Teaching Art History to Young Learners

By Mathews, Melissa | Arts & Activities, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Teaching Art History to Young Learners


Mathews, Melissa, Arts & Activities


One challenge for art educators is creating lessons for the younger grades (pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade) that uphold the high standards and expectations of the rest of the art program, but are also exciting, and most importantly, feasible for the young students.

It is often assumed that these young artists will not appreciate, understand or be able to create art that reflects the important elements of the master artist's works. Unfortunately, these students are often reduced to fundamental experimentation with materials and little more. I created two lessons to fulfill the outcome of teaching art history in an approachable and exciting way, one focusing on Henri Matisse and the second on Alma Thomas.

DANCING MATISSE COLLAGES I use color overheads and large prints to introduce pre-K students to Henri Matisse's famous paper collages--especially those with figures, such as Verve de la Couleur, Icarus, The Circus and La Negresse. While we look at the artwork, I tell them about his life and his important influences on art.

I ask students to share which parts of the works they like and which parts they don't--and why--and I encourage students to use their visual vocabulary in these critiques. We discuss Matisse's use of colors and shapes, but we focus primarily on the figures. What is the figure doing? Many times it looks like the figure is dancing. One at a time, I invite students to share a favorite dance pose that the rest of the class then imitates.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

Students choose one shape to repeat for their background--usually squares, rectangles or triangles. I show them how to space the shapes on the background paper so that the shapes don't overlap. For the figure, I model how to start with a circle or an oval for the head, add a line for the body and two lines each for the arms and legs. The positions of the arms and the legs are what create the dance pose you like best. Students then use a different color to trace a line around the stick figure. It is this colored line they cut out and then glue so the lines are on the back.

ALMA THOMAS ABSTRACT ART Alma Thomas is an abstract artist with a unique painting technique that is instantly recognizable. …

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