Art History Can Be Fun!

Article excerpt

There is little argument that the study of art history is an essential component of discipline-based art education. As art teachers, how can we make art history more enticing and relevant for our students? This question inspired the following unit.

Starting with Art History

Although this lesson was taught to undergraduate elementary education majors, I believe that it can be easily adapted to any grade level. Since my students had no background in art history, I began with a broad overview of the major art historical periods, supplemented richly with visual images from books, slides, and large reproductions. My objective was not to provide in-depth information, but to peak student's interests through discussion focusing on objects representative of several time periods and stylistic movements.

During our next class, we met in the library for a "serendipity" experience. The Random House Dictionary defines serendipity as "an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

"I instructed students to browse through art books until they found an artist that they found personally appealing or interesting. Since each student would soon be writing a short artist biography to share with their classmates, students used this class period to collect resources.

Writing, Speaking, and Art Criticism

The written component of this assignment consisted of a one to two page report that was an encapsulation of the most significant aspects of the chosen artist's life and work. I did not want my students to merely copy down reams of meaningless dates and titles, instead I asked the students to focus on their artist and write about them as if they were a close family member or friend. I explained to them that they had to be prepared to answer questions regarding their report--therefore, they must be knowledgeable about various art terms associated with their artist. I also required that students include a small "visual" in the upper right hand corner of their report. This could be any type of small reproduction or a simple illustration representing a specific work. Although optional, many students also included photographs or portraits of their artists as well.

Oral presentations were limited to five to ten minutes in length. During that time, students read their artist profile aloud, handed out copies of their report to each classmate, showed three or more images of their artist's work, and answered classmates` questions. I noticed three significant developments during the presentations. First, because the reports were succinct, all students remained fully engaged during the presentations. Second, their obvious interest was shown in the amount and type of questions that they asked one another. Students often asked one another for clarification on artistic terminology or unfamiliar technical processes. Some of the questions also pertained to the personal lives of artists, providing us with additional contextual knowledge. Third, the students were highly motivated and excited about sharing their information with classmates. I think this can be credited to the fact that students were allowed to select their artist, rather than have one assigned to them at the beginning of the project.

Art Production with Limited Art Supplies

It was important to me that my students use their critical thinking skills in order to do more than merely create a copy of their artist's work or style. I wanted students to visually demonstrate through their artistic production that they truly understood what made a Rembrandt a Rembrandt or a Michelangelo a Michelangelo. Faced with scant resources, I asked myself, what do college students have easy access to that is inexpensive and expendable? …