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I've been collaborating with a group of elementary, middle, and high school
teachers over the last several years. This is an issue that has come up
repeatedly in our reflections. At the end of our research study last year
we began to hypothesize about just what might be the focal point of
transfer when students between art history and art making. Earlier
participants in this ArtsEdNet discussion have already mentioned that
techniques and visual style are two points of transfer. Meaning or
significance is another point of transfer. This may be what some have
called "themes." Liza Bergman, a middle school art teacher with whom I'm
collaborating, has argued that young people benefit from learning about and
practicing the artworld conventions of their own and other cultures. This
year the collaborating teachers are looking into that possibility.
This year we've been investigating the effectiveness of instruction about
cultures and artworlds. We're focusing on the effect of such instruction
1) on young people's ability to formulate meaningful questions about
unfamiliar artworks and 2) on young people's ability to reflect on their
own art making. In our study we've focused on the artworlds of Sung
Dynasty China and of Classical Greece. We're comparing the important
artworld people and place; ideas and beliefs; and activities with the
Chinese and Greek artworlds with the students' own school artworls and with
the Metropolitan Phoenix Artworld. Our study includes introductions to the
notions of "culture" and "artworld", art history and art making activities,
and letter writing campaigns to people in the artworlds of Metropolitan
Phoenix. The unit culminates with a trip to the Asian collection at the
Phoenix Art Museum.
Early on I urged teachers to ask students to make artworks in which they
applied what they learned either to their own lives or to some imaginary
situation. I discouraged asking students to make artworks that emulate the
style of either Chinese or Greek art. The art teachers with whom I worked
wanted to ask students to try out some of the brush work conventions of
China in their own painting and to work with Greek vase painting
figure/ground conventions working with clay. In the dry run of the unit
plan, the teachers also taught a lesson in which students invented fantasy
artworlds and conventions of the future as motivation for their own art
making. This latter activity had several additional layers of complexity,
and we eliminated it from the research study now under way. The students'
pretest and post test writing and interviews may shed some light on whether
the practice of asking students to knowingly use conventions of another
time or culture results in better questions asking and more sophisticated
reflection on art making. I hope so.
Can US business people learn and emulate effective practices from Japanese
companies respectfully? Can school and community group be inspired to try
the "talking circle" communication process of some Native Americans
without trivialization? From whom should one seek permission to study and
try out the fresco techniques and compositional devices of the Renaissance?
I don't pretend to know the answers to all these questions, but I'm not
sure the answer is that there are no good art activities that involve
student making artworks that look something like the artworks of people of
other times and cultures. I'm just not sure teachers can always manage to
"get permission" as Graeme has advised. Maybe we can discuss alternative
criteria teachers might use to help determine whether an emulation ideas
they're considering is both worthwhile and respectful of the originating
culture. Our collaborating research group is making its decision about
which art making activities to implement based by taking a hard look at the
objectives those activities are intended to address.
If any one made it to the end of this horribly long message, thanks for