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Variety is the spice of aesthetics.

One of the challenges for teachers who want to maintain aesthetic appreciation and criticism as an integral part of the art program is the need to design an aesthetic scanning process that avoids monotony and is personally meaningful for each student. The full scanning method moves step-by-step through a discussion of the sensory, formal, technical and expressive properties of a work of art. That full exercise can, however, turn students off if repeated over and over again in its entirety, without variation. The key to avoiding monotony is variation within the scanning method. The key to making scanning personally meaningful is to recognize and encourage the student's ability to interpret works of art.

The study of aesthetics and criticism gives students the opportunity to relate the visual to the verbal and, in doing so, to see how complete a communication the visual image can be. The following is an example of a sculpture analysis lesson related to art appreciation. It is a single class period exercise presented to eleventh and twelfth grade students. Included under each question for consideration are some samples of actual student responses.

Lesson title: Sculpture Analysis

Grade Level: 11, 12


* Students will recognize sensory, formal, technical and expressive qualities in sculpture examples.

* Students will verbally interpret visual communication.

* Students will recognize their own capacity for interpretation in relation to works of art.

Visuals: Slides or print reproductions.

Class procedure: Students will be given four questions. Each question refers to one of the four visuals. Students will have six minutes to read a question, consider the sculpture, and write a brief response.

Question 1: What is the double imagery in this Baboon and Young Surrealistic sculpture by Picasso?

Student answers:

The head of the baboon looks like a Volkswagon.

I see a Volkswagon bug (car) for the head. The rest of the sculpture is like a mountain, and the car has to ride down the mountain.

The double imagery of its head looks like a car with the tires and front end as a mouth.

Question 2: This abstract expressionist work by Nevelson is entitled Illumination Dark. Can you explain why that is an appropriate title? Does the work bring to mind anything you saw earlier in the year in Pre-Columbian/Mexican art?

Student answers:

The work is mysterious and overlap ping. It leaves one to wonder what is behind the boards and the dark holes. It reminds me of the calendar device of Pre-Columbian/Mexican art.

It reminds me of the Pre-Columbian/ Mexican calendar. The box assemblage has dark and light values from the shadows of the relief.

It is an appropriate title because of the way the light reflects off the dark surface, and the way the shadows are formed by the relief of the sculpture. This brings to mind the artwork of the Pre-Columbian/Mexican calendar and also the giant head of stone.

This is an appropriate title for this work because it is a dark color and some of the shapes within the work look dark and deep. The above middle reminds me of the Pre-Columbian/ Mexican calendars or a mask.

Question 3: This sculpture entitled Politician, by a South High art student would be classified as a kinetic work. Look carefully at it and see if you can determine some of the things it does when activated.

Student answers:

The lights probably flash, and possibly the neck turns. Maybe the jaw moves up and down. The protrusion on the right side, an eye, I believe, may pop in and out.

When plugged in it plays a radio and it has buttons to activate different objects such as a few lights. It also looks like the jaw can move up and down. It also has a little switch to activate something else.

The lights on the ear, nose, and chest light up. It looks like the jaw would move and maybe the head also. There also must be some sound that it makes. Also, it looks as if one eyeball lights up.

The ear, hand, and nose appear that they would light up when activated. The head may move. The mouth may appear to be talking. It also has a lot of buttons to push to activate other things.

I would think that all the red lights would work. Perhaps his lower jaw would move up and down.

Question 4: This sculpture by Boccioni is entitled Unique forms of Continuity in Space. Can you explain that title and, in doing so, tell why this is a good sculptural example of Futurism?

Student answers:

The unique forms are natural, conveying forms that will seem to move in perpetual space. Futurism represents movement, and the figures definitely appear to contain movement.

The sculpture has unique forms It makes it look like it is moving through space. It IS a good sculptural example of Futurism because it has a feeling of movement.

The forms are repeated and seem to be never-ending. All of the shapes keep moving as if the wind blows them back and forth. It reminds me of clothing rippling in the wind.

The forms are repeated and seem never to end. The forms seem to move and never stop moving.

Lesson for Learning

In the analyses, students deal with sensory elements such as the oval in the Brancusi. They touch on formal principles such as repetition. They consider technical and expressive concerns. And they practice interpretation in a manner other than an identification process that would have them list the sensory properties, the formal properties, the technical properties, and the expressive properties. Similar kinds of questions could be developed for any grouping of images, for other forms of art (paintings, ceramics, photographs), or for a set of cultural artifacts.

Finding a variety of ways to study works of art is a refreshing task for the teacher, and for the student, a relevant application of learning.

Antoinette E. Turnquist is fine arts department chair, Omaha South High School, Omaha, Nebraska.
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Author:Turnquist, Antoinette E.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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