Last Autumn as a part of graduate work I experimented with using a literacy teaching model in the visual arts classroom. The Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM) was developed by Emily Calhoun and involves using an image to elicit literacy through identification and classification of elements. In my high school Art I class, the painting unit is about the interdisciplinary nature of everything we study, in this case, painting, mathematics, and the use of symbols. In this unit we focus the Renaissance, traditional East Asian painting, colour theory, the golden ratio, and watercolour and acrylic painting.
This specific lesson uses two paintings from the Northern Renaissance, Frans Synders’ The Fruit Stall, and Jan Janz van de Velde III’s Still Life with tall Glass. The goal is for the students to understand how artists use symbols to communicate meaning to the viewer. I find this particularly exciting because even though the paintings come from nearby geographic regions, time periods, and similar cultures, the meanings are quite different. The students got a kick out of this as well and later in the term they employed some of these approaches to making their own paintings. I find that PWIM is a very good teaching model and am happy to report that is has strong application in the visual arts classroom. I am encouraged to try it with some other classes and unit, and next school year may attempt to bring it into the IBDP Visual Arts class as a way to help students thing about their own artwork and exhibits. I am going to limit this blog post to the procedure with some thoughts on the process. However, I have included the paper itself, as well as the slide show, and entire unit plan should you want to explore further. And feel free to use it in your own classroom. The artwork is available from the Hermitage and Rijksmuseum. Student work is used with permission.
First, I introduced the lesson and the nature of Northern Renaissance painting from Flanders. Specifically, that the painters like Frans Snyders would use symbols to communicate ideas and concepts that wold have been familiar to the viewers. So we look at the painting and on the board I label what they see, things like: A monkey, a pine cone?, an old lady, a young lady, grapes, etcetera. In the PWIM this is often referred to ‘shaking out.’ It took them a moment but it got lively before long.
The next step was to identify the overall classification of the symbols and I told the students there are two categories of symbols here. I provided the categories, the first, senses, elements and seasons, and the second, positivity, peace, respect, and religion. I told the students that there could be overlap between the symbols and categories. I revealed the meaning of the symbols to the students through a website. Then the students created their own title for the painting.
Next I showed the students another still life painting, and I explained that this painting has a much darker meaning, namely, that this painting was intended as a warning to not misbehaving in this life. This time around, I asked the students to work in pairs or trios and work their way through the process. Before I presented the students with a resource, I asked them to title this painting as well. Then presented them with a website that explains common symbols used in this style of painting.
The final part of this lesson was for the students to attempt this once more on their own, as a part of a larger, summative assessment.
I was pleased with how well the students were able to infuse the results of this lesson into their own artwork. As mentioned above, the strongest effect came from students applying some of the ideas, and in some cases some of the symbols in their own paintings. This was not a requirement of student work but a pleasant result nonetheless. Like many units, the students often get something unintended or unforeseen out of the lesson as well. I should have known, in a room full of angst-y teenagers that I would end up with some angst-ridden paintings, especially after looking at images that metaphorically tell you hell awaits for those that misbehave.
I hope you found this useful. Since we are entering a potential eLearning environment in the near future, I think this lesson can be easily adapted to video conferencing and remote learning. For the first part of the lesson I used an online app called draw.oi and the images and websites are linked below.
All the best!
Here are some links I used for this lesson.