Saturday, October 29, 2011

Aesthetics in the Classroom - Does Art Have to be Beautiful?

Student A - Happy 

My students and I have been entertaining the question "Does art have to be beautiful?"  I have been observing their reactions to art they don't like (it's boring or dumb).  It's not just that they are responding to the visual, but also to the meaning and emotions that are in an artist's work.  I wondered if they were able to connect to their emotions and feelings in the art they made, perhaps they could relate to the feelings of other artists.  I came up with an activity that really seems to have connected my young artists with their own feelings expressed through their art.

I asked my Art I students to create two artworks: one representing happy emotions and one sad emotions.  We used oil pastels as a quick, expressive material.  I asked them not to draw something recognizable, but to try to draw what their emotions might look like.  Then I asked them to answer four questions about their drawing.  I selected these four (out of over sixty 9th & 10th grade students) for their artistic expression and their responses.  

Here are Student A's responses:
  • Does your art have to be beautiful to be meaningful to you?
    • Your heart doesn't have to be beautiful to be meaningful to you just as life doesn't have to be great to have importance.
  • Do you think your art reflects your emotions successfully?
    • I think the first picture reflects my feelings better because it's more expressive of life as a whole.  
  • Which work do you like the best and why do you like it the best?
    • The second picture is too true to be true.  Being average humans, we don't usually go a day without expressing griefs and sadness, making it more real.
  • Do you think making art in this way could help you deal with emotions?
    • I think I can reflect my emotions through art successfully and organically, but when we get assignments that I can't relate to, it's harder to do so.  This can help with emotions for sure.


Student A - Sad

(NOTE to teacher self:  try to make all assignments engaging to all students!  Is this possible?)


Student B - Happy
Student B's responses:
  • Does your art have to be beautiful to be meaningful to you?
    • No, just as long as you think it's beautiful, it doesn't matter
  • Do you think your art reflects your emotions successfully?
    • Yes, I think it does.
  • Which work do you like the best and why do you like it the best?
    • The bad drawing because when I'm mad there are storms going on.
  • Do you think making art in this way could help you deal with emotions?
    • Yes, because you can color different types of ways.


Student B - Sad

(Is it possible by connecting to their emotions in making, that they might be able to extrapolate to other artist's emotions?)

Student C - Happy
Student C's responses:

  • Does your art have to be beautiful to be meaningful to you?
    • No, it does not - it can be ugly and still mean something.
  • Do you think your art reflects your emotions successfully?
    • My art does reflect my emotion.
  • Which work do you like the best and why do you like it best?
    • The sad one cause that's how I am in the inside.
  • Do you think making art in this way could help you deal with emotions?
    • Yes, it would help me a lot.


Student C - Sad

Student D - Happy
Student D's responses:

  • Does your art have to be beautiful to be meaningful to you?
    • No, it just has to mean what you feel, no matter what it looks like.
  • Do you think your art reflects your emotions successfully?
    • Yes, because when I think of sad, I think of grey, black and red.  I think these emotionless colors mean pain.  When I think of happy feelings, I think of vibrant colors that pop out.  I think blue, yellow and green means happy and light pink is peaceful.
  • Which work do you like the best and why do you like it best?
    • I like the sad one because it might be simple, but when I look at that one I feel empty and sad, which is the way I intended it to be.
  • Do you think making art in this way could help you deal with emotions?
    • Yes, I do; it gives you a way to express your feelings in a good, positive way.


Student D - Sad

This activity, which helped to connect them to their feelings seemed worthwhile.  Elliot Eisner says:
"The distinction between feeling and knowing is deeply ingrained in Western culture.  It is also deeply rooted in our educational culture.  Relatively few theoreticians dealing with epistemological issues in education underscore the importance of feeling as a way of knowing." (Eisner, p. 115)
The arts are a perfect place to reconnect our students with their feelings.  As they reflect on their own emotions and use those emotions to create, my beginning art students hopefully are starting to understand (know) that those feelings are a powerful place to tap into for their creative expression.  Perhaps through connecting with their own feelings, they will begin to recognize other artists' emotional messages in art and be more open when considering art they may not like.

This exercise works on another level as well, because I want my art students to come away from their art class ( because it is possibly the ONLY art class they will ever take) with the understanding that art can heal the viewer as well as the maker.  Having an outlet of expression, like art, to mediate between the physical and emotional can be of benefit to them in the future.  The creative and expressive experience is ingrained in us, and sometimes we just need to know how to tap into that power.
Imagery is a function of the right side of the brain.  Every experience we have and the emotions that accompany it are perceived by the body and the right brain as imagistic sensations.  Although any of the senses can produce an imagistic impression, visual imargery, which can be anything form a recognizable object to an abstract shape or color is usually (for sighted people) the strongest of these sensate impressions.  That is why when we feel angry, we often say we see red.  When we are sad, we may say we feel blue.  Or when we near the end of a difficult ordeal, we may say we finallly see a light at the end of the tunnel.  These are prime examples of the universal imagery we all share and associate with particular feelings or emotions.  (Ganim, p. 10)

So as maker or viewer, finding and relating to these universal images can be exciting and healing.  As I looked at my students' work, I was amazed at the variety of their expression.  Their images are visually diverse yet spring from a common place.  I'm going to hang this work up in the art room as an installation and we'll have a conversation about it.  It will be interesting to hear what they say.  I hope they are beginning to understand the power of art.


Resources:  
Eisner, E.E.  (1998) The kind of schools we need
Ganim, B. & Fox, S. ((1999) Visual journaling:  going deeper than words.





1 comment:

Renee said...

Mrs. Miller!
I love this assignment that you did with your classes. I also attempt to make my Art classes as valuable and informative as possible- seeing that some students won't have Art again after 5th grade.
I am very impressed with the emotion that I felt from Students A, B, C, and D's work. Their written responses reflect the success of your assignment. This assignment reminds me of our guest lecturer in one of our Art Ed classes. Remember when the Art teacher from Columbine came and spoke to us and had us create a little art therapy?
Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your blog.

-From your fellow Mrs. Miller