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Art Matters: Strategies, Ideas, and Activities to Strengthen Learning Across the Curriculum

Art Matters: Strategies, Ideas, and Activities to Strengthen Learning Across the Curriculum

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by Eileen S. Prince

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This collection of ideas and lesson plans will help classroom and homeschool teachers integrate art into their general curriculum. These inventive and effective methods use the visual arts to inspire creative writing and drama; explore math, music, science, and history; and cultivate critical thinking skills. Art instructors will learn strategies for incorporating


This collection of ideas and lesson plans will help classroom and homeschool teachers integrate art into their general curriculum. These inventive and effective methods use the visual arts to inspire creative writing and drama; explore math, music, science, and history; and cultivate critical thinking skills. Art instructors will learn strategies for incorporating other areas of study into the art classroom. Ranging from thought-provoking suggestions to concrete, hands-on lesson plans, these activities include an extensive resource list for classroom teachers without an art background.

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Art Matters

Strategies, Ideas, and Activities to Strengthen Learning Across the Curriculum

By Eileen S. Prince, Kirsteen E. Anderson

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2002 Eileen S. Prince
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-631-8


Concepts and Terminology

"If everything is art, nothing is art"

— Unknown

In order to present meaningful art lessons to students, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with basic concepts and terminology of art, and to present them to your pupils. Many of these concepts also have related meanings or applications across the curriculum. For example, in art composition refers to the way the elements of a piece are arranged. In chemistry students may analyze compounds into the elements that comprise them. Similarly, criticism is an important feature of literature, music, and so on, while the analytical, critical thinking and interpretation inherent in methods of criticism are applicable to almost any field.

Elements and Principles

Each subject has its own unique elements and principles, concepts that are basic to the understanding and mastery of that particular discipline. The elements I explore and the definitions I use in art class are as follows:

Color: For our purposes, the way light is reflected, absorbed, or refracted by pigmentation. (Even first graders can comprehend this definition if it is presented properly. See "The Physics of Light" lesson on page 116.) Color has three properties:

Hue: The name of the color • Value: The lightness or darkness of the color • Intensity: The brightness or dullness of the color

Form: A three-dimensional, closed figure.

Line: The path of a moving point.

Shape: A two-dimensional, or flat, closed figure.

Space: Some artists add space to this list, defining it as the real or implied three-dimensional area between forms or shapes; that is, illusionary depth.

Texture: The way something feels or the way it appears to feel; its surface quality.

Value: The way the artist uses light or dark in a work of art. Value can be studied as a property of color. Some colors are lighter or darker by nature, or the value of a color can be changed by adding black or white. Black, white, and shades of gray are pure values without color.

Principles: Refer to ways elements are arranged in an artwork. The principles we cover are balance, emphasis, repetition, similarity or relatedness, contrast, overlap, unity, movement, rhythm, distortion, pattern, and gradation.

Balance: Balance refers to the even distribution of visual or physical weight within a work of art. There are several types of balance. Formal balance is the placement of like things on either side of a center line, real or imaginary. Figure 3 below is formally balanced, as is American Gothic, the famous picture of the farmer and his wife by Grant Wood. (Actually, the picture portrays Wood's dentist and his sister!) Symmetry is the most exact type of formal balance, and some artists use the terms interchangeably. A butterfly is symmetrical, as are all the projects produced in the Symmetry section of chapter 12 (see figures 29-figures 29-32, pages 137-44). Informal balance refers to the balance of unlike things on either side of a center line, as exemplified in the detail of a Huichol yarn painting (see figure 12, page 59). Radial balance is the even distribution of weight around a center point as opposed to a center line. A spiral is radially balanced, as are figures 4 and 10 (page 47).

Contrast: Contrast simply means difference. Artists can contrast color, value, texture, line, shape, or form. Contrast is a great way to create emphasis, and it is also an important principle if the artist wants something to be easily seen. You will notice that in this book, the photographs with the greatest contrast of value are the easiest to decipher. The greater the contrast, the more you notice the contrasted element.

Distortion: Distortion occurs when a subject is altered from the way it is supposed to appear but is still recognizable (figure 5 shows distortion of proportion). Anyone who has ever stood in front of a wavy mirror at a carnival or looked at his or her reflection in a spoon has seen distortion of shape or form.

Emphasis: Artists use emphasis in a work of art to draw the viewer's attention to a particular idea or visual point, analogous to the way a printed word is bolded or italicized. Emphasis can be achieved through repetition, placement, size, contrast, distortion, or by several other means. In third grade, students focus on emphasis by doing a project featured in School Arts magazine several years ago. They trace their hands and feet, then draw in the rest of their body on a much smaller scale. Unlike the rest of the body, the hands and feet are completed in very realistic detail. The distortion of proportion and contrast of styles draw attention to the hands and feet (see figure 5).

Gradation: When an artist shows change occurring gradually within an element, such change is called gradation. One example is shading a sphere using subtle changes in value from dark to light. On the other hand, placing black next to white is not gradation.

Movement: Movement is present in a work when the viewer's eye is impelled to roam throughout it. Artists frequently use line to guide the eye in a particular path. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci displays little or no movement, whereas the outstretched arms of God and Adam in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling cause one's eye literally to leap across the small gap between the fingers.

Overlap: Overlap simply means placing one shape partially over another. This overlap could be actual, as in a collage (see figure 6), or illusionary, in which shapes or forms appear to be layered. Such a device may help to achieve unity or depth.

Pattern: Pattern is the regular or random repetition of an element of art with such frequency that the viewer can predict how it will continue. Both the stars and stripes on the American flag form patterns.

Repetition, similarity, and relatedness: Repetition occurs when an artist uses an element more than once within a work. This device may help unify a piece, create emphasis, or result in a pattern. The repetition in figure 8 (page 40) achieves all these goals. Sometimes the shapes or colors may be similar but not identical as, for example, if an artist were to use various sizes of circles and different ovals in a sculpture as a unifying factor.

Rhythm: Pattern frequently results in the creation of rhythm. The repeated columns on the Parthenon create a regular rhythm. The repeated and related shapes in figure 6 could almost be played like the beats of a drum. Sometimes the rhythm is more undulating, as in van Gogh's brushwork.

Unity: Unity is very hard to define but incredibly important in a work of art. It is the quality of oneness within a work, combined with a sense of completion. Unity may be achieved by the use of a single light source, consistency of style, a unifying theme, and other devices. To explain unity, I ask my students to imagine that I am dressed for a formal ball. I have my hair done, my makeup is perfect, my nails have been polished. I am wearing a beaded gown, fancy jewelry and — high-top sneakers! The contrast will certainly draw everyone's attention to the sneakers (creating emphasis), and because there would seem to be no aesthetic reason for the sneakers, the unity of my appearance would be destroyed.

Integrating Art Principles and Elements across the Curriculum

As you present these concepts, you may find that some of the terms have definitions or applications in your field, which creates a further link among subjects. The study of pattern, for example, is common to such disparate fields as math, science, music, economics, poetry, psychology, art, and dance. The teachers in your building might collaborate to create lists of the elements and principles in their fields — such a list might have a lot of uses. In fact, teachers might agree to collaborate across classes or across grades to focus on a specific element or principle simultaneously, elaborating on the similarities and differences in how the term is used across the disciplines. You might agree with your colleagues to divide the year among a series of such terms. Color, line, form, shape, unity, repetition, balance, contrast, similarity, rhythm, symmetry, and distortion are only a few of the words that have meaning in a broad range of subjects. Students hearing a concept discussed in several classes or different contexts are more likely to comprehend its meaning and nuances. Even within the confines of a single class, you can refer to the various meanings and usages of these terms. I rarely present a new concept or review an old one without citing the word's meaning in a variety of other contexts. Thus, a second-grade discussion of distortion will include references to distorting the truth and distorting sound as well as examples of artistic distortion. My introduction to the concept of elements in grade one will include not only a definition of the word as artists use it, but definitions related to science, music, math, and literature.

Methods of Criticism

The concept of criticism has ramifications in virtually every class a student might attend. Criticism involves judgment, usually by an expert in the medium being judged. The whole concept of teaching "critical thinking skills" implies an attempt to impart not only expertise in a field but strategies for applying that expertise to find the strengths and weaknesses in an argument, philosophy, project, or process. In science, mathematics, sociology, and in fact in every discipline, there are appropriate and inappropriate methodologies. We have all heard of scientific studies that are dismissed because the sample size was too small or the control group was, in fact, not sufficiently controlled. When students enter science fairs, what the judges do is essentially a form of criticism. The scientific method itself is a critical approach that bears a strong resemblance to the basic procedure used in the arts: describe, analyze, interpret, and judge. Historians must employ critical methods when making judgments about a culture based upon newly discovered artifacts or ambiguous remains. How do we choose among conflicting conclusions?

The purpose of criticism in art is to form a judgment about a piece. If you decide to discuss a work of art in your class, it is helpful to have a structured method. When I was an undergraduate, the specific method of criticism I learned was the model developed by Dr. Edmund Burke Feldman of the University of Georgia (Feldman 1981). On page 23 you will find a brief outline of this approach, which bears a strong resemblance to the form criticism takes in several other disciplines. You may wish to familiarize yourself with this process or find some other approach that works better for you.

Integrating Criticism across the Curriculum

You could simply compare various methodologies. Art criticism offers you a way to reinforce the critical process in your own subject while increasing students' ability to understand art and find connections between art and academic subjects.

Are you a science teacher? In science class, for example, you could do a brief criticism of a work of art using the preceding model, and then ask students how this process resembled and diverged from the scientific method. Too frequently, students are expected simply to follow procedures without truly understanding them, and such an exercise could help them focus on the steps of the scientific method and their rationale.

Are you an English teacher? Literary criticism can follow an approach extremely similar to Feldman's as well. It would be very easy to present examples of art criticism in class, possibly of works in some way related to material the students are reading.


Aesthetics and Philosophy

"What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art"

— Augustus Saint-Gaudens

I got this idea several years ago at a conference for art educators sponsored by the Getty Trust. In one of my art rooms, I have a "Big Questions Chart." Whenever a student asks a profound question about the nature of art or artistic production, I add it to the list. Most of art's big questions are aesthetic in nature — that is, they deal primarily with the philosophy of art and beauty.

Here are some aesthetic and philosophical "big questions" about art that appear on my list. You may want to initiate these discussions in your classroom. I suggest you perhaps do some research and develop some ideas of your own before you present the discussion.

What is art? You might ask yourself whether you use the term art descriptively or evaluatively. If you use art as a descriptive term, then any time you or your students create a painting, drawing, sculpture, or whatever, you are doing art. A kindergartner at an easel is "doing art" just as much as Rembrandt did. If you use the word in its evaluative sense, you use the word primarily to refer to great — or at least professional — art. This is the difference between what Daniel Pinkwater, in his book Fish Whistle, refers to as "big A Art" and "little A art" (Pinkwater 1989, 171 — 72). Defining art is really tough. Aestheticians have been trying for years, although the concept wasn't presented as we know it until Napoleonic times. People have a wide variety of answers to this question, but I have a few favorites. In After the End of Art, Arthur C. Danto (1997, 30-31) draws from the philosophy of Hegel and concludes art must be "about something" and it must have a "vehicle." Richard Anderson's conclusion in Calliope's Sisters that "art is culturally significant meaning, skillfully encoded in an affecting, sensuous medium" is a more precise variation on this theme (Anderson 1990, 238). Dr. Marcia Eaton, in a lecture at a Getty seminar, claimed that art must (among other qualities) "repay sustained attention."

Is there such a thing as an expert opinion? Is everyone's opinion equally valid? Do the views of some art critics or historians carry more weight than others? Is an opinion more valid if the person expressing it has studied the subject at hand, or is opinion just that-opinion?

Can a forgery be art? Before you leap to a conclusion here, consider the following situation. Many years ago, a Chinese nobleman who lived in a province distant from the capital purchased a scroll of great beauty. Its fame spread, and when the emperor heard of it, he ordered the nobleman to give him the scroll as a gift. Unwilling to part with his treasure, the nobleman had an exact copy made and sent it to his ruler. Now, you may be aware that owners of Chinese scrolls add personal comments to the artwork in the form of colophons. A colophon may be a poem, a bit of philosophy, a quotation, or an observation, and it is rendered in as beautiful a calligraphic style as the writer can achieve. It is then signed with the red ink seal of the author/owner. Chinese artists leave room for such additions, and these colophons are usually lovely complements to the artwork. They also have the added benefit of providing a very specific provenance for the piece. Provenance is the history of the ownership of a work of art, and it can be quite instrumental in determining its authenticity and value. So here we have two scrolls. The original was kept closely guarded and bears the colophons of an obscure albeit noble family. The other — a forgery — bears the colophons of generations of emperors. In this instance, the forgery is far more valuable to a collector. Is it art?

Is it ethical to excavate historical tombs and holy places to expand our knowledge of art history? What about putting artifacts from these sources on display in museums?

Do some cultures value art more than others?

Is one form of art better than another? Sometime over the last few centuries, painting, sculpture, and architecture became the dominant forms of Western art, those considered the most worthy of study. Fabric arts, book arts, and other media have often taken a back seat, a fact that has contributed to the lower prestige of women artists, who frequently have been prominent in these areas, and has influenced our perception of the arts of other cultures. In Japan, brush painting and calligraphy are considered so superior to block prints that a Japanese art history professor whose specialty is the print reportedly does not earn the same respect or salary as one whose area is painting.


Excerpted from Art Matters by Eileen S. Prince, Kirsteen E. Anderson. Copyright © 2002 Eileen S. Prince. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Eileen Prince is an art specialist at Sycamore School for the Gifted and has received national recognition for her art curriculum. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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Art Matters: Strategies,Ideas,and Activities to Strengthen Learning across the Curriculum 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Does anyone have this book? Is it any good?