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Art Role in Education

February 3, 2010
Times Observer

My greetings to all you parents, and a wish for a prosperous and productive new year ahead! I’m excited to have the chance to contribute an art aspect to this publication, and will introduce myself, before I begin. My name is Wes Bossman, and I’ve had the privilege of teaching art for Jamestown Public Schools for over 25 years. I teach elementary art at C.C.Ring School. My experiences in that position will provide the bulk of the observations that I will draw upon for this column. I also produce artwork on my own, and have been painting murals in public places for, (I still cannot believe it), over twenty-five years. I have a firm belief in the role of art in human lives, and a special belief in the value of art in the lives of children, both in making art of their own, and in seeing art that other humans have made. I believe that Art adds so much to all of our lives, even when we are unaware that we are being affected by someone else’s creativity. (I took my niece, Rhiannon, to see Avatar a couple of weeks ago, and was dumbfounded at the power to affect emotions that art displayed in that film.) Children, for the most part, do not take art in school so they can earn money with their skills by becoming artists. Children don’t learn to read, and write, so they can grow up and become authors, but to learn how to personally communicate throughout their lives. Being able to write a heartfelt message in a Mother’s Day card, a sympathy card, or a tender letter to your son, or daughter at a crucial time, is a far more common benefit of learning to read and write, than selling your poetry to a magazine.

The case is the same for studying art, for it too, without a doubt, is a language, a means of communication.

Art, in fact, possesses the ability to reach out directly to any human, anywhere on our planet, that has shared similar experiences to our own.

Language is no barrier to visual arts, dance, or music! Arts have a direct pipeline into the hearts, and heads of anyone who has lived, loved, lost, won, suffered, worried, or been joyful.

The language of art is a very good one to know, and

practice, so we can understand what great artists are telling us about other times and cultures, and, so we can redecorate our living room by choosing our own colors, fabrics, arrangements and accessories, to satisfy our own tastes.

Keeping in mind that art is a language, we’ll take a closer look at the language of Visual Arts, or art we can see.

If you step outside and take in, through your eyes, all that you can see around you, it can all be categorized, for artistic convenience, into seven elements. In school we call them the “Elements of Art”. These categories, or elements, give us a framework with which to build our own art out of, or with which we can systematically look at the art of other people.

The Elements of Art are: lines, shapes, forms, colors, textures, spaces, and values. You will be very hard put to find something out there that does not fall into one of theses visual categories, so we use them to build our own art out of.

When we begin to investigate the elements in school, I begin with lines.

Always keeping in mind that our past experiences are the lenses we see things through, one can look at lines, in art, as reminders of things we’ve seen or done in our lifetime.

Spidery, tenuous lines, give an impression of delicacy or fragility. Thick, bold lines convey strength and stability. The well-used jagged, “lightning” line, is a symbol for energy, and is nearly always used diagonally.

Subconsciously, we literally follow the twists and turns of lines with our bodies and derive the impression from what we would feel if we were actually performing that action. A horizontal line, then, impresses us as calm, steady, and without any energetic surprises. A vertical line gives the feeling of stability, because of our association with trees, poles, towers, and any number of other objects we know, that reach straight upwards, to resist the pull of gravity. Diagonal lines are unsettling lines, full of kinetic energy, for we know that anything we see , that is at an angle, if it is only grounded on one end, is likely on its way down, pulled by gravity.

An artist, be they a three-year-old novice, or an eighty-year-old master, feels the action as he, or she, makes the line on the surface they are drawing on. If we’ve ever made a similar line or performed a similar action, we can vicariously experience that line, ourselves, and that is the key to “reading” the language of lines in visual art. If the line is a carefully drawn, thoughtful line, we feel it. If it is madly slashed upon the surface, we feel that also.

When you are enjoying a look at some artwork with your child, focus in on the lines, for a second or two, and see how they add to the “story” the illustrator, or artist is unfolding for you. Accomplished artists will harness the power of association invested in various lines, and use them for their own purposes.

Abstract or non-objective art, uses the elements in a manner that take away the familiar visual clues that reside in a scene, or set of objects we recognize and makes us see and feel only the lines. In those artworks, the artist is trying to express something by reaching into your past, and activating associations that you may not even be aware of. (It really is not a jumbled mess of garbage).

Your son or daughter may present you with a record of their motions while holding a crayon or a pencil on paper, (or a more unconventional surface). If you look at it as such, you may find it quite interesting!

I’ll continue with the elements in my next writing.

Wesley Bossman is an Art Department Chair in the Jamestown Public Schools.

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