Exploring Signs and Symbols

November 08, 2017 at 4:27 PM

Everywhere we look we see signs. Signs give us quick messages such as how fast we can drive, where to enter or exit, or where to find an item in a supermarket and how much it costs. It offers a simple message with the same meaning for everyone, regardless of language. 

In contrast, symbols influence how we feel about something and they work well when we find it difficult to put our thoughts or feelings into words. In visual art, an artist’s use of symbolism, such as the use of colour, placement, scale, pattern and shape, can evoke powerful emotions for artist and observer alike. 

This term, our boys in Year 6 have been looking at ‘how we express ourselves,’ specifically exploring the central idea that ‘our world can be expressed through visual arts.’ They asked, ‘What is art, where is art and how is art communicated?’ 

As cultural documents, works of art provide important insights into both past and existing cultures, helping us to understand how others live and what they value. With this in mind, the boys have explored the many and varied styles of art, and looked at mediums from painting to sculpture. Through their research and discussions, they came to learn that over the centuries, society and particular periods in history have influenced the nature of artistic works, and the way in which they have been used to communicate ideas and feelings. 

Above all, they have come to understand that the making, creating and appreciating of art is a personal experience. 

To support their unit of study, the boys embarked on an enriching experience at Auckland Art Gallery today, exploring the themes of signs and symbols in artwork. The programme was split into two sessions with each group each taking part in a self-guided gallery tour and a studio art lesson. During both activities, staff, parents and the gallery educators discussed with the boys some of the diverse ways artists use symbols in their artworks and what these symbols tell us. 

Over the morning they were encouraged to talk about their ideas, opinions and emotions around many themes and subjects, including identity, historic and modern cultures, imagination and emotion. They also took the time to sit quietly and sketch artworks that caught their imagination, building their growing portfolio of work. As they observed each piece of art, the boys could be heard confidently discussing their creative and critical thinking with each other, using a rich vocabulary of descriptors. 

In the practical art session, the boys were given a simple explanation about signs and symbols that they could all relate to. A tick at the end of a piece of work means we got something right. What about that same tick when it appears on a pair of Nike sports shoes? It could be argued that the tick is symbolic of choosing the correct sportswear. 

The boys learnt how symbols can be representations and how we can use these to tell people about ourselves. Using a template, they were first challenged to express in words what defined them individually, such as their favourite clothing, colour, food, pets, activities or place. From this they built a personal art work, firstly using shapes to block coloured dye sprayed from bottles, before filling in the areas left white with things that are important to them, using lines and colours to compare and contrast the representation of feelings and the meanings associated to these. 

The gallery visit encouraged the boys’ curiosity, awareness and understanding in the arts, helping develop critical thinking skills that are transferrable to other learning environments. Interaction with the art works opened opportunities for discussion, enabling the students to articulate and share their own artistic insights with enthusiasm and confidence. 

The visit certainly fired up the imagination and the boys are now keen to put their learning into further practice back at school!


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