After a brief hiatus last week, I was ready to get back to the Arts Immersion To-Do List this week and complete one of the last two items: Make Art – visual art. When I took my Materials of Art course in graduate school and the teacher modeled the use of a material and set us loose to experiment and create, I was like a deer in headlights. That kind of on-demand creativity, particularly in visual art, terrified and paralyzed me. Not surprisingly when I created this self-imposed on-demand creativity in visual art with my To-Do List, I had the same reaction. And I know that I am not alone.
I was facilitating a workshop with a group of elementary teachers and this very issue arose. After completing a theater exercise, one teacher remarked that the hardest thing about the exercise was thinking of what to do. As a group we brainstormed categories and suggestions teachers could use to combat that problem with their students. And therein lies the beauty of Arts Integration. Because you are linking a content area with an art, the students have a concept on which to base their art. By providing the students with a context and a structure for their artwork, regardless of the art form, you can help students avoid that paralysis and inspire the inner artist while helping the students achieve a deeper understanding of the content.
Since my art project for my To-Do List was self-imposed, there was no particular art skill I was trying to achieve and no content so I had to determine a purpose or concept for my piece. I decided to examine a personal issue with which I have been dealing. Once I determined the topic and took some time to ponder it, an image emerged and I set about collecting materials to help me realize that image. Crisis averted!
For the teacher in the theater workshop stumped by what to do in a movement/pantomime exercise, we brainstormed areas of focus for a program for English Learners and talked about the units of study in the curriculum that would provide great inspiration for movements to practice the theater technique and additionally allow a deeper understanding of a content area. Having that discussion with the teachers in the workshop allowed them to start to think about how to approach Arts Integration. Often teachers begin with a particular content area concept they need to teach and then look for a natural alignment for integration with an area of art. In the case of the theater workshop we were starting with a particular technique in theater and brainstorming how to avert creative paralysis by integrating it with other content that would need to be taught and reinforced. (Just FYI, we also brainstormed “just for fun” categories that would be familiar to the students and allow them to focus solely on the theater technique before integrating with a content area that might be unfamiliar or less familiar.)
To recap, Arts Integration provides a win-win situation. The art form and the content area act as context, structure, and inspiration for one another. The arts can allow for exploration, reinforcement and assessment for the content areas and the content areas can provide an antidote for the sometimes terrifying and debilitating condition of creative paralysis.