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Opening Our Hearts and Minds to Art

by Pierrette Rouse

It is with great trepidation that I started my Friday afternoon art period with my Grade 8 class. This particular day, we were going to talk about art. I have taught art to intermediate classes for a few years, but I must admit I had never "talked" about art.

During a P.D. day, Heather Miller, an art expert, had given us a workshop. She showed us how to use art cards to encourage students to think and talk about art. I followed her directions from the workshop.

My lesson was divided into three parts. The first part involved a whole class discussion. I put an overhead of a painting on the overhead projector and asked the students what they saw, what they thought and how they felt about the painting. It was an abstract painting called "Moose at French River" by Claudia McKnight. The students responded openly and honestly. They described what they saw, they expressed what they liked and we discussed the emotions the painting evoked.

To continue our art talk, I went on to the second part of my lesson. The students were given a variety of art cards. They had to choose two cards: one that reflected how they felt at the time and one they liked. With the first card, they then had to list five words related to the art cart and to how they felt. They shared their words with a classmate. We then talked as a whole group and volunteers presented their words and explained them. The students had varied and interesting answers.

Similarly with the second card, the students had to name five words to explain why they liked the art card. Many students explained that the art represented something in their lives. For example, one student chose a painting of a ballerina because she takes ballet lessons. We went on to discuss how certain works of art have special meaning because we relate them to our own experience. We like other pieces of art because they appeal to us in some way. We like the scene or the colour or the style or the composition of the piece.

We then proceeded to the third part of our lesson. The students practised contour drawing, drawing from observation and drawing from memory. We used the art cards for these activities.

We ended our class by looking at another painting on the overhead. This time the painting was of a very familiar landmark. We had a good discussion comparing the painting we had seen at the beginning of the lesson and the one at the end.

I was delighted by the students' response and interest to our art lesson. They were focused, on task and gave insightful and intelligent answers during our art talk. I felt my risk had paid off.

We will continue having art talks in our class and I am certain that the more we do it, the more comfortable the students will get with this style of dialogue.

Adrienne Clarkson once said "We must always remember that art has the potential to open minds and change lives for the better". It is my hope that as I expose students to a variety of art forms and techniques in class, that they will start to see differently and view life in a new way. I hope students will come to appreciate art and realize that this is one, of many ways of expressing who you are and what is in your heart.

Pierrette Rouse is a Grade 8 Homeroom Teacher with the York Region District School Board

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