What Concepts Were Explored?

What Content Was Taught?


In this section, I present and discuss the major concepts researched:




[Press the concept that you want to explore, by highlighting and hitting it with your mouse.]

Cultural Concept: Communicating Through Petroglyph Symbols


a. What is Culture?

The major aim of our project was to develop cultural understanding. Educators usually conceived of culture as an organized system of beliefs, behaviors, and artifacts. Many art educators agree that the purpose of teaching culture is to promote understanding of other cultures in comparison with our own (Tomhave, 1992). Stoddard (1996) insisted that showing cultural pictures and examples does not guarantee the achievement of cultural understanding. She further implies that simply copying another's artifacts will not constitute learning. She believed that teachers must make connections between the present and past civilizations. Clifford (1988) defined culture as "an open-ended, creative dialogue of subcultures, of insiders and outsiders, of diverse factions" (p. 46). Students from different cultural backgrounds in our study learned how difficult it was to work together when they all had different ideas. They experienced culture as a struggle of "ways of thinking, ways of believing, and ways of valuing" (Heath, 1983).


b. What is Vernacular Architecture?

The type of architecture experienced in this study was vernacular as opposed to modernist [the pursuit of the novel and expressive]. We discovered this characteristic after the course ended. Davis (1991) suggested that vernacular architecture is the "study of buildings of the everyday world....understanding of how things are built--construction and craft processes, the social relations surrounding the building activity" (p. 45). He argued that such repetitive building processes builds on the energy of people, environment, and local economics. Hence students learn much about the limits of ancient and contemporary form, craftsmanship, materials, and functional props, as studied in the fields of architecture and anthropology. In art education, Pietig (1997) expanded the architecture definition to "the total environment built by humans. It includes landscapes as well as urban spaces" (p. 48). She further explained architecture as a social, functional, and interdisciplinary art. Hurwitz and Day (1995) argued for architectural group problem-solving as well.


c. What is Cooperative Learning?

Research collaborations with schools and between students have become important recently. Grisham & Molinelli (1995) argue for skills that promote interdependence. Although group activities are common in studio art teaching (Hurwitz, 1975) few art educators have studied the process. Stoddard (1996) reported results on the process of preservice teachers exploring totem poles. We noticed that her method was not fully cooperative because her college students made their paper animals separately and attached them later. Following her lead, we devised a study of teaching Southwest cultures to middle school students. Our objectives for students were to: 1) develop cooperative learning, 2) engage in multimodal learning, 3) learn facts about and appreciation of ancient cultures, and 4) change their stereotypes about other ways of living.

In our exploratory unit, middle school students planned and executed the process from start to finish. Styles of collaborative learning, based on Michael's (1973) art orientations, evolved. In contrast to Stoddard's findings, we discovered that middle school students seem to undergo a period of technical copying before they can initiate a novel design or approach. Copying may still be a necessary stage, depending on the art medium.



What Was Taught (Course Overview, Concepts, Goals)?

1. What Art Units Were Introduced?

Woodson experimented with this six week course called "Southwest Cultures Through Art" at the sixth grade level for three years. He introduced the following art units:

* cultural benchmarks

* exploring concepts

* artifacts,

* pinch or coil pottery

* rock art pins [petroglyphs]

* architecture

The course unified art and anthropology and offered art history and cultural information, an art criticism exploration, studio problem-solving, cooperative learning, hands-on construction techniques, and final group presentations. The course began with an introduction of 10 important cultural benchmarks (art, music, shelter, food, government, sports, language, clothing, occupation, and education) that students identified by making a cooperative collage. The experience ended with a field trip to the Desert Botanical Garden and Pueblo Grande Museum. This study focused on the architecture unit in which students made three-dimensional clay models in groups.


2. What Were the Multiple Concepts Taught?

Culture is "a complex system of knowledge, behaviors, beliefs, and artifacts" (Abrams, 1987). Woodson identified 28 concepts [20 in art and 8 in culture] to explore in this unit. Among the defined concepts were the anthropological terms: culture, artifact, Anasazi, anthropomorphs, historical progression, Hohokam, kiva, petroglyph, pictographs, pottery, and shaman. Also included were such art terms as aesthetics, architecture, discord, functional art, harmony, iconography, narrative, non-functional, organic, and simplification. I personally think that this list is too long and that 10 major ideas would be enough. I would add the new definition of "culture" as a struggle of ways of thinking, ways of believing, and ways of valuing (Heath, 1983). Students learned about this new idea about culture, the hard way as the course unfolded.


Cultural Benchmarks: Cultural Collage

Woodson identified 10 cultural characteristics by which people understand a culture. These filters included food, sports/games, shelter, clothing, music, religion, language, government, art, and education (Abrams, 1987). To this list, I would add tools and symbols because Woodson used them in his pottery and petroglyph lessons. Woodson also found that students couldn't locate "the Southwest." By pointing to a map, he helped them to identify the Southwestern states. He directed students to explore these concepts by selecting photographs (related to the concept) from magazines and making a group cultural collage. This collage activity is a good introduction of the idea of culture.


Architecture is the art of building structures, especially the ones in which we live. Anthropologists use the word "shelter" as a protection from wind, rain, heat, and animals and housing as part of an entire way of life. Shelters are temporary, movable, and permanent structures. A structure is an assemblage of parts to form a whole, in this case, something three-dimensional, such as a building. Culture shapes housing but housing can also shape culture (Abrams, 1987).

The terms "art" and "structure" are missing from the unit plans. For his basic definitions, Woodson used the Arizona State University approved text, Inquiry into Anthropology (Abrams, 1987). Abrams (1987) defines art as "any object that has been made with additions not necessary for its practical use" (p. 269), plus those objects made with great skill. For the purposes of this unit and these students, I added the definition of art as an expression of ideas, an artifact, a skill, or a trade. Furthermore, I would add this distinction,"These ancient people never called their artifacts art. It is a modern term. The definition of art is open, but theses definitions are temporarily adequate. Abrams suggests that artists communicate ideas or emotions and that "the more you know about a culture, the more you can appreciate its art" (p. 271).


3. Architecture Building Directions.

For the studio component of the architecture lesson, Woodson emphasized role playing, such as being hunters and gatherers for their own materials (clay, stones, other) and builders of model houses. Then he outlined the project: 1) In small groups, build any [ancient Southwest] style house you want; 2) make a simple floor plan that helps you visualize the idea; 3) show how the room is divided and identify the tools [artifacts]; 4) include one half of the roof [as in this pit house model] the [cross-section] construction can be seen; and 4) work cooperatively in your small group by consensus. Consensus means most of you agree. He also presented the following concepts: architecture, floor plan, foundation, cross-section, and cross layering (roof).


4. What Were the Goals of the Course?

* Understand what states [Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Texas] make up the area we call Southwest in the United States and how they are unified by their historical past.

* Create artworks that exhibit problem-solving and reflect an understanding of early Southwest civilizations of the United States [clay houses, pinch pots, petroglyph pins].

* Explore an 3-D architecture model through art criticism by describing, analyzing, interpreting, and judging it.

* Make aesthetic perceptions by comparing and contrasting different architecture and pottery styles.

* Recognize the aesthetic function of the visual arts in society by discussing the effects architecture has in the local community and analyzing how we are alike and different from ancient civilizations [make pots, buildings, draw, weave].

* Philosophize about art and the creative process by making comments that are informed by a knowledge of artistic styles, periods, and cultures being studied [What is architecture? Is architecture art?].

* Identify the range of cultural influences found in looking at the art of the early Hohokam [a massive canal/irrigation system, pottery, petroglyphs] and Anasazi [stone construction in pueblo design and kiva chambers, pots, petroglyphs].

* Identify how art can be used as a stepping stone through culture to have a better understanding of a people and their place in space and time.

(Designed by Larry Woodson)



Abrams, H. L. (1987). Inquiry into anthropology. New York: Globe.

Clifford, J. (1988). The predicament of culture. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Davis, H. (1991). Two futures for vernacular architecture. In Congdon, K., & Blandy, D. (Eds.). Pluralistic approaches to art criticism (pp. 45-57). Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press.

Grisham, D., & Molinelli, P. (1995). Cooperative learning. Westminister, CA:Teacher Created Materials, Inc.

Hurwitz, A. (1975). Group art: The neglected dimension. Art Education, 28 (1).

Hurwitz, A., & Day, M. (1995). Children and their art (6th ed.). New York. Harcourt Brace & Co.

Michael, J. (1983). Art and adolescence: Teaching art at the secondary level. New York: Teachers College Press.

Pietig, J. (1997). Architecture as a metaphor for education. Art Education, 50 (2), 45-51.

Stoddard, S. (1996). Totem poles created by pre-service teachers. Art Education, 49 (3), 12-19.

Tomhave, R. (1992). Value Bases Underlying Conceptions of multicultural education: An analysis of selected literature in art education." Studies in Art Education, 34 (1), 48-60.