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Volume VIII Number 10 . . . . January 18, 2002
While numerous books on the market address the theoretical aspects of children's art education and its attendant body of both historical and current research, others tend to fall somewhere between a kind of "how to" teacher training manual and the "fifty-fun-things-to-do-with-kids-on-a rainy-after- noon" category. But rarely do the two approaches co-exist as compatibly as they do between the handsome covers of Art in the Classroom: An Integrated Approach to Teaching Art in Canadian Elementary and Middle Schools, by Irene Russell Naested. Though not without its flaws, Art in the Classroom provides a good framework for those who teach art at the elementary or middle school level, whether as an art specialist or a general classroom teacher, and who wish to both further their own knowledge of art and enrich their teaching practices.
Naested has divided her book into three sections of five chapters each, with each chapter followed by a page or two of "reflections," classroom projects and a bibliography. Section three, "Integrating Art into the School Curricula," is essentially a more detailed look at the same theoretical and curricular issues raised in section one, "Art Education in Elementary and Middle Schools," while section two, "Media and Methods," is devoted to art production in the classroom. It is not quite clear why Naested has chosen to bracket the art production aspect of the book with the two more theoretical sections rather than integrating the first and third sections and then progressing onto the actual production of art within the classroom. Though this structure presents no serious problems for the reader, the effect is a little like reading a book along the lines of a bell curve, with the strongest showing squarely in the middle.
Naested begins by laying the groundwork for her thesis that art is best taught as an integrated part of the core curriculum "to bring various aspects of the students' separate subject learning into a meaningful association"(p. 4). Fully cognizant of the arguments presented for a disciplined based approach to art education, however, Naested acknowledges that "The fear of watering down the art program or presenting art concepts inadequately in an integrated system is valid, particularly when integration is not clearly understood and not properly carried out" (p. 28). In her view, such fears can be allayed by the knowledgeable, conscientious teacher who takes a holistic approach to the education of his or her students. And as Roger Clark has pointed out in his book, An Introduction to Art Education, (1998) the integrated approach is far more likely to be adopted at the elementary than the secondary level where art is usually taught as a distinct and separate "subject" or discipline.
Naested builds her case for integrated art in the first few chapters by providing brief summaries of various curriculum models, including The Interdisciplinary Concept Model, The Kaleidoscope Curriculum Organizer, Integrative Curriculum, and Fogarty's Ten Ways to Integrate Curriculum, followed by a brief history of art integration throughout the last century or so with emphasis on the philosophies of educators such as Montessori, Dewey and Steiner. Included throughout are numerous schematics demonstrating ways, and degrees, of integrating art with other curricular concerns by demonstrating how a subject area itself, such as "trees," may form the nucleus around which lesson plans may be developed for math, music, science and social studies.
This section goes on to look at the theory of the right-left brain dyad and the work of Howard Gardner, David Kolb, Victor Lowenfeld and others who have sought to define various "learning styles." This is followed by various teaching/learning strategies such as independent learning, brainstorming groups, peer teaching, response discussion group and team teaching and a section on the standard developmental stages of children's art production. Again these chapters include numerous charts and diagrams along with some examples of children's art produced. Inexplicably, Naested credits the artists whose works appear only in an appendix at the back of the book and rarely gives the age at which the works were produced, information which would appear relevant when studying developmental stages of production.
One hopes that Naested's decision to include overviews of so many theories and models, without really committing to any of them, was intended to provide teachers, no matter what their theoretical orientation, with the ways and means of developing meaningful art education programs for their students, and not an attempt to appease one and all potential book buyers by offending no one. Although I found the outlines helpful, I also found that the bits and pieces were starting to blur together, and by the end of Chapter Four I began to wish we might stop the pedagogical bus tour and touch down on solid ground somewhere.
In "Fundamentals of Design and Art Appreciation," the final chapter of Section One, Naested introduces and explains basic art vocabulary such as line, colour theory, balance, principles of composition and perspective and argues for the importance of helping students learn how to view and talk about art as well as produce it. Here again, her approach is an integrated one in which the concerns of art history and art criticism are tied directly to art production. "Talking about art, appreciating and making critical judgments about art, should become a natural part of the art program; not an exercise tacked on superficially." (page 96) Here she references the work of Harry Broudy, G. Mittler and D. Marschalek in outlining the various steps of art criticism or aesthetic appreciation. One of the more interesting portions of the book, this chapter is somewhat oddly placed and might more logically have served to introduce the middle section dealing with actual art production.
The five chapters of "Media and Methods" offer a plethora of sound and useful material for all teachers regardless of their knowledge of art or art education, but paradoxically it is the very complexity of the material itself which calls into question the ability of a teacher, no matter how committed and enthusiastic, to teach a subject in which he or she has no real training. Knowing the difference between an intaglio and a lithograph no more qualifies one to teach children how to produce either than knowing how to read qualifies one to teach literature courses or knowing how to divide and multiply makes one a math teacher. Nevertheless, this section is indeed of immense value for those who teach art. For the teacher with a solid art background, it offers a lot of ideas for classroom use while providing the art novice with an awareness that there is a wide world of art to be explored with his or her students if the teacher is committed to doing so.
Beginning with a chapter on drawing, and following with similar chapters on painting, printmaking, fabric art and jewelry, sculpture, ceramics, illustration, photography, video and computers, Naested offers not only technical information but interesting ideas on how to bring those techniques alive in the classroom and, occasionally, how to integrate them with the other equally important aspects of art education, i.e., art history, art criticism and aesthetics. The chapter on painting, for instance, provides definitions and descriptions of multiple techniques such washes, splatter painting, wax resist, etching and other techniques but also offers a few suggestion on how to introduce the art historical importance of the work of other artists to children. Naested suggests, for example, that students might study the work of pointillist George Seurat in order to better understand colour theory. While excellent as far as it went, this section of the book would, in my view, have benefitted from many more such examples, but in fairness to Naested, she also deals with art history and criticism to some extent in the third section of the book.
In her third section ,"Integrating Art into the School Curricula," Naested returns to her main theme by dealing more specifically with art in relation to other areas of the curriculum. Beginning with a chapter on integrating art with language arts and social studies, she provides creative and interesting ideas for teaching units in which art is far more than a supplement to the existing program, and she suggests possible assignments on concrete poetry or comic strips which can effectively bring together both visual and verbal language. In one of the frequently appearing "boxes" which are scattered throughout the main body of the text, Naested has designed a fascinating architecture project which includes such diverse challenges as drawing maps of the neighbourhood, designing the perfect playground, studying the social and commercial function of various buildings with which the children are familiar, doing research on well-known architects, investigating city planning by-laws and zoning, and creating an "architectural fantasy" out of large furniture packing boxes. In the subsequent two chapters, similar suggestions for ways in which art can be combined and integrated with science, math, and the performing arts are offered.
This section also includes a chapter on students with special learning needs or physical challenges, which, for the most part, I found needlessly superficial and founded on little more than sentiment and good will. The portion on physically challenged students, for instance, cites Helen Keller as an exemplary beacon of courage but offers not a word about how teachers might actually go about offering a program of inclusion for students who might have a visual, audio or mobility impairment. Likewise, the section on the learning disabled seemed to make some questionable assumptions, the most obvious being that those who experience difficulty in the more traditional academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics, are also likely to need a simpler, less challenging art program. I have yet to see any research supporting such a thesis, and, if Naested is aware of any, she does not present it. Might it indeed not be the case that many students with linguistic or mathematics based disabilities are more attuned to a visual and spatial language which allows them to shine in the area of art production?
The final chapter "A Brief Survey of Art History," while useful as an introduction for the art neophyte, also raised some concerns for me. According to Naested, "the purpose of this final chapter is to introduce names of artists who have influenced how we look at art now, and to present concepts and terms used in the study of art and art history." Fair enough. But why tack it on to the tail end of a section dealing primarily with planning lessons for integration with other subject areas? Would it not have been more useful, and made a much stronger statement, by being presented at the beginning, not the end of the book?
While her placement of this final chapter is a relatively minor quibble - as is her mistaken reference to German born Meret Oppenheim, a leader of the European Surrealist movement, as an "American artist," or her incorrect identification of Adrian Piper as primarily a video artist - far more seriously problematic is what Naested has chosen to include and exclude from her list of "Major Western Art Movements from 1800 to 1980." To those who are unfamiliar with twentieth century North American art history, the fact that she has included relatively minor blips such Op Art and Kinetic Art (which never really constituted full-blown "movements") while leaving out Conceptual Art (which, it might be argued, has irrevocably changed the entire face of art production in both Europe and North America) may seem insignificant, but such choices call into question the depth of Naested's art knowledge.
Naested does deserve credit, however and plenty of it for doing what so few other books on art education do, i.e. actually name significant numbers of contemporary artists, including Canadian artists! How refreshing to see the names of artists such as Rae Johnson, Michael Snow, Mary Pratt, Jaan Poldas, Garry Neill Kennedy, Carl Beam, Rebecca Baird, Genevieve Cadieux and Greg Curnoe among those recommended to teachers for further study. Life after the Group of Seven!
Though the book is not without its problems a tendency to awkward and stodgy syntax and poorly shot and reproduced photographs among them Art in the Classroom: An Integrated Approach to Teaching Art in Canadian Elementary and Middle Schools is nevertheless an highly useful book for the educator who wishes to give visual art its rightful place in Canadian schools and should be on every Canadian art teacher's bookshelf.
Lin Gibson is an art lover, coffee drinker and graduate student at OISE/UT.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.