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"Why is it important to have a complete understanding
of the elements and principles of art in order to carry
out a successful work of art?"
I'm not so sure it is important. My graduate program focused heavily on the
need for an understanding of the elements and principles but my more recent
experience teaching teachers proves otherwise. When we visit the classrooms
of teachers who attend our professional development institutes, we recognize
how limiting lessons on the elements and principles can be. They are very
comfortable lessons to teach because they are so definite but that is not
what art is all about. Of course we use the vocabulary involved, but
teaching a lesson solely on vocabulary is just that. It is more meaningful
for the students if the vocabulary is introduced in talking about what the
work is about. In initial encounters with works of art, we encourage
teachers to guide their students to an understanding of the "big idea"
behind the work. If they are asked to go through too many preliminary steps,
it often ends there and they never get to the really rich stuff. Most people
find themselves using many of the words naturally (like line and shape and
balance) but it is valuable to discuss the meaning of such words when they
are brought up in the discussion. Furthermore, some students in the class
may not know the word until that point. Learning a word in context is more
applicable than just defining it.
Artists themselves don't typically think in terms of the elements and
principles of design. They have an awareness of them but it is not
conscious. Artists don't make works of art about lines one week and about
shapes the next. I'm more concerned with having kids make decisions like
artists do than to understand each of the "building blocks" on their own.
The big picture sometimes gets lost when we water things down too much.
I hope I'm not stepping on anyone's toes. I'll be glad to elaborate on a
point if I've raised your eyebrows.
Kathryn Cascio, Assistant Director
Southeast Institute for Education in the Visual Arts