Tag Archives: transcendentalism

Literature or Art Class?

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Why not both?

One of the unorthodox ideas I tested in the last school year was a “Through the Lens” concept. The idea was to read literature, write a short essay, create a digital art piece (based on student photography), and give a presentation that incorporated both the essay and the art. For 2011-2012, the theme was American Literature. It was an easy place to begin for me, as I had already put together a curriculum for a thematic approach to American Literature with a fellow teacher several years ago. American literature also lends itself to images that are approachable by most teenagers who have some interest in visual arts.

I began with the Transcendentalists. Who better to photograph than Whitman, Thoreau, and Emerson?  The nature element alone makes for good images. All I asked the students to do was to connect the photo to some quote or poem from the readings.

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Opening with such obvious connections allowed me to also discuss photography as storytelling and somehow reaching all five senses with imagery. I used PowerPoint to let me illustrate each point, and I encourage the students to learn PowerPoint for their own presentations. The first semester I allowed them just just share their images and discuss them, but by the end of the each all students were adept at full presentations with multiple slides.

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I will teach a similar course for the 2012-2013 school year, this time centered around the work of C.S. Lewis. If that isn’t unorthodox, I don’t know what is!

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The Logical Conclusion by T.S. Eliot

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Transcendentalists 1

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I’m developing a new approach to teaching literature by making photography/digital design an essential element. The last few sessions we’ve studied the Transcendentalists with an emphasis on Whitman and Thoreau. Emerson became the source for journaling.

The students had to choose a selection from either Thoreau’s Walden or a selection of Whitman’s poetry (Dover has a little book of them, which oddly, leaves out some of my favorites.)
I pulled a section of Thoreau called “Solitude.” It reads, in part:

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows. The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervish in the desert. The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can “see the folks,” and recreate, and as he thinks remunerate himself for his day’s solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone in the house all night and most of the day without ennui and “the blues”; but he does not realize that the student, though in the house, is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it.
Thoreau was, of course, talking about the benefits of solitude. As an introvert, I identify with the idea that society can be exhausting and that a respite is refreshing. However, I also identify the idea that it is possible to be lonely in a crowd, and so I used that idea in my piece. I used a student from another class as my model and took a timed exposure (without a tripod, by the way), having her hold still while other class members walked around her. I desaturated her image and increased saturation on the background students. The digital papers are from my collection (mostly Faith Sisters and DigiDesignResort). I decided to add some word art, play with blending modes, and call it done. It captures the essence of being lonely and I think illustrates Thoreau’s concept of social fatigue.

My students have done some fantastic work with this challenge; I’ll share some eventually.