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Generating art through writing.

The goals of my writing projects are based on the belief that thinking and writing about artwork enhances understanding and enriches creative experiences associated with art production.

The shacks created by Beverly Buchanan, with their accompanying legends reflective of the people who built and lived in them, seemed the perfect inspiration for lessons incorporating creative and critical writing. (See School Arts, May/June 1995,p. 25.) Fourth and fifth grade students studied Buchanan's work to enhance an art production lesson and develop art criticism skills. Writing is part of the process and product in both of the lessons. In order to achieve the greatest degree of success with this writing, I consulted with language arts teachers in my school so the process of writing in the artroom would be the same as or similar to writing in the classroom.

Fourth Grade Lesson: Structures and Stories

Part One. The Stories

Before introducing the fourth grade students to Buchanan's work, cooperative groups of students wrote stories to enhance selected Civil War-era photographs. This introduction served two purposes: to introduce the notion of creating written work in the artroom and to generate ideas for stories from visual clues. The terms fiction and nonfiction were reviewed and defined. Student groups had ten minutes to work together to create a story, which could be supported by the images in the photograph. At the conclusion of this part of the lesson, each group shared its story and photograph. The images selected for this activity showed rural Southern structures and African Americans in a variety of situations. I asked the students to speculate on the time and place represented in the photographs.

Next, I introduced the students to the work of Beverly Buchanan. Specific works included Rooster Green's Shack (1993), Miss Hester's Place (1994), and the oil pastel drawing Monroe County Shack with Yellow Datura (1994). The students compared the works with some of the structures they had seen in the photographs to conclude that these pieces might be about the rural South. Buchanan's legends of Miss Hester and Rooster Green were read. As a homework assignment, I asked the students to complete a worksheet that would help them create a legendary individual and d scribe that person's home and unique qualities. These worksheets functioned as prewriting and rough drafts, the first and second steps in a series known as process writing. The remaining steps included revising, editing, and publishing. I also informed the students about the complete assignment at this time, which would include making a dwelling to accompany the legends they were about to write.

During the second class, the students revised and edited homework assignments and "published" good handwritten copies of their legends.

Part Two: The Structure

A second activity included a discussion of Buchanan's drawing style in Monroe County Shack with Yellow Datura I asked the students to create drawings to accompany their legends, borrowing some of the stylistic attributes found in the piece. Legends and drawings were combined in presentation folders and used as the plan for constructing a sculpture with clay. During the next two class periods, the students worked from their legends and drawings to construct a dwelling uniquely designed to relate to the ideas developed in

At the completion of the project, 1 asked the students to reflect upon the ways in which they personalized the structures they built to communicate the details found in their legends. A goal of this project, beyond integrating language arts techniques in an art lesson, is to show the students that ideas for artworks can be developed and refined in a variety of ways over an extended period.

Fifth Grade Lesson: Who Lives in Monroe County Shack with Yellow Datura?

Part One: Criticism

The fifth grade students focused on Monroe County Shack with Yellow Datura Each table in the artroom had a copy of the print taped to it. The purpose of taping down the print was so the students would be unable to read the information on the back or see the photograph of Buchanan. We discussed the role of an art critic and read selections of written criticism of a variety of artworks from previous fifth grade classes. We reviewed process writing steps as taught in fifth grade language arts classes, and I told the students of their responsibility to work with this format to complete the assignment.

Using art criticism worksheets based on posters developed by Dr. Marilyn Stewart, the groups began a prewriting activity in preparation for a published piece of art criticism. I gave the students limited information for this activity, which included the title of the drawing, the artist's name, and the media used. This group effort called for close observation of the work so that questions on the sheets could be answered based on facts presented in the drawing. The goal was to work together for one crass period to discover as much about the work as possible.

As the groups completed the sheets, I gave them lined paper and sent them into the next steps in process writing as established earlier in the class. One result of this group effort is as follows:
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Title Annotation:includes students' writing samples and related information on art-criticism worksheets
Author:Dietrich, Jeff
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1997
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