I recently did an art criticism project with all three of my grade levels. I didn’t have high expectations for the activity but I was hoping that I would get the kids thinking, talking and writing about art in a different way. Once again, they surprised me with some of the thoughtful questions and responses they gave.
I projected an image of The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh on the screen and gave them a little bit of information about the artist and the painting. We had talked a little bit about Vincent before and most of them remembered that he struggled with mental illness for much of his life. I let them know that he painted The Starry Night about a year before he died and that he was in the hospital at the time that he painted it and that it was a view of the village of St. Remy de Provence from his hospital window.
We Described, Analyzed, Interpreted and gave our opinion (Judgment) of the work. I made sure that they knew not to just say “I like it” or “I don’t like it” but to give a reason for their opinion.
Here are some of the more thoughtful responses:
“I think he painted it to avoid where he was and how ill he was.” Riley, grade 8
“It helped him to deal with the things that is (sic) going on and it helped him express his feelings.” Tiffany, grade 8
“I think he would want to paint because he was so sad and wanted to be happy.” Kevin, grade 8
“It looks very beautiful and I thought he painted this because maybe he was sad or mad because someone broke his heart.” Patricia, grade 7
“I think it probably made him feel better to go outside and paint.” Khyliq, grade 7
“I think it’s cool and I think he created it because he wanted to express his feelings.” Elijah, grade 6
I grew up in New York, about 30 miles northwest of Manhattan so I had the luxury of going into the city to visit the Met and the MoMA and the Museum of Natural History several times a year on school field trips. I think that is probably where my love of history and art history began. So many of my students will never step foot in an art museum. I have told them all that I wished we had the money in the budget so that I could take them to the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh http://www.ncartmuseum.org/ or even somewhere closer, like Charlotte or Greensboro but these days field trips are few and far between. I find that so sad. Many museums have virtual tours but it just isn’t the same as being there and seeing the work in person.