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Art appreciation: the learning disabled look, talk and create.

Discipline-based art education has become an important factor in the art education world. The attention placed on it has changed many art teacher's priorities--before the focus was on studio-based activities; now we must find ways to give equal time to art criticism, aesthetics and art history. While these are important learning concepts, it's important for children to experience them in relation to their own creativity. When you factor in the learning disabled, it's especially important.

Stimulating Learning

Since learning-disabled children are often hypo- or hyperactive, they need hands-on experience to stimulate learning. The art experience can utilize their perceptual/motor skills to increase cognitive understanding of art criticism, aesthetics and art history. When appreciation is supported by creative experiences, skills in organization and interpretation are nurtured--teachers find that their students are able to make and support critical evaluations. By looking at, talking about and creating art, children become more knowledgeable about art's expressive qualities; they become more fluent and imaginative in expressing their own ideas.

Let's take a look at an enrichment program consisting of several art lessons that fifteen third-grade children with learning disabilities participated in. This program encouraged the development of language and metaphor through art experiences. Children looked at, talked about and participated in creative visual art and creative writing.

A Look at the Program

Selected works of art were discussed in reference to students' visual, tactile, spatial and auditory experiences. This discussion led to questions such as: "Are these shapes moving, or are they floating, rising or falling?" Responses of, "No, they are hovering," were followed by discussion and dramatization of the concept of hovering. Talking about sensory experience with works of art, while encouraging the use of metaphor led the students to a better understanding of the works in question.

The book Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni, was used as an introduction to the art lesson because it expresses ideas of friendship through simple shapes and colors. The book was read to the students which led to class discussion. Next, the students created their own stories with torn-paper collages. Paper was selected as the media because most children are comfortable with it. Tearing was chosen as the technique because some children with learning disabilities have not developed cutting skills. Children were encouraged to create friendly shapes and colors, and to discuss reasons for their creations.

All of the lessons stressed relationship--the emotional aspects of works of art as well as the sensory qualities. Lessons focused on nonobjective works of art by Alexander Calder and Wassily Kandinsky, and the relationships of shapes and colors were discussed. Bright and dull, heavy and light, density and openness were discussed as contrasting relationships; clustering and overlapping as spatial relationships were pointed out. The overall mood of the work was experienced as expressing a relationship.

Cut fabric shapes of various colors, textures and sizes were provided for creative experiences. Children found the activity stimulating and fluently expressed their understanding of the terms used in discussions.

Fabric collage turned out to be an exciting medium for expression since tactile experiences stimulated increased verbalization. Fabric collage was also used in later activities to provide tactile reinforcement for talking about texture in works of art. Soft fabrics were used to reinforce looking at works with soft colors. Mary Cassatt's After the Bath explored the emotional relationship between mother and child, and was discussed in contrast to Diego Rivera's Mother's Helper. Chagall's I and The Village was intriguing to the children because of the multiple relationships implied. The children recognized the public atmosphere of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Seurat, and the privacy of Christina's World by Wyeth as being in sharp contrast. During discussions, students listened to each other and took turns expressing and modifying their views. Information learned in previous lessons was referred to in relation to new experiences of different artwork. Discussions were always followed by creative experiences using collage activities.

Continued Creativity

Following these art lessons, students continued to focus on art experiences under the guidance of the classroom teacher with creative writing activities. Through their stories, it was obvious they were able to take their creative experience to another level of understanding.

Introducing art appreciation to learning-disabled elementary school children can be a very exciting experience. It was evident that talking about art was something they enjoyed. They participated with amazing fluency, revealing an ability to observe, describe and interpret. Their observations were often surprisingly acute, and their expressions refreshingly poetic. Talking about art developed perception and insight as well as expressive language abilities.

References

Blandy, D. "Ecological and normalizing

approaches to disabled students and art

education." Art Education, 1989, 42 (3)

7-11. Chapman, L. Discover Art: Art Print Guide

1-3. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications,

Inc., 1987. Henley, David R. Exceptional Children,

Exceptional Art. Worcester, MA: Davis

Publications, Inc., 1992. Ferguson, W.J. and D. Debevec. "Screening

kindergarten students: An art therapy

assessment." Art Therapy, Journal of

the American Art Therapy Association,

1990, 7 (30) 119-125. Lionni, L. Little Blue and Little Yellow

New York: Astor-Honor, Inc., 1959. Parsons, M.J. How We Understand Art.

NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Owen, L.L. "Art appreciation as expression."

Ohio Art Education Association Journal,

1985, 24 (2) 10-14.

Winnie J. Ferguson (Art Therapy) and Luisa L. Owen (Art Education) are both professors at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Owen, Luisa L.
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:897
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