Grade 5’s journey into Aesthetics

The Grade 5 students spent nearly 2 months focusing on AESTHETICS and the central idea that aesthetic expression can be influenced by a culture’s history and values.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Looking at how traditions are related across genres and over time and at how local traditions are similar and different to one’s home culture, the students focused initially on Japan. Concepts such as “wabi-sabi” (beauty in imperfection, hidden beauty) and “ma” (space, such as the space in between sounds) were focal points, as were various Japanese arts which students were able to explore and research according to their interests.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

In art class, the unit began and ended with each student defining the word “beauty” for him/herself. In the intervening weeks, students engaged in a variety of activities:

  • Two engaging visits from the artists Shoichi & Colleen Sakurai, who (1) introduced the students to the concept of “wabi sabi” and kicked-off their Wabi Sabi Project — creating wearable art from found and discarded materials — and (2) returned to witness the students’ Wabi Sabi Fashion Show several weeks later.
  • Experimented with specific Media, Tools, and Processes in art class, to be used in the creation of their Wabi Sabi Art.
  • Explored an interactive PowerPoint experience (“Japanese Arts & Aesthetic Exploration”) to pursue the traditional Japanese arts they wanted to learn more about: calligraphy, ceramics, flower arranging/ikebana, tea ceremony, architecture, dolls, paper folding/origami, painting, gardens, sculpture, printmaking/ukiyo-e.
  • An Art+Music collaboration: students connected the experience of listening to music (various woodwinds, Japanese/non-Japanese) to the act of visual creation (painting, sculpture). The art was created in art class, then discussed and critiqued in music class with their koto teacher (see more about the Japanese koto here).
  • A visit from some Grade 9 art students, who presented their own research and learning about ‘aesthetics’, ‘wabi-sabi’, Shoichi Sakurai, and Japanese arts. These students also presented their art research workbooks so as to display their working process to the Grade 5 students.
  • The creation of ceramic vessels: after exploring some Japanese “living national treasures” (see this online resource for traditional clay artwork), the students created their own clay vessels based on the various forms and designs/colors found in these traditional Japanese ceramics. The idea was for the students to become part of a historical tradition, using an ancient, natural, local material — clay — to create a basic object which has a long tradition in Japan (ceramic vessels, like teacups, bowls, vases).
  • And all-day visit to Sankeien Gardens field trip, as the culminating event of the unit. This visit included a presentation and exhibition by the photographer Everett Kennedy Brown, the opportunity to use photography to capture elements of beauty through the eyes and lens of the students, and the creation of a haiku poem using the surrounding environment as an influence.
Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

This arts-driven unit of study was a new unit on which nearly all the Grade 5 teachers (homeroom, arts, and Japanese) collaborated. It has been a very enlightening and engaging experience for students and teachers alike. With both students and teachers having provided one another with constructive feedback, we look forward to developing the unit in more depth next year.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Grade 1 Reflects on Personal Histories in Family Portraits

In their homeroom classes the 1st graders studied how one’s family history provides insight into one’s own personal identity, and in art class the students drew and then painted their self-/family-portraits. For this “Where We Are In Place And Time” unit, each student developed the background of his/her picture by adding imagery from the memory of family events or from knowledge of his/her family’s history. In the foreground of each student’s picture is their own self-portrait, drawn from observation.

See the students at work, below, shortly before the completion of these family portraits. Moms and dads even came one day (during Action Portfolio Week) to observe and help out!

Created in response to a range of stimuli (photos, storybooks, conversations, sharing of personal experiences), students made personal connections to their artworks as they developed. The task proved challenging as the students had to determine how to represent, visually, what they envision in their minds and what they can discuss verbally.

See the students’ completed artwork below. Each student used his/her portrait as a talking point during the recent Student-Led Conferences to discuss his/her personal family history.

Kindergarten explores materials and imagination

Our initial central idea in kindergarten this year is that “personal journeys show the way that people change and can lead to new opportunities.” Another of our central ideas is that “materials can be manipulated to suit a purpose”. In art class over the past several weeks, we have been addressing both of these notions as the children have expressed their desires in how to progress with their work.


So, in art class, we’re exploring a variety of materials and ideas across a few different projects: paintings, cardboard and playdough and clay sculptures, and multi-media sculptures.

We’re taking the time to:

1. to look at, question, enjoy experiencing, discuss the various types of three-dimensional works made by other artists (looking at pictures, watching videos, and examining others’ artworks);

2. to identify the materials and processes other artists use in the creation of their artworks;

3. to realize that our artwork has meaning;

4. to experiment with some different materials that can be used to create artwork (recently, we looked at, touched with our hands, and then used: paper, felt, burlap, paper straws, ribbon, wire, pipe cleaners, foam, string, uncooked pasta, scissors, glue, tape, staplers, hole punches, colored pencils, watercolor paints, markers, and pastels);

5. to explore the various processes that artists can employ with these materials and tools to create what they envision and to discover new ideas.

Through this exploration and by making decisions for themselves, the young students are creating original 3-D artworks, as seen in the slideshow of images above. Ask the students to explain their art as you look at the photos of them at work.