Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Brackett School Annual Concert and Art Show 2008

This year's art exhibit, Once Upon A Time In America: Folk Art and Folk Music From the Last 150 Years In Americawas a big success thanks to the hard work of students and the support of Brackett staff and families. As always, many thanks for your ongoing support and appreciation!

Kindergarteners began this lesson by viewing a Currier & Ives print of Prairie Fires of the Great West and comparing how the train has changed in design from its original appearance when first invented in the 1800s.
Students then discussed the folk art of weathervane-making and its primitive ability to predict the course of weather and wind. Various examples of weathervanes were examined, ranging from animals to Native American archers. Railroad trains and engines have been among the more popular choices of weathervanes in the 19th century, and kindergarteners were instructed to create one of their own, whether it be a train of early style or modern design.

Grade One
To keep with the theme of children’s folk songs and dances, students in grade one viewed many examples of early American toy-making, a folk art created primarily by parents without the economical means of buying toys for their children. Dolls and puppets were two such popular toys, and could be crafted from any number of various materials. Some children every created toys for their own use.
After discussing the many types of dolls found in early folk art, students were instructed to design their own finger puppet based on a person, animal or creature.

Grade Two
For this lesson, students in the second grade were introduced to the native people of the southwestern states by looking at several examples of Anasazi pottery. Commonly known as “pueblo”, the native people of this region were given this name, meaning “people” by the Spanish colonists. Students were led in discussion and guided to notice the geometric and often angular patterns and shapes of traditional Anasazi designs. Students learned that clay is a natural earthen material that can be found in abundance in the southwestern states, and how pottery was made and used by the native people living there.
Students were also shown examples of Pueblo pottery which featured more figurative designs such as stylized animals and divine creatures and gods. Students learned that most Native Americans were more interested in depicting the inner spirit of a person or animal, rather than a life-like resemblance.
After creating a pinch pot from clay, the pots were fired and ready for decorating. Students were instructed to compose their own design, taking the shape and structure of the vessel into consideration, and were limited in their color palette to only natural, earth tones.

Grade Three
Appalachia is known for its music, basket-weaving and textile crafts such as quilt-making. Because of its unique terrain, the region of Appalachia remained unchanged and uninfluenced by the outside world for many years. Students discussed how these living conditions would influence a person’s work, lifestyle and creations.
The use of stencils on home textiles, as well as needlepoint, were two popular folk crafts made during the 19th century. Third graders looked at many examples of various textiles crafts, including embroidery, quilts, needlepoint samplers and stenciled textiles. They were then instructed to combine these crafts into a burlap stitchery around the theme of wildlife found in the Appalachian mountain region.

Grade Four
Students in the fourth grade discussed the historical factors and people involved with the frontier experience, from pioneer families to native tribes, as well as the reasons why the expansion took place. While little folk art has survived the dangerous and difficult circumstances of living on the prairie, students compared how the art of photography captured and differed from the popular American West paintings that were generated at that time. One such painter, Frederick Remington, was a professional painter of the American West theme, but was largely self-taught with little formal training.
Students were then instructed to create a painting of what life on the prairie was really life from any perspective: pioneers, trappers, Native Americans, cattle ranchers, etc.

Grade Five
Fifth graders began this lesson by comparing the painting, Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley, with an early folk painting done by a mariner on a whaling expedition. This comparison was used to help students understand the differences between folk art and academically trained art. Many examples of mariner’s art was shown, including ship figureheads and sculpture, with the emphasis being on the art of scrimshaw: a process of scratching designs into a piece of whalebone with a needle and rubbing black oil into the marks to fill the design. Many mariners would fill empty hours at sea with such past-times.
Student were then introduced to scratchboard, a technique which allowed them to understand the subtractive process of a scratching a design into a surface, and were required to use nautical subject matter.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Why Art Education?

Throughout my years of teaching, I have encountered several different philosophies about what the role of art education should be within our schools, both by administrators and parents. In the last fifteen years, huge strides have been made to reform our society’s ideas about why art education is so important to everyone’s education. We know that art education in schools improves test scores. We know art education enhances critical thinking and problem solving. We know art education fosters a well-rounded student. But there is more.

My philosophy mirrors that of my training at the Rhode Island School of Design art education department and the National Association of Art Education, which is that in addition to providing the above-mentioned qualities, art education must be taught in a way that will address those issues AND provide a vehicle for students to learn about art, talk about art, make informed opinions and decisions about art as they get older and have the confidence in their own abilities to do so.

The mere presence of art class in schools will NOT increase test scores. Nor will it make your child more creative or better at solving complex problems. The content must be presented by a trained professional in a manner which is stimulating and challenging, which has a goal and meaningful purpose, and which will teach students skills they can and may apply later in various ways.

I want my students to understand that art is something they CAN do. I want them to have the confidence and motivation to view works of art and design and make informed decisions about it without intellectual intimidation or ignorance. I want my students to understand that art is not limited to a talented few, nor does it come easily to anyone, but rather it is part of the human experience, something to be learned, cultivated and practiced.

Recently, the National Association of Art Education (NAEA) published an advocacy pamphlet for parents to help communicate the goals and services of arts education in schools. One of their key statements was as follows:

Art Means Work.

Beyond the qualities of creativity, self-expression, and communication, art is a type of work. This is what art has been from the beginning. This is what art is from childhood to old age. Through art, our students learn the meaning of joy of work—work done to the best of one’s ability, for it’s own sake, for the satisfaction of a job well done. There is a desperate need in our society for a revival of the idea of good work: work for personal fulfillment; work for social recognition; work for economic development. Work is one of the noblest expressions of the human spirit, and art is the visible evidence of work carried to the highest possible level. Today we hear much about productivity and workmanship. Both of these ideals are strengthened each time we commit ourselves to the endeavor of art. We are dedicated to the idea that art is the best way for every young person to learn the value of work.

I completely agree with this statement, both as an artist and as an art educator. I try to help my students realize that creating artwork is a challenging process for artists, myself included. As students grow older, their confidence often begins to diminish and uninformed, negatively biased opinions about art and their own abilities, begin to take hold unless a system has been previously put in place that will help them rise above such misconceptions. Accompanying these feelings is also often a notion that art should be simple, easy, and solely recreational. This attitude only serves to eventually diminish the importance of art and art education in the adult minds of our society, who then try to deem it as irrelevant. One of my prime objectives, and one shared by millions of art educators nation-wide, is to eliminate this attitude towards the purpose and function of art education in our schools. To be sure, art education serves a unique role in school, but it must not be confused with recreation, therapy or “busywork”.