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Beginning Art class, Inquiry and Critical Thinking


From: Lawrence A. Parker (occti_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Mon Aug 26 2002 - 07:45:12 PDT

Following are some notes I sent to Yolanda, with some minor changes/additions
(again). Others of you have been asking about opening topics and inquiry, and
might find these thoughts helpful.

Lawrence A. Parker
Philosopher and Educational Consultant

The most important thing in teaching Critical Thinking is what you do and what
you have the students do. You use the materials you have always used; the
difference is in the presentation and what you ask of the students. Too many
teachers hand the content to the students, implying if not saying "This is what
you should know; this is what you should think; (in art) this is what you should
do with the materials; this is what you should feel."

Rather, give them the materials and the basics and pose to them, "What can you
do with this?"

You have a wonderful and potentially exciting mix of kids. Start out with a
discussion of what Art is. Don't let the discussion focus on you and become a
question and answer period, or a chance for them to wonder and employ "What does
the teacher want us to say?" Lead them into talking with each other, "Mary,
what do you think about what John just said?" "Does anyone else think this?"
"Does anyone think differently?" Use their names as much as possible; gives
them less chance to shrug the question off or pretend that they're invisible.
Of course, it also personalizes it, and gives them a sense that you're calling
on and talking to them.

Stress the point that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers. Art strikes us
all in different ways.

Art has many uses and functions, but is above all a form of communication, of
expression, to convey emotions, thoughts, ideas; sometimes just to illustrate
what the artist is feeling or thinking, sometimes to try to evoke those same
thoughts and feelings in the observer. When they do art, it is not to make
something that looks like something someone else made, but to be uniquely their

Ask them how art as communication is similar to speech as communication. In the
first, one uses colors, materials, subject content, textures, etc. In the
second, we use words, imagery, tone, inflections, body language (possibly
equivalent to the frame we put the picture in or the room we show it in, or the
other pieces of art we place it among). What are all of the "purposes" of
different kinds of art: portraits (remembrance of a family or loved one,
personal importance (mayors, presidents, nobility, etc.), landscapes, technical
drawings (also art), "exploded" drawings in engineering, advertising, in
architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright).

Ask them, in speech, how much depends upon the speaker and how much on the
Once they've started to get a sense of what Art is, ask them to bring a piece of
art from home, a small picture, a vase, whatever, carryable and not valuable,
with the requirement that it reflect something about their family and/or
culture. With the mix you've got, you ought to get an interesting assortment.

Have them discuss the different pieces and what aspects of their cultures are
represented by the piece.

(This (my talking) will have to be ongoing, as more things are popping up in my
head and I can't write that fast or that much...; so what follows will be more
"flow of consciousness"...)(in fact, it already is - I've already gone back and
added pieces in above. I know, you can't tell, but...)

At the end of the road, you want them to begin to think Artistically, to look at
the world through an artistic lens, to inquire about and discuss things
artistically. (This is, of course, what other disciplines need to do: get the
kids to think Mathematically, Historically, Scientifically) You also want them
to develop their own criteria of what is Art and what is not,...and why. This
self-made criteria is very important. It is not enough to say "I just like it."
Don't let them get away with that. "What do you like about it? The colors, the
artists use of brush strokes, the content, the feelings you get from it, etc.?"

This may seem troublesome, but they need to turn their thoughts and reflections
inward,...that "undiscovered country". In Critical Thinking and Socratic
Inquiry, it is not as important to come up with a definitive answer as it is to
push through the process of reflection and examination. It is the path that is
walked, not the destination that is walked to, that is important.

You want them to be able to look at and discuss among themselves different works
of art, "What is the artist trying to communicate? Is s/he doing it
effectively? HOW is s/he doing it? How is the artist using different context
elements, and what I have in mind are the solitary rocks and trees of Japanese
and Chinese art, the fogs which can partially hide what lies beneath, etc.

This will enable them to eventually critique their own work and the work of
their friends, encourage what helps the communication and find ways to correct
those things that hinder.

It is in this area of looking at and critiquing art works where you can bring in
the different elements, techniques, media,...all of the subject and skill areas.

Whew! I'm winded now. Read this through and let me know what you think and
we'll keep talking.

Grades: 6-8

Population: mostly white, middle to upper-class students, some Asian (Japanese
and Chinese), Latinos and African American.

Subject/skill areas:

Using a variety of media and techniques
Basic drawing
Color theory
Learning the elements of art and principles of art
Applying the elements of art and the principles of design

Additional subject/skill areas:

Lessons relative to cultural, geographic and familial backgrounds. Art elements
and principles Basic drawing Color theory Self-efficacy Self-management Oral and
written communication Reflection Art careers Creative expression in other