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.
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.
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.
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.