Cultivating Visual Analysis and Critical Thinking Skills Through Experiential Art

Cultivating Visual Analysis and Critical Thinking Skills Through Experiential Art

Morgan C. Page (Midwestern State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8082-9.ch006
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Employing visual analysis in the production and critique of artwork is an essential task of an art educator. By encouraging the basic principles of Edmund Burke Feldman's Practical Art Criticism in the development of art making and art analysis, art educators can create a learning environment that guides students toward the practice of higher order thinking skills. Examples of immersive art education that activates space and invites participation from the viewer will be cited as systems for inspiring civic engagement in the classroom.
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In a post-internet society, human relations are often blurred between supreme separation and spectacular representation, but art has the ability to tighten the space of relations and produce sociability, even sociability that leads to social progress (Bourriaud, 2002). The ways in which educators engage their students in current events and pressing social issues has changed dramatically in the last two decades, but there are still a number of valuable lessons to learn from previous educational reformers and philosophers. At a time when a growing number of students are showing signs of alienation and various forms of social anxiety, bringing to light Nicolas Bourriaud’s championing of relational art in the context of Edmund Burke Feldman’s methods for teaching art criticism and John Dewey’s conception of Art As Experience can inspire educators to demonstrate community engagement in their own art curriculum. Recently, scientists and psychologists have taken time to develop studies that help us understand the problem of alienation amongst primary and secondary students. In Psychology Today, Dr. Dawn X. Henderson’s research relies on race and social hierarchy to largely explain problems of alienation amongst public school children (Henderson, 2017). Meanwhile, Swiss and Luxembourger researchers teamed up to devise a method for measuring school alienation, SALS, the School Alienation Scale and provide distinctions between three school related domains where they have concentrated their research – classmates, teachers, and learning (Grecu, A., Hadjar, A., Hascher, T., Marcin, K., Morinaj, J., Scharf, J. Y., 2017).

In addition to assisting in the diagnosis of a student’s negative attitude toward classmates, teachers, and learning, SALS also provides data that tells researchers precisely whether students are alienated from classmates and/or teachers, and/or learning at school (Grecu, A., Hadjar, A., Hascher, T., Marcin, K., Morinaj, J., Scharf, J. Y., 2017).

Table 1.
Descriptive statistics of school alienation scales. Reprinted from School Alienation: A Construct Validation Study by Grecu, A., Hadjar, A., Hascher, T., Marcin, K., Morinaj, J., Scharf, J. Y., 2017, Frontline Learning Research: An official journal of EARLI, vol. 5, no. 2, 43

While the Swiss and Luxembourger researchers have developed tools for measuring levels of alienation amongst primary and secondary students, Dr. Henderson provides hypotheses for why alienation amongst grade school children exists and offers suggestions for ways educators can improve the curricular experiences of said children. One of the suggestions presented by Dr. Henderson is that educators promote inclusivity in the classroom by incorporating the cultural experiences of their students into their instruction. I point to SALS – the School Alienation Scale developed by researchers in Switzerland and Luxembourg alongside findings by Dr. Dawn X. Henderson in Psychology Today to affirm the serious nature of the roll anxiety and alienation play in the lives of grade school students. Secondly, Dr. Henderson’s assertion that promoting inclusivity through cultural experiences in the classroom can assist in alleviating some of the alienation experienced by students philosophically aligns well with Wendy Ewald’s Literacy Through Photography, the project I will discuss primarily in relation to the work of Edmund Burke Feldman and John Dewey.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Empathy: On some level, the artist’s hope is always to elicit an empathetic response from the viewer or visitor to their work or installation. With regard to this chapter, empathy is a catalyst for social change and peer reconciliation as depicted by the experience of Ewald’s students in South Africa.

Experiential or Immersive Art: Experiential or immersive art is art that requires the viewer or visitor to activate a space where the work exists, primarily in an installation or public space; it can also describe individual works of art that require participation from the viewer.

Intercultural Knowledge and Competence: This is knowledge derived from students participating in an inclusive learning environment where students understand the diversity of each other’s backgrounds and the world around them; intercultural knowledge and competence are a key ingredient to Wendy Ewald’s success with the Literacy Through Photography curriculum.

Visual Analysis: A process of evaluating a work of art or a photograph where the student is asked to carefully examine what they see. In applying Feldman’s model for art criticism, the student will complete four steps to formally analyze a work of art: description, analysis, interpretation, and judgment.

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