Last week, I was teaching a class about German Expressionism, and we were spending a considerable amount of time (over 20 minutes) dissecting and discussing as a class one of my favorite paintings, Franz Marc’s Fate of the Animals. I got a (rather annoying) question from a student. She said:
What are we learning with this? How can this apply to art?
First of all, it’s art, so that second question is instantly voided.
But, the first is a valid question, and while many of us do inherently see the value in looking at and talking about art together, it is not as clear to a lot of people.
Do you have to learn anything for looking at art to be valuable?
Art can be used to teach a lot of things, and that is awesome. Social studies and English have natural connections, and I love using those when I can. I’ve had students say “This is art. Not history. Why are we talking about this?” (Apparently my students have no trouble questioning my teaching methods. *harrumph*). Art is not alone in a vacuum; it is part of the world.
But, art is just as valuable alone as it is when it is used to teach the “core” subjects. So no. Absolutely not. You don’t need to learn anything specific when looking at art.
What do you “learn” when looking at art?
What you learn is not exactly tangible or instantly measurable. So using Franz Marc’s masterpiece as an example, here are the things my students were “learning” this week when discussing Fate of the Animals.
- Focus. By forcing my student to keep looking and keep noticing the elements of the artwork for 20+ minutes, they were learning to focus on what they see. In our world of fast-paced media and short attention spans, this is a useful exercise.
- Higher Order Thinking. Interpreting art allows students to use their brains in more complex ways. When looking at art, students evaluate, analyze, compare, criticize, and construct meaning.
- Empathy. Looking at art helps students understand and better recognize the feelings of others.
- Connection. Looking at art in a group connects you with those you are discussing it with, but looking at art also connects you to the past, to the artist, to the culture, and to anyone else who has also stood before that artwork. It’s a powerful feeling when you step back and look at it that way.
- Respect. Connecting with other cultures and new ideas through art forces students out of their comfort zone and into the world. This process can help them learn to respect things that are different than them.
- Observation and Awareness. Disciplined looking gives students a change to notice details they may not have seen with a quick look. It trains the student to be more aware of the world they are in.
- Understanding Media/Images. This goes along with the last one, but with this world we live in with an abundance of images, our kids need to be trained to recognize the messages those images send.
- Understanding of Self. Art helps us figure out our thoughts and feelings in different ways. It helps us see the world and ourselves in ways that nothing else can. It is not tangible, but it is there.
- Curiosity and Wonder. Art helps foster a sense of wonder and excitement about the world.
Art is valuable. Art is important.
*climbing off my soapbox*
Thanks for listening.
What did I miss? What else do students learn when looking at art? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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