In fifth grade art class, students will study narratives, or visual stories, throughout history. Our first unit begins with the cave paintings found in Lascaux, France. The paintings are some of the world's earliest art examples.
Each class brainstormed how the paintings were made, and what the purpose may have been for creating them. We discussed how some art is created to communicate a story. All of the units we will study in fifth grade focus on the concept of art and narrative.
Below is a video we watched to introduce the Caves of Lascaux.
After watching the video and describing images of the cave paintings, students were ready to create their own. They were instructed to choose an animal for a mixed-media artwork inspired by the cave paintings.
We began with a watercolor background. Students were encouraged to mix and blend colors. Next, students painted a separate sheet of paper in the main color of their animal using tempera paint. Once the paint was dry, students used a pencil to draw their animal on the painted page. They cut the animal out and glued the shape to their watercolor background.
Details were added to the animals using oil pastels. Some students added textures and additional details to the background.
Once the artwork was completed, students were asked to write a story about their animal. Throughout the year, fifth grade students will be asked to communicate a visual narrative with each project.
(Below are examples of student work from 2013)
While creating the sixth grade art curriculum, I noticed a strong representation of narratives throughout art history. Although creating this theme was not my intention, the narrative has been a great way for students to make connections to different cultures throughout history.
Students have developed their own narratives with almost every project. We discussed the term, visual narrative, as opposed to a written story. With a few projects, students were asked to write a narrative to accompany their artwork. However, most of the projects have focused on creating a story with images or symbols alone.
Recently, students have identified different purposes for creating a visual narrative. At the beginning of the year we studied cave paintings, and talked about art as documentation of daily life. Students described hunting scenes found in the Caves of Lascaux, and decided this may have been a representation of life during that period in history.
From the cave paintings, we transitioned to studying artworks found in the Egyptian pyramids. Students again identified scenes from daily life, but also the inclusion of hieroglyphics. Some students described the hieroglyphics as an early form of written language. The hieroglyphics were often placed alongside paintings of figures. Each student created a portrait painting in the style of Egyptian artwork, with the inclusion of hieroglyphics. Next they created large collars using a radial design inspired by Egyptian artifacts.
The students' discussion about hieroglyphics gave me an idea to further explore the relationship between text and image. Students were introduced to the photography of Rachelle Lee Smith. Each student was given different portraits photographed by Smith, depicting a single teenager. Each portrait also contained text from the teenager photographed. Students were asked to describe what the picture looked like visually. Next they were instructed to interpret the text, and then analyze how the photographer and subject collaborated to communicate meaning. Students shared their opinions in small groups, and then as part of a larger class discussion.
From this activity, we began an altered photography project. Students collaborated to create an Egyptian-inspired narrative using a digital camera and colored pencils. Each student photographed a classmate, or group of classmates, in the profile view of Egyptian figures while wearing the collars they had previously painted. Students then received a black and white copy of their photograph to alter using text or symbols. The finished projects depicted great scenes of battles, royalty and friendship.
After concluding our unit on Egypt, we recently began studying the pottery of Greece and Rome. Students identified these narratives as entertainment or fiction, rather than a description of reality. Many of the students had a previous knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology. I encouraged those students to share with the class, and we read a few short myths aloud.
Our first project for the Greece and Rome unit was to create a two-dimensional vase using construction paper. Students chose the size, shape and colors of their vase. Once their vase was constructed, students were asked to draw and color a visual narrative on their vase. Once the vase was completed, we studied the different columns used in Greek and Roman architecture, ionic, doric and corinthian. Each student then made a unique columns to attach their narrative vases to.
After studying the pottery for weeks, students were ready to make their own. Each student created a small clay plate using slab construction. On the face of the plate, students carved original narrative scenes. Now that the plates have been fired in the kiln, students have begun painting their designs. I am very excited to display the finished plates at this year's Fine Arts Night at Oregon Elementary School on Friday, May 3rd!
Mr. DeWilde's Blog
I post information about projects and learning experiences from my curriculum.