Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Trying new ways on for size

One week ago I began the art historical section of my art appreciation course. I am excited and anxious about this section as I have a lot of hopes for what it can be but limited time to realize them.

  • We began with prehistoric art and moved through mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures in the first week (Entitled Fun in the Sun) It was a little art in the dark and a little question and answer. I showed a number of slides and often asked them to recall facts and link them to the content. For example when looking at The Stelle of Hammurabi I asked them to think of other law systems carved into stone, etc. I had a few sleepers but that is to be expected in a class after lunch when you turn the lights off and start talking about rocks! I added information about issues of interpretation and race with these works and attempted to make my image choices apparent to the students.
  • We jumped to the Chicago World's Fair as a way of talking about anthropology and how ancient and contemporary works of other cultures are interpreted as having never changed or as pure. For example, Japanese architecture at the Expo was a novelty that Fair goers could not get enough of. It was always described as pure, old, and beautiful because it was so distant from technology. We looked at these aspects as being very western and straight from colonial thinking. At least we began this conversation.
  • Next we looked Nudes throughout art history as a way to look at many different western genres of art through singular theme. We have not completely ditched the timeline but it was interesting to see themes recycled and ideas presented in new ways but all under the topic of the nude figure, which quickly turned into the female nude figure. This was interesting as students compared Eve figures to Venus figures to fetish figures to perfume advertisements in recent years. Unsurprisingly, not as many sleepers through this one!

My students have responded well to these three different attempts. And in fact they seem to enjoy the variety. A few times I have had needed to clarify some points as there is some confusion as to when I am talking about a larger movement of art and when I am talking about a specific work. This is really critical feedback as it helps to be precise and clear when I am lecturing. They like the more academic stuff and with all the practice with critical group discussion they are unafraid to speak up and share opinion and even disagree with me. The don't clamor for more organization and timelines nor do they insist on study guides and slide lists. They take notes sparingly and really engage in the conversations. I think this is really due to the fact that they are active participants in this classroom and even when I am dispensing with knowledge they know that they have something to contribute.

This means that I am at least on the right track. I need to continue to vary my teaching style and delivery to keep them interested and to hit multiple styles of learners. Keeping them on their toes with projects, discussions, lectures, and group projects seems to be a good combination. It also means that I have a lot of work to do before I rewrite art history off the timeline and away from a map. This is a long process of working with new organizational methods that make art history more relevant to the student. There is not one different way to do it but multiple ways that help to get a full 360 view of art historical knowledge.

Implications for practice. As I am attempting to focus in on what the new art appreciation teacher needs in the classroom, one of my suggestions has to be try new things and let the students in on your process. It builds relationships and makes process an important aspect in the classroom. It also reinforces that history in general as well as art history is told from different perspectives and through different methods and it is important to seek these different ways out!

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