Bethel Park students approach exhibit from a variety of viewpoints

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Art has been described as the universal language, and Bethel Park High School teachers are offering their students an opportunity to experience that firsthand.

Teachers from seven disciplines — including chemistry, health and fashion — accompanied more than 170 high school students last week to the Carnegie Museum of Art to view the Carnegie International, an exhibition of new international art in the United States that brings together 35 artists from 19 countries.

Now, the students are working on projects that connect their visit to their subject area.  

English teacher Charles Youngs, a member of the museum’s teacher advisory board, led the interdisciplinary team of teachers.

Others are on the team are art teacher Christen Palombo, creative writing teacher Cortney Falce, chemistry teacher Deborah Pritts, humanities teacher Jeffery Bouch, advanced health teacher Marian Hornfeck and fashion and sewing teacher Karen Potts.

To prepare for their visit, the team attended a day-long training and planning session at the museum in the fall led by Becky Gaugler, assistant curator of education.

Mr. Youngs said the training was particularly helpful for those teachers who had not visited the museum with their students and who do not typically think of their discipline in conjunction with art.

Art and science students focused on works of art that are relevant to a “silent group,” a group that is underrepresented in the mainstream, using the scientific method and the Prown Method of inquiry, which they have studied.

They approached works in the museum with the intuitive, deductive Prown Method by taking notes and making sketches and then refocused their inquiry on the same works while using the scientific method.

Advanced health students viewed works by Guo Fengy, a Chinese philosopher, healer and artist who created drawings that function as cosmic diagrams, healing devices, and art.

As part of their Integrative/Complementary Medicine project, students researched a topic in the integrative medicine field, such as massage, color, crystal, gem, or dance therapy, and then viewed the works from an art therapy perspective and connected it to the topic that they are researching.

“I really want them to think outside the box,” said Ms. Hornfeck, who noted that the majority of her students plan to go into the medical field. “I really hope that they learn a lot from this and I think that they are going to.”

Students in the creative writing class will identify, analyze and evaluate the use of character, setting, theme and plot in selected artworks while working from prompts to produce a series of short narrative writings on site. They will then create poetry and short fiction in response to the art.

Although the fashion and sewing curriculum already includes the elements and principles of design, Ms. Potts said her students enjoyed seeing them demonstrated firsthand. Discussions during the visit included the draping of the garb on statues and the use of color and shape in the layout of each room.

The students will create fashion concept boards based on their interpretation and inspiration of the art they saw during the visit.

“Sometimes I think it’s hard for the students to think outside the box, but I think this field trip helped them to see how you can take a concept and interpret it so many different ways,” she said. “It got them thinking.”

Humanities students searched for expression of ethical philosophies in the works of art and will make short films and artworks in response to pieces in the exhibition. Students will then write a reflective expository essay defending their arguments.

In response to the works in the exhibit, Mr. Young’s Advanced Placement literature students will will collect contemporary works in literature, music, film, media, games and technology and present an exhibition that represents their generation.

All exhibits created by students from the various disciplines will be housed in display cases throughout the school to pique the curiosity of other students and draw them into the art exhibit.

Although incorporating art into the various disciplines proved challenging, Mr. Youngs described the exhibit as a “can’t miss” opportunity, particularly for the students.

“Even though it’s just a school bus ride for them, internationally, this is a big deal in the art world,” he said. “They are going to have the opportunity to be a part of it.”

Funding for the program and student visits was provided by the Grable Foundation.

Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer:

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