The word of the day at school was “art.”
Teachers started their day — when there’s an all-school late start like today, the faculty and staff generally take part in meetings or training — in a mini seminar on Artful Thinking. It’s a program developed by Harvard’s Project Zero, with whom we are working to develop and implement the Curriculum for Understanding. It addresses several points of the C4U all in the service of helping students develop thinking routines that help them think deeply and flexibly about, to start with, art. But once those skills are learned, they can be transferred to all disciplines.
The six thinking routines are collected on what Harvard calls the Artful Thinking Palette; they are Reasoning, Questioning and Investigating, Observing and Describing, Comparing and Connecting, Finding Complexity, and Exploring Viewpoints. Teachers use these concepts to get students to think critically about anything from a story in English class to a problem in math to an experiment in science. Students can use each of these different thinking routines, or dispositions, in various ways, connecting and overlapping their techniques, to come to a deeper understanding of anything.
This theory has been used across the country and it seems to help students create meaningful connections between disparate subjects and come to a deeper understanding of those subjects and of themselves. It has been used enough to show that thinking skills can be cultivated, just like artistic skills, by practicing them often. It’s something we work on every day with the C4U, Developing critical thinking is important as we ask students to — in the words of the C4U — examine what they encounter in their lives and imaginations and embrace or reject it as they move to a higher level of questioning.
Art was also the subject of presentations made by artist Dennis Orlowski to the Upper and Middle School students. Orlowski is the artist whose works are on display in the Manoogian Arts Wing through the end of the year. Orlowski, a muralist and portrait painter, discussed his work that adorns, among other places, the walls of St. Anne Church on Mackinac Island, a restaurant in Detroit and the Clinton Macomb Library. He explained the works — and how he got the opportunity to paint them — to the students then demonstrated his skill by drawing a portrait of a student.
He showed them the basics they need to make realistic drawings. They have to know the skeleton and how the muscles fall on it; that when drawing eyes, they must start with a sphere, an eyeball is, after all, a ball. They need to know the proportions of a face — for instance, did you know the ears fall between the eyebrows and the bottom of the nose? — to make it look right. And all these things must be second nature to an artist.
It’s those skills, Orlowski said, that must be cultivated, before you can take your art to the next level. It’s the same with thinking skills that must be developed to take understanding to a higher plane.
By Ron Bernas