Visual Literacy: Reflections from a New Art Teacher
Is it through the formal halls of academia or from a practicing artistic tradition extending almost the entire length of one’s life? Perhaps it is both. At any rate, the need for conceptual understanding and experience cannot be underestimated for their ability to assist in one’s artistic and pedagogical practice.
My background is fine-art photography, which I have had the pleasure of teaching at the post-secondary level. Over the last several years thanks to the portable knowledge available in all sorts of electronic devices these days, I have begun to develop a stronger appreciation for art in general. This new discovery of art has lead both to a greater understanding of the subject and to its language, i.e., the language of art. However, it has also indirectly lead to some frustration as I realise that I have been missing a whole aspect of art that I now feel is important to being a fine-art photographer.
As an art teacher I have come to appreciate the importance of a good foundation upon which to anchor artistic practise. Some artists may prefer a laissez-faire type approach, but I am speaking of formal education that must follow the British Columbia curriculum learning outcomes. I acknowledge this this is an acute topic between freedom for the artistic expression and limited artistic freedom dictated by a school curriculum. But in the case of children in a formal educational setting, I believe structure and formality as well as summative assessments have a certain merit and I will leave it at that.
Teaching high school art at a private school offering the British Columbia curriculum in China is a real honour and I am very grateful for this opportunity. In the remainder of this article I would like to share an experience I found particularly surprising and immensely grateful to be a part of as an art teacher.
But as the projects got underway, I was completely and pleasantly flabbergasted! I had envisioned medieval villages so akin to the popular video games young people play online. Instead students produced a snowy village with Despicable Me characters, a modern city scene, and a philosophical blending of the beautiful from the ugly as mentioned in their artist statement. This last one, blended found and re-purposed things such as busted up chunks of concrete a pulled apart microwave oven, and computer parts. Students had taken the basic idea of the assignment and translated it into something unique to their background experiences and understandings of visual literacy.
The chess set group chose a video game theme and had a big task to construct all the pieces. At times this group appeared to be working like a factory assembly line – it was very satisfying to see students so engaged in their tasks.
Spoerner, T. M. (1981). Look, snap, see: Visual literacy through the camera,
Art Education, 34(3), 36-38.