Murals as Storytellers

By Fradella, Laura | School Arts, May-June 2005 | Go to article overview

Murals as Storytellers


Fradella, Laura, School Arts


In times before most people could read or write, pictures were used to tell stories and to teach people. Visual storytelling is most often seen in the form of drawing, painting, collage, printmaking, quilts, stained-glass windows, and murals. The concept of visual storytelling can be traced as far back as 20,000 years ago when cave dwellers communicated ideas by painting images on cave walls.

Stories on Walls

The after-school art club had a mission to tell a chronological story of historical events. Before the project began, students needed to research fundamental background information about murals. I presented a slide chronology of cave painters; Egyptian tomb paintings; Greek murals/the Mexican mural artist, Diego Rivera; and works by Thomas Hart Benton and contemporary muralist Judith Baca.

Integrating the Curriculum

A major goal of the project was to create a mural that would make deliberate connections between the visual arts and other disciplines. By integrating, math students learned proportion, scale, and measurement through enlarging, reducing, and rearranging. Language arts connected their interpretations of ideas orally and through reflective writing exercises. Students used historical inquiry when researching how people and events from the past influence later generations. Experimenting with color theories became another interesting challenge integrating art and science.

Students become leaders and educate their peers in art, language arts, mathematics, and social studies skills.

In art, students learned how to use negative and positive shapes effectively and how to define shapes within the mural. Students increased their knowledge of the art elements and how to organize them through the principles of unity, balance, and composition.

Researching the Mural

Since American history became the school-wide theme, it was decided that our murals would portray chronological events in history from the colonial period through and including the Civil War era. Each floor of the school would depict a different era in history. Colonialism would be illustrated on the first floor, American Revolutionary scenes would fill the second floor, and the third floor would depict scenes from the Civil War era. Fifteen students in an after-school art program collaborated by brainstorming ideas of images that would later be used in their research, written work, and artwork. These students researched events of colonial life up to, and including, the Civil War by using textbooks, biographical accounts, and educational websites to gather information for the visual storytelling mural. …

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