When considering the possibilities of arts integration, an important area to consider is audience. Who is the audience for the art? Is it just the teacher? Does it include classmates? Could the audience be the student themself? Could the audience extend beyond classroom walls?
Our experiences have shown us the value of choosing many of these options. We have also learned that the answers to these questions do not need to oppose each other. Personal art responses to literature have prompted and sustained our students’ experiences of healing, lament, and hope. When art integration stems out of “enduring ideas” such as relationships, identity, family, conflict, and home (Stewart & Walker, 2005), students are able to draw from their lived experiences in deep and meaningful ways. Art for oneself can help them work through their feelings and personal reactions to a book’s topics or themes.
“Enduring ideas,” however, represent universalities to audiences beyond the individual student, classroom, and school. The question of whether or not the audience for the artwork is inside or outside classroom walls can expand to include all of the above when art is placed in the context of these larger ideas. Our community-wide reading program has tried to create space for students to create art in order to respond personally to the issues in a chosen book but also to speak to our larger community. We have seen students create deeply personal art in response to the racism in To Kill a Mockingbird and When the Emperor was Divine; we have also seen this art raise societal questions and social commentary that is timely and relevant to our geographic community.
In sharing this art with an outside audience, an audience beyond that of the classroom and school, we have seen an increase in student investment, ownership, and engagement. Our students are empowered when they realize that they have something to say, something to teach a larger audience. Some of our favorite moments with arts integration have been seeing students excited about their displayed work at our community event and enthusiastically pointing out to family and friends their specific contributions in the collaborative art pieces.
Stewart, M., & Walker, S. (2005). Rethinking curriculum in art. Worcester, MI: Davis Publications.