The Art of Education in the Art Room: More Than Just a Pretty Picture

by Laura Poirier

Almost every time a project is displayed at the Farm, at Endeavour, or as stage scenery for our performances, I hear comments from parents about how much they like their child’s artwork. I am delighted that the end product is something pleasing to a family, and know that these masterpieces made of paint, crayon, glue and paper represent a joyful time of development in a child’s life. It is wonderful to share in these fun, creative, and sometimes messy moments with the students here at Renaissance School. What you don’t see, what happens behind the scenes in the Art room, to help a child arrive at the end product, is a fully connected, inter-disciplinary and immersive experience that just so happens to result in a piece of artwork. The students are learning so much more than how to make a pretty picture.

I am happy to share with you a few examples of embedded learning within a few of our recent projects. The Holiday Performance, Winter Windows, beautifully showcased the performing arts talents of our children as well as their impressive visual arts skills. All of the stage window artwork was created by the children during their Art classes. Although the scenes for each group were lightly sketched in advance, it was the job of the children to work collaboratively on each of their four panels to compose a cohesive four part image, matching in application, neatness, and color, with variations in value and tone. The students moved in sync around the tables to ensure complete coverage and to assist each other to finish during their one hour time frame. The Fifth Graders were enlisted to further assist in the window pane black tape edging to prepare all of the panels for hanging on the stage.  I think we can all agree that the results were truly breathtaking. 

From Kindergarten through Fifth Grade the children are presented with project work designed to introduce them to the seven principles of design. These seven art-making tenants have been the building blocks for all artists and artwork since the beginning of time. The students learn about color, line, shape, texture, form, value and space. Although they do not always know it, each of their projects has been designed to encompass at least two of the elements each and every time. This project approach and philosophy of guided practice allows the student artists to grow in their artistic skills over the course of their early elementary schooling with expanding working knowledge and confidence. The theme for this year is color connections; how colors work together and the fun of experimenting with them in all of our project work.   

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While it is easy to see how many of our projects relate directly to classroom themes in Science and Social Studies, you may not realize that many also involve higher-level mathematical thinking to translate linear, geometric, and 3-Dimensional concepts into balanced and visually stimulating artwork. For instance, the First Grade class completed a painting project in late November where they had to create a picture using four lines and four circles. The rules of application were that at least one line and one circle had to intersect with at least one other line and circle. The use of color within the resulting shapes had to be carefully planned to keep same or similar colors from touching. Wow! That is a huge amount of complex mathematical thinking, and they all got it.

Meanwhile the Kindergarten classes were putting finishing touches on accordion folded 3-D paper fan color wheels. “Fold, press, flip” echoed through the Art room as the children perfected the technique. The fine motor skills required to successfully accomplish the task were clearly challenging at first, but slowly and surely everyone finished the job. The wheels are accurate to the chromatic scale for primary and secondary colors. The creation of 3-D sculptures requires thinking in spatial shape and form relationships as well as strong fine and even gross motor skills at times. The emphasis on process versus product ensures that everyone is successful as far as they are able to take a project because they have had the opportunity to experience a new technique or material.