There are four components to a well thought out art program as described in the Discipline-Based Arts Education (DBAE): Art History, Art Criticism, Art Production, and Aesthetics. The home educator should consider all of these components as equally valuable when they think of teaching art.
The best way to explain how to encompass all four components is to use a piece of art as an example that most people would be familiar with. Let’s look at Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco “The Last Supper”
Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man of the late 15th century. He thought of himself as primarily an artist, but da Vinci was also a mathematician, inventor, scientist, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. Da Vinci spent his younger years as an apprentice to a master artist and increased in skill and recognition.
Later on, da Vinci’s wealthy benefactor asked him to paint a fresco to decorate the refectory (dining hall) in the monastery of Santa Maria Della Grazie. Leonardo worked on this project from 1495 to 1498. Even though he was a great painter, da Vinci was constantly experimenting with his materials, so this project took a long time.
For centuries, frescos had been painted by mixing tempera or watercolor paint into the wet plaster of a wall. That required the artist to work quickly before the plaster dried. Leonardo experimented with tempera, watercolor and even oil-based paint on dry plaster in order to get more detail. The problem was this experimental technique didn’t work, and the paint began to flake off shortly after the piece was completed.
In the 1600s, someone felt it would be allowable to cut a door through the wall that contains the fresco, so Jesus’ feet and a portion of the table were lost forever. A series of artists over the centuries, seeing that da Vinci’s original brilliant color was flaking off, tried to maintain the masterpiece by re-painting over the original, but it was turning into a mess. Then during World War II, a bomb nearly destroyed the monastery. The refectory suffered a lot of damage but the wall with the fresco only had minor damage. Over the ensuing years, rain and water damage through the thinner, repaired walls caused mold to grow on the fresco.
After all those years of misfortune, the most famous painting in the world was in serious trouble. So in 1999, a twenty-year restoration was initiated in order to return the Last Supper back to Leonardo da Vinci’s original vision. Most of the layers of additional paint from other artists have been carefully removed and we can now see the fresco as close to the original as possible.
Next week: We’ll continue our introduction to Discipline-Based Art Education by examining The Last Supper from the perspective of Art Criticism.
Author’s Note: The area of art education that makes people, if not nervous, perhaps hesitant . . . is the art-making process: art production. But drawing is a skill like any other skill. I believe it can be taught (like how to swing a tennis racquet can be taught) with age-appropriate instruction. I recommend the DVD-based drawing instruction that I host: Art Class from See the Light for ages 6 to 10. With this fun, foundational, skill-building series, kids of all ages will feel successful when learning to draw.
The Last Supper — Leonardo da Vinci