Art Appreciation: The Learning Disabled Look, Talk and Create

By Ferguson, Winnie J.; Owen, Luisa L. | School Arts, May 1993 | Go to article overview

Art Appreciation: The Learning Disabled Look, Talk and Create


Ferguson, Winnie J., Owen, Luisa L., School Arts


Discipline-based art education has become an important factor in the art education world. The attention placed on it has changed many art teacher's priorities--before the focus was on studio-based activities; now we must find ways to give equal time to art criticism, aesthetics and art history. While these are important learning concepts, it's important for children to experience them in relation to their own creativity. When you factor in the learning disabled, it's especially important.

Stimulating Learning

Since learning-disabled children are often hypo- or hyperactive, they need hands-on experience to stimulate learning. The art experience can utilize their perceptual/motor skills to increase cognitive understanding of art criticism, aesthetics and art history. When appreciation is supported by creative experiences, skills in organization and interpretation are nurtured--teachers find that their students are able to make and support critical evaluations. By looking at, talking about and creating art, children become more knowledgeable about art's expressive qualities; they become more fluent and imaginative in expressing their own ideas.

Let's take a look at an enrichment program consisting of several art lessons that fifteen third-grade children with learning disabilities participated in. This program encouraged the development of language and metaphor through art experiences. Children looked at, talked about and participated in creative visual art and creative writing.

A Look at the Program

Selected works of art were discussed in reference to students' visual, tactile, spatial and auditory experiences. This discussion led to questions such as: "Are these shapes moving, or are they floating, rising or falling?" Responses of, "No, they are hovering," were followed by discussion and dramatization of the concept of hovering. Talking about sensory experience with works of art, while encouraging the use of metaphor led the students to a better understanding of the works in question.

The book Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni, was used as an introduction to the art lesson because it expresses ideas of friendship through simple shapes and colors. The book was read to the students which led to class discussion. Next, the students created their own stories with torn-paper collages. Paper was selected as the media because most children are comfortable with it. Tearing was chosen as the technique because some children with learning disabilities have not developed cutting skills. Children were encouraged to create friendly shapes and colors, and to discuss reasons for their creations.

All of the lessons stressed relationship--the emotional aspects of works of art as well as the sensory qualities. Lessons focused on nonobjective works of art by Alexander Calder and Wassily Kandinsky, and the relationships of shapes and colors were discussed. Bright and dull, heavy and light, density and openness were discussed as contrasting relationships; clustering and overlapping as spatial relationships were pointed out. The overall mood of the work was experienced as expressing a relationship.

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