Art classes in middle schools are more than just craft projects meant to fill the hours or give students some in-class down time. According to the National Art Education Association’s “National Visual Arts Standards” for grades 5 through 8, a well-rounded visual arts program teaches technique, terminology, history, appreciation and critiquing skills.
Middle school students create art, learning techniques such as drawing, painting and sculpting in a variety of mediums, including pencil, watercolor, acrylic paint, clay and wood. Lessons that meet this standard also require students to apply techniques to create visual effects such as texture, value and form.
Students learn how to identify and apply the Elements of Art -- line, shape, space, form, texture and color -- and the Principles of Design -- balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, proportion, rhythm, variety and unity. Middle schoolers are required to design visually pleasing works of art using the elements and principles.
Discussing Art Themes
Middle school art classes teach students how themes can be represented in works of art through symbolism. For example, wilted flowers or the color red might be used to represent death, whereas a blossoming tree or shades of white might symbolize life. Through discussion, students are taught to recognize these themes and symbols when examining famous artwork and to use them when creating their own.
Understanding Art History
By the middle grades, students begin examining how historically significant artwork and artists influenced and were influenced by history and culture. Students learn how the art of an era changed in the context of historical events, and examine cultural similarities in works created in the same region.
Critiquing Fellow Artists
Middle school art standards require students to generate both written and oral evaluations of their own artwork and that of their fellow students. Written evaluations require students to discuss the artwork using appropriate terminology. Group critiques allow for students to offer each other constructive criticism.
Connecting Art and the World
This dual-pronged concept focuses on comparing and contrasting two works of art and examining the role of art in other disciplines, such as math, world history and literature. Lessons that meet the first section of this standard require middle school students to note similarities and differences in the themes, techniques and design elements of two artworks. Second section lessons ask students to incorporate two disciplines into one project, such as formulating mathematical equations to decipher the artwork of M.C. Escher or writing a literary work for English class to accompany a specific work of art. This standard also explores the role of art in the world, such as in advertisements, cartoons, pop culture and history.
- The Kennedy Center Arts Edge: Standards in Dance, Music, Theater and Visual Arts for Grades 5-8
- Nova Southeastern University: Middle School Students and the Relationships of the Arts to their Motivation and Self-Efficacy
- National Endowment for the Arts: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement
- National Endowment for the Arts: The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth
- The New York Times: Book Tackles Old Debate – The Role of Art in Schools
- The Official M. C. Escher Website
- National Education Association: State of the Arts
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