CLARENDON HILLS – In the summer of 1889, Vincent van Gogh created one of the most iconic works in art history – “The Starry Night.”
The surreal nature of this oil painting isn’t that it’s a canvas of colors thoughtfully strung together, but the fact that even 125 years later, the image invokes the same curiosity and genuine interest of viewers, including young children.
Local educators recently expanded a program which similarly tries to expand students’ thought processes through art.
Art Express, presented by the Prospect School PTA, is a program that has taken place at Prospect School for about five years. First, teachers carefully select pieces of art, which align with a given lesson plan. Then, the artwork is presented to the students, who are instructed to “read” the piece, effectively using both the right and left sides of one’s brain.
“You can just see their minds working on what they see and working it into the context of the painting,” said Barb Maduzia of Clarendon Hills, a member of the Parent Teacher Association and coordinator for the Art Express program.
For example, Maduzia said while first graders are learning about Washington, D.C., they will be introduced to paintings of George Washington; or, when fourth graders learn about Paul Revere, they can view two varying portrait styles of him and then engage in discussion.
“It really ties in with the curriculum they’re doing, and the paintings are carefully selected so it really matches what the kids are learning in school,” Maduzia said.
But, introducing the program to fifth grade students was always more of a challenge because there was more in the curriculum causing time restraints, according to Maduzia.
That was until she suggested that the program be utilized in Prospects’ Spanish classes.
“When Barb called me I thought, ‘this is such a natural thing to do,’” said Mirta Evans, Spanish teacher in District 181. “It fits right into our curriculum.”
Last year, Evans started displaying works by artist Carmen Lomas Garza in her Spanish classes as it was “perfect” for the kids.
“By the end of the year, they know what her paintings look like,” Evans said. “They know the things to look for and they know what the characteristics of her artwork are.”
Evans explained that the art also introduces her students to what’s beyond the canvas.
“They also get a better perspective on Mexican culture and they learn about each other as students because there are many different nationalities that are studied,” she said.
Students are also asked to use critical thinking when it comes to analyzing the art.
Teachers often ask the class what they think happened right before a particular piece was painted, what effect the work had on society, or what meaning and feeling the artist was trying to convey.
“The kids have a chance to form their own opinion, state their thoughts and back them up with what they see,” Maduzia said.
Art Express was introduced at Prospect and is currently taking place at Prospect, Elm, Oak and The Lane. Maduzia said she hopes to jumpstart the program at the rest of the District 181 schools during the 2014-15 school year.
Evans agreed, and said the enthusiasm is evident with all her students.
“Just the excitement you see in them it makes it all worthwhile,” Evans said. “They’re excited about what they’ve learned and they recognized these paintings.”