By Ashley Lodato, Arts Education Director – Methow Arts Alliance
“Ekphrasis” doesn’t roll easily off the tongue, but it defines a method of exploring art that comes easily to students, once they understand the concept. The goal of ekphrasis–writing about art–is to make the reader envision the piece of art as if he were actually seeing it. Methow Valley fifth graders had the opportunity to practice ekphrastic writing in conjunction with a recent field trip to the Confluence Gallery & Art Center.
Upon arriving at the gallery, students were welcomed by Executive Director Salyna Gracie, who told them a bit about Confluence’s mission, as well as introducing them to the current exhibit–In a Land of Snow and Indigo–and explaining the process for getting art accepted into a show.
Painter and teaching artist Margaret Kingston then took over, examining four different pieces of work in the show. Margaret asked the students first to share their general impressions of each piece–“What do you see?” “What stands out?” ‘What does this make you think of?” She then guided them through the process of understanding how each artist achieved the effects they noticed in the artwork, using vocabulary terms from the principles of art and the elements of design, as well as considering different styles of art that might characterize each piece. Finally, Margaret asked students to share what they thought the art meant, or what story was being represented through the art.
The next phase of the residency gave students a chance to walk through the gallery looking at each work of art before settling on a piece that resonated with each of them. Author and teaching artist Shannon Huffman Polson then guided students in a writing exercise that echoed the three questions the students had considered when discussing art with Margaret, as well as contemplating the role of the artworks’ titles and the conflicting moods and emotions that art–like life–sometimes elicits. The final step involved students addressing a personal memory evoked by the art–“What does this art piece make you think of from your own life?”
Follow-up sessions in the classroom with Margaret and Shannon allowed students to create a piece of art in the “snow and indigo” theme, as well as to move toward editing and refining the writing samples they began in the gallery.
This art residency was brought to students by Methow Arts’ Okanogan Region Arts Education Partnership. The partnership serves more than 5,200 students and 370 teachers across Okanogan County with arts programs in classrooms in the Omak, Okanogan, Brewster, Bridgeport, Pateros, and Methow School Districts, and in the Paschal Sherman Indian School. Project sponsors include the Public School Funding Alliance, the Methow Valley Fund of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, the Methow Valley School District, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ArtsWA.
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