Deirdre Moore | March 2018
Deepening Understanding by Integrating Art with Art
You know how you can use an art form and another core content area and integrate them to deepen the understanding of each? That works with different forms of art too! You can take an idea or an element from one art form and explore it with another. Voila! – a deeper understanding of that element or concept too. One way to do that is through common vocabulary.
A few years ago, I worked with some artist friends of mine to create a chart. This chart showed the relationship between terms used in the different art forms. It is by no means a comprehensive or perfect list! But it could be a great jumping off point if you want to try this idea of integrating art with art. Let me give you an example of what that might look like in practice.
Take the word “line”. There are SO many different meanings of the term line across content areas and art forms that it presents such an incredible opportunity for integration. You might start just by looking at line in math. A line in math is straight and it never ends but continues to extend in each direction forever. You can see that in different art forms as well. But by comparing, contrasting and exploring “line” in different contexts, the students will have a much deeper understanding of line. This will lead them to start making connections between seemingly different things.
The most obvious place to examine line is in visual art since line is a crucial element of visual art. Lines in visual art can be straight as they are in math. But they can also be co curved in many different ways (spiral, curvy or wavy, squiggly, scribbled). Or connected for different effect (zig-zag, cross-hatched). They can also be thick or thin, dotted or looped. They can cross one another and divide the space to create shapes (2-D) and forms (3-D), positive and negative space. Lines can be used to create texture, pattern and rhythm.
Lines in visual art can be brought to life by movement. Dancers can create lines with their bodies through the shapes created with their bodies or with the pathways their bodies create through the air and across the floor. Could a dancer look at a piece of visual art and embody the lines they see? What about a visual artist? Could an artist watch a dancer and create lines to record and interpret what they see? Yes! Visual art can inspire and inform dance choreography and performance just as dance can inspire and inform the making and understanding of visual art. And what about formations in dance? If a choreographer has clear pictures in her/his mind and an understanding of line in visual art, groups of dancers can create formations that show different lines and shapes as well as creating lines and shapes with their individual bodies.
Can knowing and understanding line in math help in visual art and dance? Yes! Once you understand line in the context of math, you can begin to manipulate line in art and dance. As a dancer, it is helpful when creating lines with the body to think of that line in math that extends forever in each direction. When a dancer is holding a certain position, it is important that position look as though it is continually growing. By imagining that line that extends forever, a dancer can create a more dynamic shape extending the energy as it reaches out of the extending fingers and toes and extends into space.
Lines, Lines, Everywhere Lines
But let’s not forget music! Line can be understood in different ways in the context of music. First, we have the lines which divide the space on the page to help musicians understand the time of the piece (vertical lines show the ends of measures) and the pitches (horizontal lines are arranged to show the pitches as the notes sit on or between the lines). Then there is the contour of the melody which also creates line. As the notes go up and down, someone looking with the eye of a visual artist or dancer can see those lines created and interpret them through dance or visual art. And what about the lyrics to a song? Just as in poetry, lines of songs are arranged into stanzas to divide up the words into digestible chunks helping shape meaning. Again, we see that idea of lines dividing something to create shape and meaning.
And when you are on stage and don’t remember what to say next, what do you call out? “Line!” so someone can remind you the next sentence or phrase that you say. Theatre scripts have lines of dialogue but the actors also create lines as they move on stage. A director with the eye of a choreographer or a visual artist can create flow and striking imagery as s/he blocks the actors on stage dividing the space with sets and props and with actor’s bodies and movements.
By examining line in all these different contexts, students can gain a much richer and more fluid understanding of line. But this same process can be applied to many elements of the arts. By taking an art element or a theme, the arts and other subjects can be woven into a rich tapestry of understanding. Balance can be examined through balanced math and chemical equations; a balanced argument in writing or debate; balance in physics and dance; balance in a composition whether that be a visual art piece, a music composition or a piece of choreography.
Integrating different art forms as well as other subjects provides incredible learning opportunities. It has inspired me to write several different articles on the topic highlighting visual artists and dance artists who were inspired by other art forms as well. When integrating the arts, don’t forget to integrate them with one another to further deepen student understanding of concepts and their capacity to create.