Looking at Art

Looking at artI recently read a magazine article about the pursuit of beauty that has stuck with me.  It was written by a 40-year veteran art teacher who is alarmed about the future of American art.

“Young people today, immersed in a digital universe, love the volatile excitement of virtual reality, but they lack the patience to steadily contemplate a single image – a complex static object such as a great painting or sculpture.  The paintings of their world are now video games, with images in motion; their sculptures are the latest-model cellphone, deftly shaped to the hand.” (Camille Paglia, Smithsonian magazine, November 2012)

You might take it for granted but as an Art Docent you are asking students to do an unusual thing:  stop and scrutinize a picture.  No animation or audio here!  Just the simplicity of looking!

That’s why our tagline says  “Looking at art.” It’s an important skill not often practiced in today’s rushed and noisy world.  Learning how to look teaches children to make careful observations about an image.  Art Docents ask them to describe what they see: subject matter, details, placement of objects, position of figures, point of view.  What elements of art were used?  As a Docent I remember feeling surprised and pleased when students observed something in an artwork that I had not noticed!

Art Docents ask students to analyze what they see: how is the artwork organized?  And what feelings, emotions and moods are evoked?  Older students decide on the artistic merit in an artwork, deciding if it is successful, aside from their personal preference about it.

We all need to be astute observers, no matter the field of study or line of work we pursue.  In the Art Docent Program students have a unique opportunity to learn how to look and describe.  If the student is an English language learner, this is a time to practice English.  Language arts students could write about what they observe in the form of poems or stories about the artworks (see Docent Guide for suggestions).

We would love your comments about your classroom experiences with the Art Docent Program.  Please take a moment now to reply to us here.


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