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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rethinking Art History

This year I'm taking on a whole new approach to teaching Art History. 

Instead of me telling my students what they should know, I'm asking them which questions they want to answer...  

Instead of me telling them the facts, I'm letting them research the information they choose to research.. 

and instead of me giving them a quiz, I'm letting them write the questions for that as well. 

It's all up to them, take a look!

Step One: Questions 

I provided the class with a list of questions about our first unit, Prehistoric Art. I left it up to the students to decide which questions they were interested in answering. I left art history books on the table but it was up to the students to find the answer. So they search using their phones..

And they research using the classroom computers...

And some used their ipads...


Step Two: Journals

I'm not a big fan of the notebook so I'm really pushing the journal thing. These are art students after all. I provide the markers, colored pencils and even some art history photos. They provide the answers to the questions and the creativity. 

Which is the sexiest Venus? Personally, I'm a Hohle Fels kind of guy. After all, she's made out of mammoth tusk.

The students are allowed to work in teams when researching thier questions however, I do require each to keep an individual journal. You might notice that we mixed in a little street art in our prehistoric unit.. well, they both wrote on walls, right?


Step Three: The Project

Along with the journals, students have to choose a project topic. Students can work in teams or solo on the project. There is also a wide variety of media to choose from. Again, it's up to them.

Project Choice One:

This group (above) chose project one.. and my wall...

Discover what prehistoric artists use for paint. Learn what symbols or objects they painted and why.

Then, create a painting out of today’s materials but don’t use paint. The painting should represent concerns of today’s culture. If possible, paint it on a surface that would also represent today’s culture. 

Be prepared to describe the reasons, similarities and differences between prehistoric art and your work.

Coming out of the phone are all the issue that the congressman doesn't want to deal with. As for the elephant.. When I inquired about the elephant I was informed we don't talk about the elephant. I will use this when my administrator asks why it is painted on my wall.

I thought this was a very effective solution to Project One. She painted using mud as the medium on a modern hamburger wrapper, cave art symbols like mammoth and such into the shape of a hamburger. Let that one role around in your brain for a minute.

Project Two:

This group (above) chose project two...

What was the purpose for Venus? Describe what attributes Venus had and what reason the artists may have fashioned her as such.

Then,  create a sculpture that represents today’s concerns. Be prepared to explain what concerns you were addressing and why you fashioned your sculpture as such.

This piece is still in the works but it is a little figure running up stacks of money trying to climb to happiness.

As part of this student's solution she brought in a Barbie head complete with preparations for upcoming plastic surgery. 

Venus of McDonald's

Is it lunch or research? 


Step Four: The Quiz

Today, I asked each student to turn in what they thought would make a good quiz question along with the answer. We will review these questions in class tomorrow while playing a game of Fear Factor. 

When it comes time to take the quiz, they should know the answer since they wrote the quiz.. is that cheating?



  1. This is phenomenal! I can see the true and engaging learning happening here. This totally redefines my ideas of how to teach art history. Keep it up! I can't wait to read more!

  2. You've really engaged your students in learning which is authentically interesting to them. Love the way you've connected it back to our life and times!

  3. Hey Ian,
    We are doing Apex-inspired art survey. Similar to what you are doing we will do an artist-inspired art project then backed up by a revolving, ever changing group work research. It is still hard to make them want to buckle down and "teach" or "convey" their artists' to their classmates. I have done everything from them making boring power points, prezis, keynotes, to iMovies(like Smarthistory) to audio plays to skits. Sometimes it seems like mayhem, but I still long for student driven research and teaching for ultimate engagement.
    youre the best!!


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