The Rembrandt Teaching Project: Promoting Multiple Literacies in Teaching and Learning

By Piro, Joseph M. | Art Education, May 2001 | Go to article overview

The Rembrandt Teaching Project: Promoting Multiple Literacies in Teaching and Learning


Piro, Joseph M., Art Education


RIMPRANT, NOSTRAE AETATIS MIRACULUM

(Rembrandt, the miracle of our age).

Inscription written after the name of Rembrandt on a document compiled in 1664 by the scholar Gabriel Bucelinus, listing the names of "the most distinguished European painters."

The name Rembrandt conjures up the image of an art historical monument, a master who personified the height of creative and artistic powers. As with many human monuments, there is a tendency toward thinking of him and his works as remote, mysterious, even unapproachable. This article will outline how Rembrandt became an accessible, admired, and beloved figure to a group of educators and their students in a large urban school district in New York City. It will discuss the genesis of the The Rembrandt Teaching Project, describing how education generalists were drawn into the artistic world of 17th-century Europe, discovering how it could speak both to them and their students. It will also address multiple literacies (Eisner, 1998) that go beyond basic reading and writing as students learn to understand and decode an entire symbol system. A thorough mastery of this understanding process should include a spectrum of literacies, resulting in what Eisner calls " a vision of what our schools should seek to achieve." This mastery was the goal of the Rembrandt Teaching Project.

The impetus for the project came from an Arts Education Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts to design a discipline-based art education (DBAE) project (Dobbs, 1997). I proposed to study Rembrandt in the context of his culture, society, and historical time and produce a curriculum guide for teachers interested in teaching Rembrandt using the DBAE approach.

An important aspect of the NEA Fellowship required an on-site visit to the Netherlands to collect primary source material about Rembrandt. Included in this material were videos, books, maps, postcards, and art reproductions from such places as The Rijksmuseum and The Museum of the City of Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis in The Hague. I also visited Leiden, Rembrandt's birthplace. Much of this material was included in the curriculum guide that resulted. The blend of geography and art history in a slide presentation helped provide information about the life and times of Rembrandt for those teachers who became involved in the project

The project's first task was the formation of a curriculum-writing committee consisting of four classroom teachers and supervisors, either generalists or art specialists. After determining the format of the curriculum guide, the committee constructed a guide that presented a variety of teaching and learning activities about Rembrandt.

At the same time, they studied his art and life. They also learned about the four curriculum content areas of DBAE, including art history, art production, art criticism, and aesthetics and reviewed the curriculum sampler (Alexander & Day, 1991) that served as the guide's template.

For the first task of curriculum writing, the committee members used the resources of three museums in New York to extend and enrich their knowledge about Rembrandt. The three sites, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, and the Morgan library, all expressed a willingness to assist in the project. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to many great Rembrandt works including Man in Oriental Costume (1632), Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653), and Woman with a Pink (c. 1662-63). The curriculum team spent time at museum's library and studying the works with museum educator Rika Burnham. Additionally, they made multiple visits to the Frick Collection where they worked with Susan Galassi, Amy Herman, and Ashley Thomas. Using the additional resources of the Morgan Library, the committee acquired an indepth understanding of the works and life of the artist.

Equipped with basic knowledge of DBAE and Rembrandt, the curriculum committee began designing actual lessons for the guide now titled, From the Brush of Rembrandt: Discoveries Through Discipline-Based Art Education (1999).

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