Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why not start at the beginning??? Teaching about cave art

I'm ashamed to admit that when I took art history in high school and college, I basically thought of the first class or two as relatively unimportant in light of what was to come. As a result, I felt a bit uninspired when I started thinking of how to approach teaching my very first Art History course a few years ago. I knew some of the main points I wanted to get across, one of which being the idea of profile, and how most cave paintings use this view to provide the most information about the shape of the animal as possible, but I wanted to find a way to introduce this idea without simply stating it.

So, in an attempt to get my students to come to the same realization, I now start off my first class with them by asking them to get out a piece of paper and draw a horse. I don't give them any other instructions, and I just let them draw for a few minutes. As soon as most people have at least an outline, I ask them all to hold up their drawings and look for similarities. In a class of 10, I usually will get 9 who draw their horses in profile, and 1 from a frontal view....and usually one or two that bear NO resemblance to a horse whatsoever!

I then facilitate a discussion, asking them why so many of them drew their horses in profile, and I try to help them feel a kinship of sorts with the early cave painters who approached the task of representing a horse in quite the same manner. 

From there we go on to discuss the idea of views (frontal, profile, composite) and I move on from there to a standard lecture on cave paintings, along with some excerpts of first hand accounts of cave art discoveries (Lescaux). Sometimes, I try to do a compare and contrast between Cave Art and graffiti to try to get students feel a bit less removed from the seemingly remote and anonymous artists being studied. We talk about materials (quite different, obviously), location (often difficult to reach in both situations), challenges (cave artists - getting enough light to work, being chased off by scary animals lurking in the caves; graffiti writers - light as well, being chased off by cops!), motivation (to make your mark, to express personal views of the world, to represent what is around them.....note that unlike MOST art, monetary gain is not a motivation for these groups of artists..well at least not for most of those involved in graffiti). I'm not totally sold on this discussion section sometimes works, sometimes does not...if you have any suggestions for discussion points, please let me know!

Last year I wrote a Yahoo article regarding teaching about Cave Art and it features some helpful resources and a  few more ideas I have explored. Check it out for even more class ideas!

So, anyways....there's my first blog....let me know what you think! Do you have special techniques you use in your art history courses? Please share! I will be writing blog posts I hope you will find helpful and that will express my passion for this topic and my interest in sharing with colleagues! I work at a small media arts college, and don't get to interact with other art history educators. I look forward to hearing from you!!!

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