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Bright ideas: integrating art criticism.

Children and adults need to learn the elements, the organization, and the relationships of expression and meaning in an artwork in order to make an informed opinion about an artist's work. Knowing art criticism and aesthetics is an important component in teaching the visual arts, but how can it be integrated into the existing, production driven art program?

One place to begin is the building of a common vocabulary. A common art vocabulary becomes necessary for the students to put their thoughts and feelings into words so others can understand their meaning. For many visual arts specialists, the time needed for selecting a good collection of artists' prints, creating worksheets and other hand made materials for developing a vocabulary, and to help organize the students' critical thinking is very limited. The Critic, a program developed by Anona Berry and Dan Keegan, provides the common art vocabulary printed on sixty cards with individual work sheets. The lessons were revised to fit the skill being taught in each unit, instead of using the program in order.

Developing a Vocabulary

Fifth and sixth grade students were studying symbols in African fabrics and in the work of Paul Klee. As we began the unit in September students would raise their hand to contribute what they thought about Paul Klee's work. When I called upon them they became frustrated. We discussed why the frustration existed. "I don't have the words" was a frequent response. It was time to introduce The Critic vocabulary.

Six groups were formed and given ten cards. Each group chose two words from the cards which had a connection to the artwork. After they shared their words, the students also identified words, shapes, colors, or lines that were difficult for them to understand. As a class we talked about each word using an artist's print as a reference. Next came the group and individual activities and worksheets from The Critic program.

Talking and Writing about Art

Soon the students became eager to identify, describe, experiment, associate, arid summarize--the "I.D.E.A.S." processes used in The Critic. They were also able to stay focused on a print which at first some students did not like or understand.

Many students were able to compare and contrast Paul Klee's Picture Album with designs from real African fabrics and saw connections to their own symbols and artwork. These same students completed small artworks on blank postcards and expressed the meaning of their work to a pen pal in another city in Washington. They wrote with little difficulty because they had developed the vocabulary and skills to process and express their aesthetic and critical thoughts.

Modifying The Program

In kindergarten through second grade, the process was more teacher directed, working with one element or skill at a time, students learned to identify the most important colors, lines or shapes in a work of art and then used these elements in creating their own work. They compared the colors, lines, or shapes of two or more artworks.

Third and fourth grade students not only identified and described the elements of art but experimented through inventing, manipulating, and re-arranging the elements. In the first lesson they studied Marc Chagall's I and the Village. Besides identifying and describing the elements and principles of this piece, the students created their own radiating dream-like image. The entire unit was easier to teach by using the components in The Critic program.

The Results

Hearing students say "I like it because it is nice" was soon replaced with "the Chambered Nautilus is a quiet painting of a young girl and it makes me wonder what she is thinking." Or "Composition I Storm has diagonal, zigzag, and curved lines of blue, green, red and yellow. It's a loud and exciting painting."

These students received the tools to communicate their thoughts in words and in their own artwork. Their frustration was replaced with enthusiastic expression.


The I.D.E.A.S. process was developed by Anona Berry and Dan Keegan to enhance student learning by using critical art thinking skills. These student experiences are:

Identify--recognize, name, list, locate

Describe--qualities of line, shape, color, value, size, texture, feeling

Experiment--imagine, invent, manipulate, arrange and re-arrange

Associate---connect, link, categorize, compare, interpret, analyze

Summarize--review, synthesize, unify, and form judgments

For more information about The Critic, contact Wild Berry Learning Systems, Rt 3 Box 224A, Buckhannon, WV 26201 or Crizmac Art & Cultural Education Materials, P.O. Box 65928, Tucson, AZ 85728-5928.

Mari Evans is an art specialist at Prairie Elementary School and Mill Pond Intermediate School in Yelm, Washington. She also is an adjunct professor for the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington.
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Title Annotation:includes list of resources
Author:Evans, Mari
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1997
Previous Article:Group reflection: student generated authentic assessment.
Next Article:Bookworks: Making Books by Hand.

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