Variety Is the Spice of Aesthetics

By Turnquist, Antoinette E. | School Arts, November 1990 | Go to article overview
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Variety Is the Spice of Aesthetics

Turnquist, Antoinette E., School Arts

One of the challenges for teachers who want to maintain aesthetic appreciation and criticism as an integral part of the art program is the need to design an aesthetic scanning process that avoids monotony and is personally meaningful for each student. The full scanning method moves step-by-step through a discussion of the sensory, formal, technical and expressive properties of a work of art. That full exercise can, however, turn students off if repeated over and over again in its entirety, without variation. The key to avoiding monotony is variation within the scanning method. The key to making scanning personally meaningful is to recognize and encourage the student's ability to interpret works of art.

The study of aesthetics and criticism gives students the opportunity to relate the visual to the verbal and, in doing so, to see how complete a communication the visual image can be. The following is an example of a sculpture analysis lesson related to art appreciation. It is a single class period exercise presented to eleventh and twelfth grade students. Included under each question for consideration are some samples of actual student responses.

Lesson title: Sculpture Analysis

Grade Level: 11, 12


* Students will recognize sensory, formal, technical and expressive qualities in sculpture examples.

* Students will verbally interpret visual communication.

* Students will recognize their own capacity for interpretation in relation to works of art.

Visuals: Slides or print reproductions.

Class procedure: Students will be given four questions. Each question refers to one of the four visuals. Students will have six minutes to read a question, consider the sculpture, and write a brief response.

Question 1: What is the double imagery in this Baboon and Young Surrealistic sculpture by Picasso?

Student answers:

The head of the baboon looks like a Volkswagon.

I see a Volkswagon bug (car) for the head. The rest of the sculpture is like a mountain, and the car has to ride down the mountain.

The double imagery of its head looks like a car with the tires and front end as a mouth.

Question 2: This abstract expressionist work by Nevelson is entitled Illumination Dark. Can you explain why that is an appropriate title? Does the work bring to mind anything you saw earlier in the year in Pre-Columbian/Mexican art?

Student answers:

The work is mysterious and overlap ping. It leaves one to wonder what is behind the boards and the dark holes. It reminds me of the calendar device of Pre-Columbian/Mexican art.

It reminds me of the Pre-Columbian/ Mexican calendar. The box assemblage has dark and light values from the shadows of the relief.

It is an appropriate title because of the way the light reflects off the dark surface, and the way the shadows are formed by the relief of the sculpture. This brings to mind the artwork of the Pre-Columbian/Mexican calendar and also the giant head of stone.

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