Art and Literature

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An Interview With
Letters Magazine
Teaching Writing Through Art
By Katherine Rushforth Nelson Smith * Eng. 423 * 10. 25. 2012

* blowing scarves
* red hat
* whispering

* matching pants
* rosey cheeks
* bunded boy & girl
* black hair
* gathering clouds
* hands in pockets
Above Diagram:
“Learning to Look”-- Art through writing activity-- Bonnie Katzive

An Interview With: Bonnie Katzive
How can you successfully teach writing through art? When I asked Bonnie Katzive for an interview, to discuss her successful teaching strategies involving art, this was the question on my mind. Katzive has been incorporating art into her writing curriculum for the past 5 years. Along with this, she had seen a positive change in her students writing.

K. Nelson Smith 1

Graciously accepting my request, I meet her in her office. She sits across from me, her form comfortably hugged by the olive-green canvas chair across from me. I thank her for meeting with me, as her ideas and methods have particularly intrigued me. She smiles welcomingly and responds with a friend’s, “of course.”

KN: For the past 5 years you have been teaching students to write with the assistance of art. What do you want this form of teaching to do for your students and their writing?

BK: “My goal is to teach how to analyze a work of art in depth-- with or without related background information-- to create more disciplined observant, engaged viewers... Students generally like working on art projects in Language Arts,” but it is looking at art that makes the biggest impact. (Katzive 1)

KN: Interesting. I suppose human beings have interacted with art since the moment they were born; in faces we see, trees, buildings in cities. Looking at it this way, we live and breathe art. I can see how it would be a great way to connect to students.

What have you done to make this discovery in regards to your teaching? How does it work?

BK: Middle school students have, as you mentioned, “much practical experience with art, but few have ever been asked to look at a work of art in any sort of disciplined way.” There are also still students who consider themselves “non-artists.” I’ve had to take them into account through this process as well. The beauty of examining art in Language Arts makes the task fairly easy. One of my non-artist students shared once that, examining art, not necessarily drawing it, is a way to sketch “the creative of half of our minds.” One activity is called:

K. Nelson Smith 2

Learning to Look:
1.

I’ll turn off the lights while students look at the images projected on the screen.

2. After a minute of observation, I have them make a list of what they see, without saying what the image is. “The listing process is essential.” “Listing forces students to invest time in looking and compels them to examine details before jumping to conclusions. I had one student hit it right on.” (Katzive 1)

‘Just glancing at something doesn’t tell you much, but if you really look for a while and make a list, you will see a lot more.’ (Katzive 1)

Details are essential so I encourage them to get closer if they’d like and look from another view. They begin to notice different elements. The fabulous thing about our discussion is that students see different things, and as they share, everyone begins to see more and more. Our lists are then used to construct interpretations of the artwork that make sense in light of what is being observed. The students get excited to discover the interpretations of their classmates, which is another benefit of using art! (Katzive 2)

KN: Aw, I see. So this activity is also a tool of inquiry. When students sets out on a writing assignment within a poetry or a novel unit, this form of inquiry can be recalled for the students. Using this can assist in the understanding of different perspectives and interpretations among any form of text, whether is be art, poetry, a novel, music, etc. Using art makes it a...
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