The Grade 5 students spent nearly 2 months focusing on aesthetics and the central idea that aesthetic expression can be influenced by a culture's history and values.
Looking at how traditions are related across genres and over time and at how local traditions are similar and different to one's home culture, the students focused initially on Japan. Concepts such as "wabi-sabi" (beauty in imperfection, hidden & transient beauty) and "ma" (space, such as the space in between sounds) were focal points, as were various Japanese arts which students were able to explore and research according to their interests.
In art class, the How We Express Ourselves unit began and ended with each student defining the word "beauty" for him/herself. On that first day, the students were presented with a pile of trash and discarded stuff and challenged to "make something beautiful". Here are the results.
In the intervening weeks, students engaged in a variety of activities, culminating in each student's presentation of an original work of art or design:
- Explored an interactive PowerPoint experience ("Japanese Arts & Aesthetic Exploration") to pursue the traditional Japanese arts they wanted to learn more about: calligraphy, ceramics, flower arranging/ikebana, tea ceremony, architecture, dolls, paper folding/origami, painting, gardens, sculpture, printmaking/ukiyo-e.
- Two engaging visits from the artists Shoichi & Colleen Sakurai, who (1) introduced the students to the concept of "wabi sabi" and kicked-off their Wabi Sabi Project — creating wearable art from found and discarded materials — and (2) returned to assist the students' in creating their projects.
- Experimentation with specific Media, Tools, and Processes in art class, to be used in the creation of their Wabi Sabi Art.
Photos from one of the visits Shoichi & Colleen's had with grade 5:
The Aesthetics unit culminated with the children's presentation of their own wabi-sabi projects. Projects created from random trash and discarded objects included: handbags, a rain-protective bike helmet, picture frames, hats, a dartboard, a dress, a Christmas ornament, a sun-powered lamp, a candlelit lamp, a game, a cooking apron, a baby's toy, necklaces, an ornamental wall hanging, a ring/jewelry, and a lot more. As the students presented their creations to the audience, a partner read their self-reflection which described their process, their materials, and their inspiration.
This unit of study is a one on which nearly all the Grade 5 teachers (homeroom, arts, and Japanese) collaborated. It has been an enlightening and engaging experience for students and teachers alike. We'll end with some of the students' recent definitions of 'beauty':
- "Beauty is the thing made by human that made with person's feeling and time."
- "Beauty is something that is pleasing to the eye and makes you feel good."
- "Beauty is something that makes you love nature."
- "Beauty is something that expresses someone's opinions through simplicity."
- "Beauty is a combination of shapes, lines, and colors which is aesthetically pleasing."