Guest post by Pat Knepley
As an art teacher, I feel that art is an essential part of a well-rounded curriculum, as it adds so much value to the learning (and life) experience. But I am sure I need to do some convincing for reluctant home educators who already see a lot of course work they need to squeeze in to their daily routine. This is especially true when many homeschooling moms and dads confess their frustration with teaching art, because they don’t have artistic talents or abilities.
In an effort to show how teaching art need not be constrained by artistic talent, this month the See the Light blog is focusing on a discipline-based approach to art education. This approach focuses on integrating art with the disciplines, including art history, art criticism, aesthetics, and art production.
I am using Leonardo da Vinci’s, fresco The Last Supper as an example of how to approach a piece of art and explore fully each of the four disciplines for a rich art-learning experience. This week’s post will cover the next to a well-thought-out art program: art criticism. Again we return to The Last Supper as a base of understanding.
Art criticism simply involves talking about art. The viewer tries to get inside the head of the artist and ask questions such as, “What was the artist trying to say?” In art criticism, we learn to look at the art work with a critical eye as it relates to use of the seven art elements: line, shape, space, value, color, texture and form.
But the viewer should also look within herself and ask why she likes or dislikes this particular work. Being able to talk about a piece of art work and make it personal is a good way to increase critical thinking skills. There are ample opportunities to connect art to everyday learning. A basic understanding of the seven art elements and the five design principles (balance, proportion, rhythm, emphasis and unity) can be a great way to dive into a conversation when your son admires the graphics in a new game or your daughter gushes over a fabric design and texture.
When looking at The Last Supper, you would immediately notice the strong perspective that da Vinci employed in order to focus the viewer’s attention to the head of Jesus. The lines made if you follow where the ceiling meets the floor, and the lines made by the top of the tapestries on the wall create a strong vanishing point right at the head of Jesus. It was during this era of the Renaissance that artists discovered the principles of linear and aerial perspective to bring more realism to their works. da Vinci pioneered using one- point perspective to provide a strong focal point with his sacred subject matter. da Vinci also used geometry to arrange the rest of the composition. All of the twelve disciples are clumped in groups of three to form four triangles on the side of the table.
This can be a fun exercise for kids – print out copies of the image of The Last Supper and have your students use a marker to draw shapes where there are geometric aspects of da Vinci’s composition: the strong linear perspective and symmetrical balance. This compelling fresco captures the moment in Scripture when Jesus is at his last meal with his disciples, and has just said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” His men are dumbfounded, asking “Surely, not I Lord!” The personalities of each of the disciples can be ascertained by the facial expression and body language that da Vinci was careful to individualize. It truly is an amazing work of art.
Note: Scroll down for a short (8 min) critical analysis of The Last Supper.
NEXT WEEK: We’ll continue our exploration of Discipline-Based Art Education by looking at The Last Supper from the perspective of aesthetics.
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.