Pat Klos | October 2013

Putting Words into Art

Editor’s Note: This will be the final article from Pat Klos this year.  As she pursues her next chapter in arts integration, we wish her the best and thank her for all of her incredible insights!

Connecting the arts to Common Core writing has been a theme of mine this school year. Yesterday I attended an excellent teacher workshop at the Baltimore Museum of Art and came home with more tools for my arts integration and writing strategies toolbox. I spent several wonderful hours learning about pieces in the BMA’s excellent collection of contemporary art with a docent as well as experiencing some cool new strategies for using visual art to connect to the printed word. I will share these with you and hope you will see the possibilities of these two activities in your classroom as well.

Poetry in Close Reading

The first activity involves creating poetry in response to a close “reading” of an artwork. We looked at one of the “veil” paintings— an abstract-expressionist color-field painting that artist, Morris Louis created by pouring paint in layers on a canvas. In small groups of five to eight, the docent asked us to look at the painting for a full minute in silence and think about words or ideas that come to mind as we examined the painting carefully.

Then, we were provided with a small square of paper (an index card would work) and instructed to write down one word that described what we saw or felt when looking at the painting. When we all finished, we shared our words, discussed our individual interpretations and then, put the words down on the floor. We arranged them in a sequence to create a “poem” and read the poems out loud. They were incredibly deep! I have actually used this strategy in a slightly different version before—writing full sentences or phrases on sentence strips and arranging the strips into a poem. However, I really liked the idea of choosing one word. This would be a great strategy connecting to Common Core and getting to identification of the big (main) idea.

One Word Focal Points

Another activity that I enjoyed and think could also be so adaptable to the arts integrated classroom is a hands-on activity which had us looking at and physically combining text and image. This strategy builds on the one word idea of the previous strategy. We looked at artwork by Ed Ruscha who experimented with words as part of the art form. Many of Ruscha’s pieces depict single words as the center or the focal point of the work. We discussed the impact of words embedded in such paintings (or as the artist put it, “the evocative and artistic power of words”).

Next, we were asked to contemplate his painting entitled “Won’t”. We began by looking at the artistic qualities of the work (I would use an Artful Thinking routine, such as such as Colors, Shapes, Lines to facilitate this) and then analyzed the multiple meanings and impact of the actual word. These steps were preparation for a collage making activity. We were provided with a selection of cut outs of words in a variety of fonts and texts as well as a selection of images, scenes, paintings to use as the background.

Then, we were invited to select 1-3 words (students could also look for words on their own from magazines) and then select a background image on which to place the words. We could have selected an image with a similar meaning to the word(s), a contrasting meaning, played with positive and negative space, or perhaps select one that used color in an expressive manner. Then, with glue sticks, we created a piece of art by adhering the words to the background in interesting placements or juxtapositions. We shared our work and discussed how the meaning of words might change based on their context or artistic treatment. This would be a perfect opportunity for students to write an artist statement to explain their thinking and reasoning.

I can see many adaptations of these two activities for helping our students understand main idea, mood, tone, or author’s purpose, just to name a few. I hope that these strategies as well as others that I have included in my writings over the past year have provided you with tools for your arts integration toolbox.

About the Author

Pat is an arts integration specialist in Anne Arundel County, MD. Having been a mentor teacher and instructional coach, she passionately believes that integrating the arts is the best approach to teaching: it enriches the classroom environment with art, engages students and motivates learning. Her mission is help all teachers realize that they can teach through the arts with a little know-how. Pat appears every Monday. Email Pat.