Exploring the visual arts can be part of a dynamic process of understanding the natural world, history, and world cultures, as well as philosophical, aesthetic, socio-political, and spiritual questions. Multifaceted approaches to art can hone critical thinking, instill self-confidence, and provide a means of self-expression.
- Arts of the Period: Incorporating the drama, dance, music, and poetry of the artwork’s period can clarify and deepen our understanding of the art.
- Cultural History: Cultural heritage does not consist of art masterpieces alone. Educators can integrate into art education familiar areas of daily life, such as furniture, food, fashion, lifestyles, medicines, jewelry, games, rites, and rituals, to help students form a comprehensive image of a culture.
- Cultural history also helps teach that art trends do not exist in a vacuum. Art movements inform future evolutions in the world of art and are often in reaction to other movements in art, literature, music, politics and so forth. Cross-cultural influences also play a part in the development of trends in art.
- Identifying Personal Responses to Artworks: Discussion following an art experience can develop self-awareness and self-expression. Students can consider: What is the emotional impact of this art? What do I find attractive about this work of art or works by this artist? Does it provide an emotional or intellectual challenge?
- Critical Thinking: Discussion following an art experience can focus on developing critical thinking. Ask students to integrate their knowledge of cultural history and different art forms with their response to individual works of art, to compare and contrast different works, or to do a creative writing exercise.
- Curriculum-Integration Activities: Some of the skills that students learn by experiencing and discussing artworks—tactile exploration, critical thinking, language skills, and cooperative learning—are transferable to other curriculum areas, such as map-reading and mobility, history and social science, language and literature, science, math and technology.
- Group Building: Arts activities and discussions can help create an inclusive environment. Individuals learn how to clarify their opinions and to develop communication skills. The visual arts provide a forum where each person’s viewpoint is honored, imparting confidence and a sense of inclusion.
Family and school programs frequently use art to access other areas of culture and integrate art making, writing, music or drama into tours and other programs. This type of integration is especially important for those who cannot receive visual information. Cultural context provides meaning to the visual art object and the object enriches the information about the culture. Comparisons and parallels to the other arts may clarify art-historical comparisons. For example, ask students to compare and contrast early Renaissance music with early 16 th-century music, or compare Italian and German or French music of the same period. For 20 th-century work, compare modern jazz and bebop to the paintings of the Abstract Expressionists. Or compare early 20 th-century poetry and Cubism. Take advantage of other experts or people with specialized knowledge; work with a colleague who teaches music or literature to design lessons or tours.
Some adults may view art in its own box, and desire mostly information on style and artist. Explore concepts of how art and images are made and promoted, and how they affect the political and social circumstances of the society in which they are made. For example, portraits of leaders, such as Augustus Caesar or Napoleon, were often used as propaganda, with images of the divine included next to the individual in power. Gender roles in societies are reinforced by images in art. In contemporary culture, visual references on television and other media frequently affect political and economic decisions. It is important for those who do not have access to these images to be aware of and understand this process.
Adults and seniors bring much to the discussion of art. Incorporating their personal life experiences and cultural knowledge creates a dynamic relationship with the art object. Adults also benefit by introducing art making or personal reflection and writing into their programming.One strategy for encouraging and validating personal response to art is to ask all students to describe an object to a partner or to the group. Create an open, comfortable environment by allowing them to describe what they notice first, second, third, etc. In contrast with a structured verbal description given by a sighted person, try not to impose a hierarchy or structure of information on their description.
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Again, this tool is an adaptation of a practice used with all audiences, and the same resources apply. Libraries and the Internet are good sources for information on historical, socio-political, and cultural contexts of art objects.
See our teacher's resource center for our Lesson Plan Database for more ideas on integrating art into programs for blind and visually impaired students.