The highlight of yesterday’s art appreciation class was an arm wrestling contest between me and one of my 2nd graders. After the contest was over, all the students eagerly rushed back to their seats to write down on their worksheets what arm wrestling had taught them about the painting we were looking at.
What did arm wrestling have to do with art? What new insights into our artwork did they gain?
--“clues” that showed that the two men looked focused.
(Can you pick out some clues?)
The students found a couple of good clues, but I wanted them to notice and understand more subtle details of “focus”. They pointed out the men’s direct gazes and the muscles strained in effort. Those were great clues, but there were two more that I wanted them to see. For one subtle clue, I circled the two men’s mouths. “Why did you circle the mouths?” one student asked. They didn’t quite see a tensed mouth as an apparent sign of focus. For the other clue, I wanted them to see that the men were concentrating so much they were ignoring the shouts of the crowd. But rather than simply explain this, I decided to have them experience it.
I had one of the students come up to compete against me in an arm wrestling contest. I asked the rest of the class to be an enthusiastic crowd shouting encouragement. As soon as the contest started, the "crowd" did their job. My young competitor looked up at the cheering, and losing focus on the competition, I made sure he lost. “Now,” I instructed him, “Let’s do this again, and I want you to ignore the crowd, and really concentrate.” He turned away from the crowd, stared down at our tensed arms, and tightened his mouth. The students saw a mirror image of the blacksmiths’ mouths. And when the students started cheering, he ignored them and stayed focused. As soon as he defeated me with his superior focus, the students excitedly rushed back to their seats, excited to write down the two new visual clues for "focus" they'd just experienced.