Sunday, June 7, 2015

Is art important?

"How she made the holocaust a unit for art"--5th grade student responding to "What did you like".

Towards the end of each year, the 5th grade curriculum prompts teachers to focus on the Holocaust, a necessary and important topic.  Every year, I integrate their classroom experience with some sort of art lesson, from illustrating poems written during that era or creating 1,000,000 butterflies in memory of the kids who died durning that time.
Although we were making art and learning aspects of history, there was not a great synergy of the two subjects.  
Until now.
And why it has taken me so long, I can not say.
Until now.

I am guessing...but sometime in the fall, I finally got around to watching "Monuments Men", a movie based on the true story of the special task forced, assembled by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II to protect cultural artifacts and artworks being destroyed and/or looted by Nazi forces.  Yes, this was a Hollywood movie but the based of the film prompted me to rethink the end of the year art unit for my 5th grade students.

I thought.....well, I thought a lot of things...BUT I ended up with a discussion about the impact on cultural and world history, and Adolf Hitler's perspective of Modern Art.

With a little (really a lot) of research, I ended up creating a lesson based on "Degenerate Artists".  Along the way, I discovered great resources including

The website address is deceiving.  It is actually a wonderful resource for educators.
In designing and re-designing this art unit, I paused at the enormity of this topic and the relevance in today's world events.  It seemed extremely important to me, for my students to see past their 'school world' and see the rest of the world, good and bad.

The art unit goal was simple:
Recreate an artwork, originally created by an artist labeled "Degenerate" and formulate a reflective response to "Is Art Important?"  (in 4 weeks)

I was really blown away with what my students achieved.  They considered, carefully, what medium would help them achieve the most accurate results, but only after considering their own individualized abilities.  It was liberating and refreshing to let these 5th grade students make their own choices.  Each of them started their piece with a bit hesitation and uncertainty, but by the end, their was nothing but confidence and pride. 
A great feeling by all.


Horse in a Landscape, 1910, by the German Expressionist
Franz Marc, denounced by the Nazis as a "degenerate" artist.


And in the end, we did answer the question.
Art is Important.
It's our history, our culture, our world
 that helps us understand 
who we are, 
where we came from 
where we are going.

xoxo, Smock you.