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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 5, March 2007

At the heart of art

by Joy Silver

Do any of you, as I have, feel inadequately trained and experienced to teach good art lessons that meet the goals of the primary visual arts curriculum? Perhaps my efforts to change this situation for myself can help you to feel just fine teaching about the heart of art.

I had the privilege one summer of participating in a week-long elementary art education institute in my school district. The mini-workshops were presented by colleagues who are artists in their own right, and who knew the challenges generalist teachers were having in meeting the new visual arts learning outcomes. Many of us didn’t know art vocabulary, could not identify the elements of art and didn’t know how to engage students in looking at, describing, and appreciating works of art. In that one week, I was on my way to feeling comfortable doing my own art exploration. I got a good sense of how I could make art education more authentic for my students. At the summer institute, we worked with the theme Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and looked at traditional, impressionistic, and contemporary works of art to discover the art elements. We explored with salt and ice to make clouds, we did fabric art and we talked a lot about the fire that stirred in the spirit of artists to make images of their environments, their emotions, and their visions with their own unique visual expression.

One particular mini-workshop focussed on some of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists of the late 19th and early 20th Century. The history of this artistic ground-breaking style was absorbing. The invitations to paint or create in the style of one of these artists helped me begin a serious exploration of art technique and of understanding how to look at and appreciate an artists image. The experience liberated me to start looking at art with young children. Over the ensuing years, I became comfortable taking other visual art workshops that included the use of literature for artistic expression, the symbolism of masks, and the creation of simple theatrical props. Finding supporting resources became a passion with me. Funnily enough, it was at this time that the most prolific and available resources started showing up in book stores and school libraries, especially books on famous Impressionist artists for the elementary-age students. It is likely that you will find them in your school library. If you don’t find them, ask to have them to be put on your school wish list. I found the books treasure troves of fun, information, and inspiration to launch into a study of an artist’s work. And, they are great tools to get the students thinking about their own art ideas and exploring specific colour and brushstroke techniques. In the case of Henri Matisse, your students can be inspired to create colourful cut-out collages. You will find a resource list following this journal article of useful lesson strategies that explore the world of visual art in general and specifically the work of Impressionist masters Emily Carr and Henri Matisse.

Joy Silver is a retired Coquitlam primary teacher.

For information about lesson ideas, visit the BC Primary Teachers’ Association web site at bctf.ca/psas/BCPTA.

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