a painting is placed in a cultural context, and an atmosphere is created with the simple direct analysis of the painting, the children respond to the painting directly. And the teacher, who probably has no art training, scanning offers a foothold into the world of art. The few pitfalls would be errors in information given to the children.

The children often will copy the master work of art. Some people have a problem with the idea of copying the work of someone else rather than create new drawings. There is nothing wrong with that. At their age, to copy a master painter, or even to copy each other, is far better than to have no ideas. Ideas come through experience.

Scanning works wonders in a short time. The key is we often find it difficult to talk about what we like, or about works of art in general. We may feel we are uninformed and will make an error in a statement. We have that deep thought that it is supposed to “be something” we don’t really see and others are seeing. So we don’t talk much about it.