Visual Art: The Universal Language

By Doherty, Betty J. | School Arts, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Visual Art: The Universal Language


Doherty, Betty J., School Arts


Over the past decade, the enrollment of Asian children has increased dramatically in the Wilmette Public Schools. Enrollment of Asian children at one of the district's schools has climbed to more than twenty percent. In each of the visual arts classes, there are at least two children who do not speak English. This does not prevent these students from successfully accomplishing the studio art activities, provided the lessons are presented in conjunction with a visual demonstration. Chinese, Korean and Japanese students are able to surmount the verbal language barriers, and grasp the universal language of visual art symbols - they don't need a translator to communicate their individual creativity, as their keen eyes search for the visual symbols necessary to understand the essence of each lesson. Could American students be thrust into an environment where they do not understand the language of their teacher, and pick up enough clues from visual symbols to create artwork with the same high degree of competence as their Asian counterparts? This hypothetical question found an answer during a school-wide cultural awareness program.

In an effort to help students to understand that each society of people has its own aesthetic values, Romona School in Wilmette embarked upon a cultural celebration to highlight Asian heritage. For one week, each grade level (K-5) focused on various curricular activities related to Asian culture. Teachers used language arts, geography, social studies and other curricular areas as a means of interrelating the arts with classroom activities. Kindergarten through third grade students experienced the arts through Asian folk dances taught by a dance consultant. The climax of the celebration was a reverse visual arts experience in which fourth and fifth grade classes were instructed by Asian artists speaking only in their native tongue. The students were advised before starting the lesson that there would be no English spoken during class. …

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