Saturday, September 13, 2014

10 Engaging Activities to Make Art History Exciting and Meaningful for Students

Back when I was in college, Art History courses were referred to as “Art in the Dark.” Essentially, any course in Art History involved months of sitting in a pitch black room, staring at a screen, and watching a professor read notes and switch slides back and forth. Also known as ‘the best way to cure insomnia,’ this was certainly not the most exciting nor fun way to teach (or learn) the history of art.

So how do you avoid the “Art in the Dark” syndrome, and encourage students to learn, get motivated, engaged, and get excited about Art History? Here are ten ways to make Art History fun and exciting - for both the students and the teacher:

1) Have students ‘act out’ the lives of famous artists - Assign students to research a famous artist; they can write a monologue, create a costume, use props and even have their classmates guess which artist they are. Students could film their skits, present them to younger students in other grades, or perform them at Parent Night.

2) Have students ‘act out’ famous artworks - Similarly, students can have fun learning Art History by selecting a famous work of art (individually or as a group), designing costumes and a set, and bringing the artwork to life. This would also be a fun performance piece.

3) Have students curate personal gallery exhibits - Museums are the core of Art History. There’s no greater way for students to learn about the professional art world than by curating their own exhibit. Students select a theme, research artwork on the Internet or in books, and design a professional exhibit. Fun options for this lesson include having students make digital museums on CD, or even constructing museum models with small replicas of their chosen artworks.

4) Play Art History games - Games are great ways to engage students and make learning fun. All students can relate to game shows - why not design an Art History-based version of Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, or the Price is Right (guessing the auction prices of artworks). To excite your students, have them design original board games about artists, art movements or artworks. For inspiration, think of various game models, such as CandyLand, Chutes & Ladders, Trivial Pursuit, or Monopoly.

5) Create art mysteries - Mysteries create suspense; suspense creates excitement. Whether you post an Art History Mystery on your bulletin board, or start off a new lesson by keeping some history information a secret, you can find fun ways to get your students to research a topic on their own.

6) Have art scavenger hunts – Whether students use art reference books or the Internet, have students compete in an art scavenger hunt. Write a list of art items you want to find and have places for students to write down their information. For instance, “Find two paintings created in the 1700’s that contain fruit. List the artists, titles and dates.” This activity allows the students to have fun while perusing lots of art!

7) Re-create a famous artwork as mural - Assign students to groups, select a past influential artwork, and recreate this as a mural somewhere within the school or your classroom. Be prepared to deem which artworks may or may not be appropriate. You may need to teach students how to use a projector to project the image onto a wall. Students become motivated and excited about an assignment when they feel they are making a permanent contribution to their school and are given responsibilities.

8) Have students create educational Art History videos - You will need to teach students how to use digital video recording devices prior to this assignment. Have your classes research a period of Art History, write a script, and film educational video shorts. These informative video clips can be posted on your school website, art page, or made into a DVD.

9) Paint a chair (or ceiling panel) in an artist’s style - Give students the opportunity to make a fun, lasting impression on the art room. Have students research to find an artist, whose style they will emulate by painting a classroom chair or ceiling panel (from a drop-down ceiling). If desired, cabinets, closet doors or other objects could also be painted.

10) Have students create satires of famous artworks - When teaching Art History, it is important to discuss how artists have inspired - as well as spoofed - each other over the years (think of Duchamp and the “Mona Lisa“). Students will have fun picking an artwork, then creating a modern-day satire of the work. As an alternative, encourage students to place an image of themselves somewhere within a famous artwork.

The history of art is such a fascinating subject; it shouldn’t be taught in a dull or boring way. No matter what the subject, any topic can be fun and exciting to learn about if the teacher is motivated, enthusiastic and creative in finding new activities and ways to teach their subject. 

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