Bright Ideas: Integrating Art Criticism

By Evans, Mari | School Arts, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Bright Ideas: Integrating Art Criticism


Evans, Mari, School Arts


Children and adults need to learn the elements, the organization, and the relationships of expression and meaning in an artwork in order to make an informed opinion about an artist's work. Knowing art criticism and aesthetics is an important component in teaching the visual arts, but how can it be integrated into the existing, production driven art program?

One place to begin is the building of a common vocabulary. A common art vocabulary becomes necessary for the students to put their thoughts and feelings into words so others can understand their meaning. For many visual arts specialists, the time needed for selecting a good collection of artists' prints, creating worksheets and other hand made materials for developing a vocabulary, and to help organize the students' critical thinking is very limited. The Critic, a program developed by Anona Berry and Dan Keegan, provides the common art vocabulary printed on sixty cards with individual work sheets. The lessons were revised to fit the skill being taught in each unit, instead of using the program in order.

Developing a Vocabulary

Fifth and sixth grade students were studying symbols in African fabrics and in the work of Paul Klee. As we began the unit in September students would raise their hand to contribute what they thought about Paul Klee's work. When I called upon them they became frustrated. We discussed why the frustration existed. "I don't have the words" was a frequent response. It was time to introduce The Critic vocabulary.

Six groups were formed and given ten cards. Each group chose two words from the cards which had a connection to the artwork. After they shared their words, the students also identified words, shapes, colors, or lines that were difficult for them to understand. As a class we talked about each word using an artist's print as a reference. Next came the group and individual activities and worksheets from The Critic program.

Talking and Writing about Art

Soon the students became eager to identify, describe, experiment, associate, arid summarize--the "I.D.E.A.S." processes used in The Critic. They were also able to stay focused on a print which at first some students did not like or understand.

Many students were able to compare and contrast Paul Klee's Picture Album with designs from real African fabrics and saw connections to their own symbols and artwork. These same students completed small artworks on blank postcards and expressed the meaning of their work to a pen pal in another city in Washington. …

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