Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Artistic Pursuits Early Elementary - Book 1 (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

 ARTistic Pursuits is a homeschool art curriculum for students of all ages.  With a total of 13 books, ranging from preschool to high school levels, there is a program for every student.  For the past two months, Jude has been working with the book, ARTistic Pursuits, Early Elementary K-3 Book One. This book is for students aged 5 and up, and is a good beginning art curriculum. 

What I enjoyed was how simple the lessons are.  Because they are for beginning students, they are only about ten miutes long.  I think this is great because young attention spans aren't much longer, so I felt like we were getting a good lesson on art in with each day.

The first part of the lesson is a one-page reading about a topic.  The range from the most basic "What does an artist do?" to different styles of art.

This is followed by a major work of art to be studied for these qualities.  I think it's wonderful that the presentations are so varied.  There is exposure to just about every kind of artist in this volume, from Degas to Demuth, Kiyohiro to Claude Monet. Art history was a core requirement when I was in college, and I loved the different styles of paintings.  Art is subjective - so while I can appreciate a Dali painting, he's not one of my favorite artists.  However, it would be very easy for me to put together a course on the medieval Van Eyck and Hans Holbein the Younger.  I think it's important for Jude to decide what type of art he likes, and the only way to do this is to be exposed to many different types.

Finally, the unit concludes with a Student Project.

One particular project he enjoyed was wandering the house searching for things to sketch.  I found it really interesting to see the things that caught his eye:

However, some were more difficult for him.  This particular watercolor comes from Lesson 5 - Artists Use Photographs.  This is the inspiration image he chose.

 I'll admit, I did help him with the figure in this one.  He got frustrated easily, because he struggled with not being "right."  If I were to do this again, I think I'd be more inclined to do the instruction, then the project, finishing with the artwork study.  I think he often felt intimidated by what he saw, and felt that was what he needed to create, not what was in his imagination.  The text does stress that the parent/teacher should encourage imagination, not copying ideas, when drawing, but Jude became fixated on the artworks presented.   He seemed to do better when he could be in control.  (Which is pretty much the story of this kid's life.)

This was Jude's favorite drawing - a Power Rangers Megazord.

One thing I like about ARTistic Pursuits is the creators expect you to use quality art materials.  I'll admit, I'm more of a "crayons and copy paper when kid wants to color" kind of mom, but I think using real materials is a good thing, and creates a more intentional process.  Watercolor crayons are more expensive than basic ones (or basic watercolor pans), but having separate "these are your school art supplies" did generate a different level of respect.  It did take a while for Jude to get the hang of how much pressure to put on the paper so that the colors didn't bleed into one another.  Other media used in the program include pencil, oil pastel, and air-drying clay.

Last year, Matthew worked with ARTistic Pursuits, using the Elementary 4-5, Book 1: The Elements of Art and Composition.   I was impressed with that program, so I was excited to use this younger level for Jude.  In addition,  previous experience with the curriculum meant I already had an idea of what the program entailed.  When I filled out the Crew form to request this book, I said:
I'm in the process of re-configuring my game plans to more of a unit-study thing.  I think Jude is finally ready for more than just absolute basics, but the thought of doing a history course and science and art and...and...and...just seems overwhelming.  What I'm considering is using this (at least for the review period, and we'll see how it works before committing to it "forever") as a spine for a unit study.  We can do "art history" instead of history-history, and then use the work of art we're studying to rabbit trail by adding books/videos about a topic...

This wasn't impossible, but it wasn't as simple as I thought it would be.  Some works are easier to find things to build upon.  For example, Lesson 3's "Artists Look at Nature" work, In Flanders Field - Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow is fairly easy to build upon. 

We studied the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, and pictures of what Flanders Field looks like today.

Image Source

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

We recently visited Arlington National Cemetery, so we talked about how Flanders Field was another cemetery for soldiers.   We added a book or two, and a video about Belgium, and we had a week long "taste of" unit study.  Not too hard.

But then we were a bit at a loss when it came to trying to add to the unit on Imagination, which used Marc Chagall's The Birthday as its inspiration.  We wound up doing more of a unit study on France - French foods, the Eiffel Tower, etc. - but that missed the point of wanting to use a piece of art as our center. I'm not sure that the first half of the book will truly work how I had intended to use it.

However, the second half of the book actually does a better job at being part of a unit study.  The second section is entitled "Where We Find Art" and it is a much better resource for unit studies.  Cave art, pottery, frescoes and mosaics, and medieval tapestry and stained glass become the focus.  For the K-3 set, I think this is wonderful.  It serves as both a history lesson and a way to bring the culture of a people or an era to life.  Create a mural of your daily life like the Ancient Egyptians did, or a clay animal sculpture as you study Rome and the gilded bronze sculpture of Marcus Aurelius atop his horse.  We are currently working on a unit study of the Middle Ages, and looking forward to trying to create some illuminated books and "stained glass" pieces. In fact, the stained glass windows featured in ARTistic Pursuits are from the Chartres Cathedral, featured in the in the PBS/David Macaulay film Cathedrals we just watched.  Jude is excited to work on this section because not only is the window something Jude is now familiar with, but it's a chance to really look up close and see the details in these beautiful "glass storybooks."  I think this second half is a better section to use as the base of a unit study, and will likely use these styles/eras of art as starting points.

My only true complaint about this text is that I wish that there was an index that listed the artists/styles in one place, so that the textbook would be more teacher-friendly for referring to particular paintings of an era. For example, if we were doing a nature study, it would be nice to have In Flanders Field... to refer to, or George Caleb Bingham's  The Jolly Flatboatmen to go along with a study of the role of the "Might Mississippi River" in an American History unit.  I think this would extend the useable life of the book beyond grades K-3.  I think the price of the book ($47.95) is fair for the curriculum, but it's really hard to justify a nearly $50 textbook for a kindergarten student.  Knowing there was a way to easily use this as a reference for long beyond the primary years would make it a more frugal purchase.

My main plan was for Jude to do the bulk of the "learning" from this program, with Damien (just starting Kindergarten work) sitting in as he desired.  He enjoyed looking at the pictures in earlier chapters, and even answering the questions that went with them, but he couldn't sit through the "lecture" (it was too much words/being read to and not enough picture to help tell the story), and he didn't have the patience/fine motor skills to work on the student projects that focused on color or line, etc..  However, I think he will enjoy the second half of the book because there is less instruction and more focus on creating from the imagination than imitating a particular style. For example, the lesson in Mosaics is more about creating pictures with small bits of paper glued into an outlined shape instead of copying an image in front of you.  For him, I think we will work backwards, working on the projects in the back of the book, and then switching to the more theory-heavy front as he gets older.

I am thoroughly impressed with ARTistic Pursuits and the quality of the program.  I was concerned that the concepts would be watered down for a younger crowed, especially having used the program for older students. However, the ideas are brought down to an age appropriate level, not watered down, and they still use amazing artwork as their examples.  Now that he has seen many of these examples in a book, Jude would like to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art so he can see some of the works from these artists person.  While my initial plans to use this program as a base for a unit study did not work out, it sounds like we'll be changing the plans to "field trip study," and I think that's an even better ending!

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ARTistic Pursuits Review

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