Ceramics - Italian Style
Richmond, Stuart, School Arts
I recently visited the city of Turin with the purpose of learning something about Italian methods of art education. The teachers I met were extremely warm, hospitable and very willing to share their ideas and professional interests. In turn, I should like to pass on some of these ideas and interests to a larger audience. But first, a little background information.
Art Education in Italy
The curriculum for art in the public schools in Italy is under national direction, as is the rest of education which tends to follow a fairly structured and teacher-directed route. In the junior high grades, for example, all students must purchase and study elaborate and beautifully illustrated texts that highlight Italian artistic achievements through history. Art education is a normal part of elementary and junior high programs, and students seriously interested in art go on to study at special arts-based high schools. There are no local school boards as in North America, but there are regional departments of education that help organize local art initiatives. In the city of Turin, for example, there are a number of programs to supplement the standard school art curriculum. Several laboratories for elementary/junior high students have been established to concentrate on ceramics, video and computers. Other laboratories are in the process of being established. In this article I describe my visit to one of two ceramics facilities in operation in Turin.
An Italian Approach to Teaching Ceramics
The Laboratoria Ceramica Communali, directed by Professora Graziella Ruggero, is well supplied with materials and high-quality equipment. As a special blessing, this facility has a full-time technician who does such things as load and fire the kiln, assist students with their work and give out supplies, tools, etc.
Students from surrounding elementary schools make six visits a year to the lab in classes of fifteen to twenty-two, and they work in small groups of five or six. The interesting thing about this approach is that the students are expected to work together cooperatively. Artistic decisions and choices become a matter for the group as a whole to debate, argue about and if necessary, vote on. All children have the chance to influence procedures and decisions. Thus, students who occupy leadership roles in other school situations must often give way to students who may have more imaginative and effective artistic ideas that the other group members recognize. In this approach, the students' participation and interactions have an educational emphasis. The experience of doing a job cooperatively and well is of key importance. Students can apply this learning to life, says Professor Ruggero, the artistic results being of lesser importance. Be that as it may, very careful teaching and commitment by students produces artwork of a high quality.
The program is organized so that the students complete one major project per group in the six, ninety-minute meetings. The project consists of a decorative and modular ceramic tile arrangement to be mounted on the wall. To avoid stereotyped images--a problem in Italian art classes just as it is in our own--the students must develop their designs from geometric shapes given by the teacher. Different groups receive different shapes. Each group is expected to modify its particular shape or shapes in various ways and plan an interrelated composition. While the steps are taught separately, students are made aware of what elements and techniques are involved at the outset so that they can take these into consideration as they progress. …