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I have been using the theme "Art as a Reflection of Society" as the
web or skeleton for an 11th grade discipline- based studio art class titled
"A Global Perspective on the Arts" for several years. Like the theme of
"Our Place in the World" it encourages interdisciplinary study.
This theme focuses on the idea that art is not made in a vacuum
but is made within the context of history, politics, religion, economics,
technology, the environment and social/cultural standards of any given
period of time. In order to understand the art of a time, one must examine
the context. Why does Egyptian art look Egyptian? Why did linear
perspective develop during the Renaissance? How do Haiku, Bonsai and Brush
painting relate to Zen Buddhism in Japan? Why are decorative Body Arts
practiced in many African cultures? What is Rap music telling us? Why do
many Americans prefer idyllic landscapes to non-objective art? Why is
collage so popular among students at our school today? The answer to each
of these questions lies in the study of geography, science, religion and
social structure, technology and more. The interdisciplinary connections
Taking ancient Egypt as an example, we learn how contextual factors
affected the art:
- The vast emptiness of the desert and the need for noticeable, monumental
size. The isolating effect of the desert and its hindrance to invasion and
long periods of stylistic continuity
- The need to control theNile's annual flooding, thus the need for strict
government, thus the rigidity and structure and uniformity in art
- The importance of community for survival, need for group effort (to say
the least) in constructing monuments and pyramids, the importance of
tradition and the effect of these factors on individual expression in art-
few records of signature by artists, relatively little artistic freedom.
- The role of the pharaoh, Gods and Goddesses and their effect on subject
matter, the use of art as burial companion and the pride, stillness and
solemnity of expression in art.
Then we still have the entire issue of relating the theme, Art as a
Reflection of Society to ourselves, right now, in Wyomissing, PA. No matter
what the particular unit, the theme initiates interdisciplinary study and
reflection on our own lives. For example. in relation to the issues above
- How does our national or local government (School Board, Principal and me
as the teacher) affect student freedom of self- expression?
- What are advantages and disadvantages of individual recognition in art
(awards, scholarships etc...)
- Where does the imagery and subject matter of student art come from?
- How does one find a personal style in a world so full of it?
- How does living in an ethnically and economically homogeneous suburb
affect our lives and our art?
A n effective theme builds in learning about the self and the world and the
infinite connections that weave us all together.