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The aesthetic journal: a creative tool in art education.

Students in my junior high art classes have always valued and desired the studio experience above the areas of art history, art criticism and aesthetic perception--until I introduced the Aesthetic Journal. Now, asking students to part with eight minutes of class time to view and respond to other artworks from time to time comes as an enjoyable deviation rather than an unwelcome interruption.

The Aesthetic Journal is designed to be an on-going process and can be practiced daily, bi-weekly, weekly or at desired intervals depending on your particular program. The amount of class time will vary. When the journal is first introduced, students will need more time to formulate thoughts and reactions. Over time they will become familiar with the process, vocabulary and routine, and it will take them much less time to compose their journal entries.

Journals are personal. The privacy of a journal allows students to escape ominous peer pressure for a few moments and respond honestly to the artwork presented. Some students might be influenced to like or dislike a work of art if the class clown, leader or most popular student stood up and voiced an opinion first.

Students need opportunities to view and respond to a variety of artworks. They need to make choices, defend their choices and learn from others. By viewing different artworks they may become inspired to improve their own work and to try new ways of doing things.

The journal is designed to:

* increase aesthetic perception and awareness in students by providing frequent opportunities for them to view, study quietly, question and respond to a wide variety of selected artworks.

* familiarize the students with vocabulary related to describing and discussing works of art.

* teach the students more about the art process, techniques, materials, styles and approaches, philosophies and any other aspects related to viewing works of art.

* to help students build, through exposure and practice, a foundation on which to make future judgements related to art.

A presentation flip chart proved to be the best and easiest way to introduce the Aesthetic Journal to my art students. I began with the idea that I really wanted to "sell" this concept to my students, so I made the chart large and colorful with clear, bold printing and just enough information to get the message across.

The cover of the presentation chart was a collage of cut-out prints of several different works of art from a variety of time periods. The students were curious and interested when they came into the classroom and spotted this flip chart resting on a display easel.

It took approximately thirty minutes to go through the chart and explain the process to the students. Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci makes a good model when demonstrating how you would answer or implement the Guidelines on the presentation chart. I went through each question and answered it as 1 would in my own journal using the Mona Lisa--her mystery, her smile, her charm--as an inspiration.

For study purposes, museum postcards and/or reproductions of artworks from art and art education magazines can be used. Each student should have his or her own copy to study. Sometimes I present an actual artwork from the high school studio or from the collection of a local artist to be viewed and written about.

Students observe the work carefully and quietly for 1-2 minutes before responding in their journals. I encourage them not to share any reactions or responses until after they are finished writing in their journals in order not to influence or sway others. The Guidelines are helpful when students are just getting started. I put them on the easel in plain view each time I present a new artwork to be viewed, so that the students have a place to start writing. Initial attempts can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes, and it is helpful to walk around tire room to make sure that the students are clear on expectations and directions. Students become independent after they have mastered the process and fully understand how to express themselves.

Journals may be collected and checked each time or the students may be asked to take the responsibility of holding onto the journals. Teacher checks and responses should be frequent and non-threatening. A sticker is a great way of showing approval as well as a place mark in the journal. The teacher should comment only on the process. By assigning a journal, you have already given the student the right to his or her own opinions and feelings. I emphasize that feelings are neither right nor wrong and will not be graded. The teacher can only evaluate how the student chooses to express those feelings. Is the student clear? Does the student give reasons for statements made? Did the student use value judgements?

One final suggestion--give the students some vocabulary words to attach to their journals for reference. Vocabulary can also be given as you progress, and the students can reserve a section in the back of their journals to write any new words or definitions.

Above are examples of journal entries made by my seventh and eighth graders immediately following the introduction of the Aesthetic Journal into my art curriculum. I hope you will find them as insightful and humorous as I do!

My Aesthetic Journal will

give me the opportunity to:

1. View a variety of selected works of art.

2. Respond and react to a variety of artworks.

3. Learn about artists, art styles, techniques and materials.

4. Use new vocabulary and art terms.

5. Become inspired by a variety of artists and their works.

When a work of art is

presented in class, I must:

1. Observe it for a brief period carefully and in silence.

2. Place the date in the upper right corner of each entry, skipping a line between each artwork.

3. Use the guidelines posted, choosing three or more to help me relate my feelings and reactions concerning this work of art.

4. Use my glue stick to attach any information, history or quotes relating to the artwork or the artist we are discussing.

My teacher will:

1. Collect and check my journal at regular, announced intervals.

2. Expect me to express my feelings clearly and give reasons why I like or dislike an artwork.

3. Read, respond and answer any questions I have about the artwork I view.

4. Encourage me to view and respond to as many artworks as possible.

Things to remember

1. Date each entry in upper: corner.

2. Skip lines between each new entry.

3. Study and observe each work of art before beginning a written response.

4. Write or print neatly.

5. Do not, include value judgements, such as "good," "bad," "ugly" "beautiful," "great," "awful" etc.

Some guidelines.

* Begin by describing the artwork placed before you. Note what is immediately presented to you (objects, colors, shapes, lines, textures, subject matter, etc.). Classify painting, sculpture, print, etching, photograph, etc.

* What interests you most about this artwork?

* What materials, techniques, style were used in creating this work of art?

* If you were to give this work of art a title, what would you call it?

* How do you think the artist felt when he/she created this work of art?

* How does this work of art make you feel?

* What does this work of art tell you about: history? society? the artist? values?

* Why do you think the artist created this particular work?

* If the artist were here in this room right now, what would you ask him/her about this artwork?

Journal Entries

"If Mona Lisa were here with me right now, I'd take her straight to the mall on a shopping spree, buy here a whole new wardrobe and get her a decent haircut!"

Mary O'Dell, Grade 7

"I am looking at an oil painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci. She is sitting with her hands crossed. She was very light skinned and wore a dark-colored dress that made her stand out. She has long dark hair, soft looking lips and brown eyes that look at you. The background scenery, is rocky mountains and a cloudy sky.

If Leonardo DaVinci were here in this room, I would ask him who the woman in the picture was and what she meant to him. I would also ask why he painted the type of background he did because it doesn't fit with the picture.

This painting makes me feel sad even though she is not frowning. I think it was her eyes and the background that created this feeling.

Even though I like the Mona Lisa. I would not put it in my room. It would look out of place and I would probably stare at it and feel sad."

Jennifer Weinstein, Grade 7

"I am looking at an optical illusion by Bridget Riley called Streak.

She has made this painting look like it was moving because of the wavy lines. If you look at this carefully enough, you can see zigzags that are shaped like an "S." You can also see colors such as blue, green and red.

I would ... and wouldn't like to have this work of art in my room. I would ... because it would make my room seem alive, and I wouldn't ... because it would make me dizzy and probably nauseated."

Delos Luther III, Grade 7

"I am looking at a lithograph called House of Stairs by M. Escher with metallic-looking caterpillar creatures, They are climbing staircases endlessly. Everything is varied between blacks, whites and all greys in between. Everything is blunt.

I enjoy looking at this lithograph because the creatures know something we don't. They're all heading somewhere trying to reach their destination, Their eyes, which are black, seem to be looking for some little clue in what they are trying to find.

I would hang this in my room because I think it's funky. It would be a contrast to the blues, purples and pinks of my room. I would hang this up by my fish so he wouldn't get lonely.

If I had to give this work a title, I would call it 'Searching for an Answer."

Colleen Willis, Grade 8

Kathryn L. Prisco presented this lesson while teaching at Webutuck Junior High School, La Grange, New York.
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Title Annotation:includes excerpts from student journals
Author:Prisco, Kathryn L.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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