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Lesson Plans

Art History in the classroom

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Dave Beaman (
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:04:04 -0600

Greetings to all! The participant inquiring about art history in the
classroom touched a nerve for me.....
As a classroom teacher for 25 years, I've experienced the full range of
emotions dealing with the
"hows" of teaching art history in my high school visual art classes. It
wasn't until I learned about DBAE
that it all came together for me..... I would guess that many ArtsEdNet Talk
participants have had the
same training and experiences that I have had....
1...In elementary, junior high and high school, I had no
2...In college, I took the required art history classes- 3
of them- "art in the dark." I memorized
800 to 1200 slides and facts about each, studied
countless hours to earn my "C's." My
instructor for all the classes was Maynard Stone, an
eccentric intellectual that had an
amazing mind for all sorts of interesting facts about
the slides we were viewing ( I still
remember a great deal of the information from the
classes, but they were so damn boring)...
3...I started teaching in a middle school in Green Bay,
Wisconsin, with no resources- no slides,
no prints and no ideas how to approach art history in a
"positive" way....just a certainty that
I didn't want to approach art history with the "art in
the dark" methodology. Until 1994, I simply
did a little "talk" before each unit I taught, showing
examples and explaining the historical
background behind each project we were doing in my

In 1994, I took a summer class with the Minnesota DBAE Consortium and was
"reborn!" During the one week that
I participated in their training, I learned more about how to positively
approach art history than I ever thought possible!
Within a year, I was about to reconstruct my classes from a focus on
technique and production to an integration of
history, criticism, aesthetics with the technique and production. ALL my
students now ACTIVELY investigate works of
art of their choosing- the key to this, for me, is the practice of teaching
CONCEPTS and PROCESSES instead of only
facts and skills. Facts and skills are irrelevant, because, for the most
part, a teacher is deciding what's important for us.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I have a hard time remembering
anything that someone tells me I should remember
unless it's my own priority. DBAE training helped me to find ways to get
my students "hooked." Some ideas that have worked
for me:

1...In explaining why we need to work with art history,
criticism and aesthetics instead of only technique and
production, I talk to my students and parents
in metaphorical terms...... If you take a common, "everyone
uses it object", it will make sense..... I talk
about "toilet paper." When we're little we learn how to use it...
and then we go through life using it (technique and
production). But, toilet paper hasn't always existed-
Who invented it? When? Where? What did people use
before toilet paper?(history) What kind of toilet paper
is "best?" (aesthetics and criticism) When students
and parents "buy into why" they can see where you're
headed when you talk "art history."
2...My students learn a process. It started as an 18 week
class with assessment log/portfolio and many art
projects intended to teach kids "scanning" skills.
I've found that it doesn't necessarily take my students
18 weeks to learn the process. I demonstrate
scanning with a work of art; students choose a work to practice
with and then demonstrate their knowledge of
the process when they think they're ready. Some surface right
away and some have to be coaxed, but all
eventually do the scanning. Each student has a checklist so they
know what they must talk about in "scanning."
3...When my students know how to scan, we talk about how it
would be easier to understand what the artist was
attempting to do if we had additional
information the work, it's place in its culture, its history... you
"windows of access." The easy way to do this
is to get a newspaper or magazine review of a movie or eating
establishment or art show. High school kids
can easily see how "critics" use the windows of access (for those
of you that haven't been exposed- the "windows" are:
historical, cultural, artist's skill, artist's intent/beliefs,
installation, audience expectation). My students then
choose a work they strongly like or dislike, scan the
work, investigate it, categorize their information
(windows of access) and use the information to construct support
for their personal critical position. They are
to look for information that contradicts their position and to include
the differing viewpoint if possible. The culminating
"event" is a presentation that can be multimedia, oral or written.
Students have even created art (usually a collage) to
present. Believe me..... students are engaged!
4...My favorite "project" to help this "make sense" for my
students is to have an Art show. Students in my Drawing
and Painting class put up displays of their
work. We then have a "reception," attended by both artists and critics.
Artists stand by their works and answer questions from
critics. The critics write reviews of the art show, telling the
public whether they should attend the show or
avoid it. Their criteria are simple: they must view the entire show;
choose a work they either really like or
dislike; investigate the work by interviewing the artist; use at least four
of six "windows of access;" and include an
opening, body and summary in their review. I take the best 10 (of
about 50) reviews and bring them to our local
newspaper along with an explanation of what we're doing. We leave
the show up for a month for the public to see.
We have lots of members of the public come in to see the work.
Kids love it...... it doesn't hurt to have about 15
gallons of punch and 300 cookies for the reception. Last time I
did this, we had about 280 students come to the
opening. It was well worth the effort for my students, both artists
and critics, to learn this process. When
students see how this process can be applied to "real life" they see a
reason for learning about history and criticism
and aesthetics.

I owe much to DBAE. At first I was fearful about losing students with this
approach, but my enrollments increased by 45 % over a two
year period. I've had far less of a problem with discipline and more kids
that aren't "artists" are comfortable taking my art classes. I'm
no longer a "dumping ground" for students that have been kicked out of other
classes. All my students feel more successful because
they understand what they're doing and why they're doing it. I wish I
would have had DBAE training 20 years earlier.... I might still have hair!

Sorry this is such a long post..... hopefully it will help someone out there
that's struggling with how to teach art history!

Dave Beaman

  • Maybe reply: Larry Cox: "Re: Art History in the classroom"