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What is art in four acts.

What is art? I have often been frustrated when asked that question. Waht frustrates me is the general lack of understanding of the importance of art education. In an attempt to answer this question, I decided to utilize my knowledge and enthusiasm for the arts to write a play. The play would be written to emphasize the importance of art on a level relevant to elementary students as well as adults. I wanted to address all aspects of the question "what is art?" so I decided to title the play just that. When I felt I had touched on the different faces of this issue, I discovered I had written a four act play -- each act pointing out a different perspective.

When I was satisfied with the script, I opened auditions for any fifth or sixth grader who was interested. Twenty-eight students auditioned and all were given parts or jobs. I created a few extra technical jobs so that all who wanted to participate, could.

Rehearsals were held before school hours and at lunch recess. I scheduled the rehearsals so only the students involved with a particular act needed to be present. While the actors were learning their lines, the technical crew was responsible for collecting props and creating the sets, posters and invitations. During performances the technical crew helped set the stage -- sets, props, lights and sound. Some helped out backstage, cueing the actors.

We performed our play for the entire student body (K-6) in the afternoon and an evening performance was held for the parents, administrators and school board members. Here's the script to give you al lthe details.

During each act, two students behind the actors paint the title of the act on a panel. For the first act, the panel painters also list all the basic art elements.


The Art Alphabet

Open to a museum, where two visitors are viewing both abstract expressionism (Kandinsky) and realistic (Homer) works of art. The first viewer can't help but voice her opinion about the Kandinsky: She is adamantly opposed to abstraction being considered art. The second viewer attempts to calm the first by briefly explaining some of the basic art elements, and how we are able to interpret works of art if we have learned the basics of art -- the Art Alphabet. The second viewer explains how certain lines, colors and shapes express emotions and ideas. Learning the basics of art is compared to learning the alphabet before we can begin to read.

The learned viewer points out how regional, state, country and world cultures are lost for the visually illiterate. The act closes with the first visitor admitting she needs to learn more about the Art Alphabet.


Art and Lifestyles

Act two takes place at a discount store. A family of three is searching the store for the house paint that was advertised at an incredibly now price. All three family members are dressed in such a way that it is apparent to the audience that they have no concept of color combination, texture or design. This lack of design sense is also apparent in the colors they choose to paint their house.

The audience is told that we communicate daily with others without saying a word. The clothes we wear, the places we live and work, all tell the world what kind of people we are. To able to communicate about ourselves accurately can help us achieve the goals we set. This act shows, in an amusing way, how a lack of art experience can affect a person's day-to-day life.


Art Humanizes

Act three begins in the classroom. One student is continually rubbinging the fact that he is a better student than the other. Through various classroom subjects, (math, spelling and history) the second student has trouble doing things right. This is not from lack of trying, it is one of the many cases where this student's learning style is not geared to the black-and-white, right-or-wrong atmosphere of the classrooms. When the students go to art class, the tables turn. The second student does a wonderful drawing and gains self-esteem and confidence. The first student stops teasing and admits that the other did a good job.

A quality art program provides positive experiences for all students, helping to build self-confidence and respect in all. Have an open mind. Sometimes the best solution to a problem may come from sommone or somewhere you least expect it. As art educators, we see this sort of thing happen in our classrooms on a daily basis.


Art is Fun

We all know that for our students, art is fun. I decided to end this play by getting the audience involved in some of that enjoyment. Act four opens with an art teacher on the phone, trying to explain to a parent how to get a paint stain out of a child's clothes. After she hangs up she addresses the audience and says, "I hope that method for removing paint will work for me, too!" As she turns to walk off the stage, the audience sees she has sat in some bright green paint. As soon as the laughter dies down, the panel painters grab the paint buckets they have been using throughout the play and run into the audience, threatening them with a face full of paint. On cue, they throw the paint on the unsuspecting audience. The paint, of course, is only confetti.

The reaction to the play was positive. Comments and notes I received from students, staff and parents suggest that my message was understood. I know for certain the twenty-eight, fifth and sixth graders who were involved in the play gained from the experince. We all had a great time.

Linda Stewart Grams teachers art at Sunflower Elementary School, Gillette, Wyoming.
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Author:Grams, Linda Stewart
Publication:School Arts
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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