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Art & Writing

Is it possible to merge the world of writing with the art genres? I remember sitting in on a class under one of my favorite instructors, Mr. Jonas Sauder. He taught us how to teach students to interact with art pieces. The old art piece he showcased, Christina's World, caught my interest and I'd like to find a copy for my walls. I've used Sauder's ideas in creative writing class and found it pertinent to do these exercises.

Children at young ages have wild imaginations. The sky is the limit! But as they get older, suddenly it appears that their imaginations diminish and almost disappear. It could be for several reasons, a few of them being peer pressure, time constraints, and academic work load. We as teachers can help stir their imaginations and teach them how to interact with these art pieces. It will enhance their writing.

Last year I taught art using Articulations by Hannah Nolt. I found it stimulating to learn about Caspar David Friedrich's famous painting called The Wanderer Above the Sea-Fog, and Jackson Pollock's abstract expressionist pieces. I recently picked up a book from a book sale all about the golden age of the Dutch Masters. I'm intrigued with the stories behind art prints. They can be used as writing prompts for students.

This year in my husband's classroom we are using our bulletin board to display art prints to familiarize the students with old classics and new pieces. Beside the art print we have the words, who, what, where, when, and why. In creative writing class, the students are asked to imagine what is going on in the art print. The first print we used was the American Gothic print by Grant Wood (also known as the cornflakes couple). This month we showcased The Son of Man by Rene Magritte. Yes, that's my husband holding that print in a library. :-) Our students thought the artist didn't like painting faces so he just put an apple over the face. Student's come up with fascinating reasons and explanations in what is going on in an art piece. Rene Magritte knew human nature pretty well and designed the piece partly because men are most interested in what they cannot see.

My husband has always enjoyed Norman Rockwell's paintings. If you as a teacher enjoy a certain artist, capitalize on that. Have students write captions, plot lines, titles, or poetry in response to an art piece. Look at The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci and have students write the Easter story in their own words. Look at self portraits by Rembrandt or Vincent van Gogh and have students characterize their personality.

As anything else, your enthusiasm for art and your encouragement to learn new things will make the difference in how creative your students are in responding to art pieces. Recently, I found a bronze sculpture of the beautiful print called The Gleaners at a thrift store. I can't wait to showcase it on the bulletin board for the students to enjoy. I like it equally as well hanging above the coat hanger by my back door.

I think students should learn to respect other people's work, become familiar with timeless art, and be able to verbalize observations. Knowing artist's names and whether they are part of the realism or romantic movement of art may not be the most important thing. However, knowledge is never wasted, and I think it behooves us to introduce students to this visual art genre in hopes to enhance our writing technique and craft.

Even though there may not be a one, two, three step process to incorporating art into your writing classes, I hope you try it at least once. Your students...down the road, will thank you for making sure they knew more then the names of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Jennifer Yoder

PS. We cannot endorse all art by every artist. We do not condone promotion of self expression and nudity. Use caution and discretion when introducing art to young children and adolescents.

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