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A Beginner’s Guide to Art Class

Authored By: 
Deborah Doering, Art Teacher

I am an artist-educator actively involved in making socially-engaged art using a variety of technologies and techniques. When I came to The Beekman School to teach drawing and photography three years ago, I was not quite sure how to approach teaching drawing and photography to students who might not be very interested in “art” of any kind.

Serendipitously, I had one very talented and passionate art student in my first class – but his passion was Manga and Anime, and these were art forms that were largely unfamiliar to me.

So my task as artist-teacher became to create a framework that would include examining and exploring many types of visual imagery – from Anime to Zephyr Art.

My framework for the visual arts at The Beekman School includes basic Elements (line, shape, color, texture, tone/value), Principles (Focal Point, Balance, Leading Lines, Pattern, Perspective, Proportion, Scale), and Critiques.  We use three different critique methods in my art and technology classes – Intentional Self-Critique, Tact Critique, and DAIR critique. DAIR critique is the subject of this blog post, and I find that it helps students from all art backgrounds practice using descriptive words to evaluate images.

“D” is for Describe. I ask students to imagine that I cannot see the image they are looking at and to describe it to me (and the class). For example, what size is the image – and if they are looking at it on a computer screen, what is the actual size of the image “in real life” (if it exists outside of the digital realm)? Is the image a painting/drawing, a photograph, or a multimedia image? What colors does the creator of the image use, or is it black and white? At this stage of the critique, I want to know just the basics, including the name of the “author(s)” of the image.

“A” is for Analyze. After a basic description of the image, students analyze the composition of the image, using terms such as balance, leading lines, perspective, and focal point. How does the author of the image use visual principles to lead our eyes around the composition? If they were to change the image, how would they change it?

“I” is for Interpret. Students love to give their interpretation of visual images, especially since there are no “wrong” answers. But of course, there are better interpretations than others, and they find that it often helps to do a bit of research in regards to the author and the context of the image in order to give a less fantastical and more grounded interpretation.

“R” is for Reason – “reason” generally refers to reasons for the significance of the image. Is this an image that will be “here today and gone tomorrow?” Is this a “decorative” image? Is it a “socially influential” image? If students believe the image will be, or has been, lasting and influential, they must provide reasons to support their opinions.

Whether critiquing Manga or Mondrian, DAIR critique provides a framework and a point of departure for students to discuss all different types of visual works -- and a tool to eventually construct and evaluate their own creative artistic endeavors.

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