5 digital sources of thought-provoking art for classrooms

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, August 13, 2015

5 digital sources of thought-provoking art for classrooms

Today’s guest post is written by Alisa Gross. She has been the editor of two education blogs, The C4E College Teaching and Learning Blog, and the Acclaim Blog. She holds advanced degrees in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute, London, and Johns Hopkins University. Alisa has also worked as a math and writing instructor and tutor. You can find her on Twitter.
Art can make students think and help them expand their imagination. Sources of artwork online are abundant and easily accessible for teachers. (Flickr / Phillip Capper)

Art can make students think and help them expand their imagination. Sources of artwork online are abundant and easily accessible for teachers. (Flickr / Phillip Capper)

Pictures can do so much more than say a thousand words. Beyond having the power to transport students to another country or era, art can cement class ideas, give life to a historical personality, or enhance (and sometimes, reinvent) stories from classical literature or modern novels.

They can spur heated discussion about interpretation, symbolism, and meaning. But perhaps art is most impactful because images force students to engage in ways that are in a sense, unavoidable. It’s hard to not look at, or to think about, something you see (as opposed to read!).

When I was in elementary and high school, my mother read to me about art from a set of books before school. Add trips to museums on spring and winter vacations and that’s how I first learned about art. I then took a class in AP Art History my senior year of high school.

Nowadays, instructors from all disciplines can access images instantaneously on museum or archaeological websites. They can explore a set of YouTube videos which are constantly updated to reflect current exhibition schedules. They can zoom in closely on paintings which are thousands of miles away. Many museums, living artists, and art critics keep blogs and social media accounts—often meant to engage the public with a contemporary, friendly, yet still educational voice.

The following is a set of my favorite museum websites, YouTube channels, art history/visual arts resources, and arts education blogs. I’ve collected them during my studies and throughout blog writing. They can be applied to many content areas, age levels and specialties. Here are some suggestions for how they can be made relevant in certain courses.

1. Smarthistory: Smarthistory is perhaps the best-known resource for art history videos. Created by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, Smarthistory offers videos on nearly every subject imaginable in art history, from cave painting to the Greeks and Romans, and from the medieval period through contemporary video installation artMany high school AP Art History teachers are frustrated by the lack of non-western perspectives in traditional textbooks, however, Smarthistory includes modules on the arts of Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Videos are generally under ten minutes long, so they are sure to keep students engaged.

There are many great reasons to use Smarthistory in visual arts classes or World History and European History classes as well. For visual arts teachers, Smarthistory includes videos on materials and techniques, as well as interviews with living artists.  World history teachers can access units that offer coverage of the arts of China during the Han, Tang, and Wei Dynasties, while European History teachers can combine units on the French Revolution with a selection of videos on painters of the French Romantic period, such as Delacroix and Ingres.

2. Art Babble: Art Babble is another comprehensive resource for art history and art videos. Launched in 2009 by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Art Babble now includes over 3,000 videos from 50 different museums and cultural institutions around the world.

Art Babble perhaps boasts more flexibility in its approach to themes than Smarthistory. It allows educators not only to browse through time periods and geographic locations, but also though artists, mediums, and themes. It even provides many resources for STEM educators. Sections on conservation and conservation science may also be of special value to students whose passions lie more in the sciences than the humanities.

Language instructors (Spanish, in particular) may also find the Spanish language videos from the Prado, in Madrid, helpful for comprehension based exercises. There are videos in French, Dutch, Italian, and ASL, too.

3. Art Museum Teaching: This blog encourages both high school teachers and college instructors to be more hands-on and engaging in how they use museum collections to teach. Edited by Dr. Mike Murawski, the current Director of Education at the Portland Art Museum, the blog presents in depth explorations of activities and ideas, including both student and educator perspectives.

Some of the most relevant posts for high school teachers can be found in the section, Teens in Museums. In one post, Chelsea Wilkins provides some ways of encouraging students to become involved in local collections over the course of a year. A final project culminates in students producing video essays, wherein they respond to a series of questions designed to help them with linear and descriptive thinking.

4. Virtual exhibitions: Don’t live near an art museum? There are abundant resources for viewing art close-up, down to the most microscopic details, online. Google Art Project offers access to almost 100,000 works of art from all over the world online. Mapping Gothic France, a collection of images compiled by art historian Stephen Murray and his students at Columbia University, allows students to travel through cathedrals in medieval France and England.

For students interested the process of creation, and how ideas are formed, there are close-up images, x-rays, and infrared reflectographs of Jan van Eyck’s famous Ghent Altarpiece available through Closer to Van Eyck. For schools that are close to collections, or instructors who have the opportunity to take their students on field trips abroad, Google Art Project can also allow students to reflect on their experiences with images that are far more details than any photograph they can take with their iPhone.

5. The Art Assignment: This fantastic YouTube Channel from PBS Digital Studios features ideas for art projects from living artists. The projects include both traditional mediums, like painting, sketches, and sculptures, but also incorporate ready-made objects and computer art.

Many of the assignments are relevant to English courses because they encourage student to think in ways aligned with personal and creative writing. One assignment from Toyin Odutola encourages students to depict and explain something of personal importance to them, while another from David Brooks, asks students to use art to articulate “something that you know exists, but that you’ve never seen and probably never will.”

Perhaps the best part of this YouTube channel is the comments section around each video, in which students who’ve tried the projects before share their ideas. For students who struggle coming up with ideas, this is a great resource!

[reminder]How do you incorporate art into your classroom? Do you have favorite resources?[/reminder]

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