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Art history definitely has a place in the art room, as does art criticism and
aesthetic discussion. This is certainly not to say that studio activities be
replaced, only supplemented. If we are educating our children in the arts,
does that not first begin with fostering in them an appreciation of the arts?
What better way than to introduce works by famous artists into the classroom.
I don't mean introduce them by showing slides and lecturing about the life of
the artist. I mean introduce the artworks and involve the students immediately
in actively interacting with the artwork. Asking open ended questions is one
way to do this. Don't talk to the children about the work, have them talk to
you about it.
As a museum educator, I have done this with children of all ages. Friday
night, for example, at the Toledo Museum of Art I took a group of children to
the galleries to look at a painting of St George and the Dragon. Then we went on a dragon hunt in some other selected galleries. We talked about the artworks,
theorized about when and how they were made, wondered about who made them, and
entertained the notion that dragons were really dinosaurs (this was an idea
brought up by one of the children, not me)! Finally, we went to the studio and
made crayon resists of dragons, sculpted dragons in clay, and made up some
imaginary animals of our own with construction paper.
The children in this session ranged in age from four to eight. The enthusiasm
when told we are going to go to the galleries is incredible. For them it is
fun, and that is precisely what it should be! When we look at a work of art,
it is the children, not me that do the most talking. Often they see things
I do not. And the studio work that they do is, well, in a word, inspired!
The importance of this emphasis on looking at the work of past artists, is
not to create artists, or focus on the needs of a select few who are identified
as gifted in the arts, but rather to make the arts accessible to all, and valued by all.
In addition, I think we need to focus not just on past artists, which limits
the scope of exposure to the arts to Western traditions, but look at a variety
of artistic traditions as well. This includes Ethnographic art, the art of
women and Folk art. Children today are bombarded by images in the popular
media, and while they may not grow up to be the creators of such images, they
will without a doubt be the consumers. An education in the visual arts which
ions gives the child the foundation to be discerning about such images, in a
word, it gives them choices.
In is not too farfetched to suggest as well that these children, even if they
do not become the creators of images, be it fine art or the popular media, will
certainly be involved in funding visual arts. Future consumers, lobbyists,
legislators, and hopefully advocates all.
are what these children will become.
This consideration should dictate to a certain degree the course of art
education. What would you want them to learn more, how to cut and paste or
how to look at and value a painting, sculpture, photograph, etc?
I will step down from my soap box now. Write back, I would love to engage
in further discussion.
Art Educator, The University of Toledo
Museum Educator, The Toledo Museum of Art
"It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance...and I know of
no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process." Henry James,
in a Letter to H.G. Wells, 1915