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Defining an Aesthetic Philosophy

A student's personal aesthetic is an important part of the Sustained Investigation (Concentration) section of the AP Studio Art portfolio. Aesthetics is defined by many as a personal inquiry, understanding, and response. This is exactly what the Sustained Investigation (Concentration) section is designed to determine.

Your guidance is crucial. You initiate students' understanding and aesthetic growth through the specific expectations of the Sustained Investigation (Concentration).

"You just don't like my art, and I worked really hard on it," is not an uncommon student comment. The question is: Are we teaching AP expectations and AP's aesthetic, or AP expectations within the students' aesthetic?

Below are some important strategies you can use to help develop students' visual awareness and personal aesthetic beyond the technical aspects of the portfolio. These strategies will help determine if the Sustained Investigation (Concentration) works within a student's particular aesthetic inquiry and response.

Using the Sustained Investigation (Concentration) to Express Values

Consider the following when you help your students develop their Sustained Investigation (Concentration) sections:

  • How can a personal aesthetic be shared equally in the AP classroom and in the AP portfolio?
  • How can I help develop the student's personal, aesthetic voice instead of encouraging the student to adopt my own aesthetic?

Have your students develop their own aesthetic perception through the technical expectations and visual acuity of the Sustained Investigation (Concentration). Ask the following questions:

  • What does the student value?
  • What is the single most important issue to the student?
  • How can this be developed visually?

These simple but demanding questions can prompt a student's epiphany. When the student becomes engaged with a particular idea, the aesthetic moment emerges. Your responsibility is to make sure the student's idea is competently composed, technically proficient, and clearly expressed visually.

As the idea emerges, the student's aesthetic understanding grows stronger, requiring less of your direct studio influence. The student's technical skill, visual organization, and personal aesthetic become tightly interwoven. These interwoven qualities provide the clarity expected within the AP portfolio.

Interpretive Strategies in the AP Classroom

How can we guide our students to develop and enhance their perception and cognition within their visual responses? Art educator Terry Barrett (2003, 198) provides many strategies to engage students in the interpretive process so valuable in the AP classroom. Some suggestions adaptable to the AP portfolio can be found in his Interpreting Art: Reflecting, Wondering, and Responding.

Barrett says "Artworks are always about something; to interpret a work of art is to understand it in language; and, good interpretations have coherence, correspondence, and inclusiveness." Essentially, that is what a Sustained Investigation (Concentration) addresses: a personal idea and aesthetic presented visually with coherence and correspondence.

Having your students discuss their cohesive, thematic ideas and images communally and individually, and correspond critically and analytically, are positive steps toward an engaging and meaningful portfolio.

Another strategy is to have students collect items that support their Sustained Investigation (Concentration) ideas and deposit those items in their personal journal. These collections can take the following forms:

  • Collecting information pivotal to the emergence of the idea historically, socially, and culturally
  • Locating different mass media and pop culture connections to the idea
  • Charting lyrics, rhythms, and tempos (musical, seasonal, universal) that might be exploited visually
  • Discovering textures and colors found in common items such as candy wrappers or fabric designs
  • Distilling a variety of visual information to meaningfully connect with the Concentration. Individual growth and discovery are generated through visual literacy to enhance a personal aesthetic.

A good Sustained Investigation (Concentration) is one that the student determines and directs—with your guidance. However, students who take full control of the work are empowered and involved with a highly personal and potent image. It is important that students take control and develop their own ideas. It is the student's personal engagement that pushes their thinking and art-making past the stereotypical and convenient responses they come up with at the beginning of their research. Easy and trite answers come so easily at first, but through a sustained investigation, students can achieve a deeper personal, visual statement of excellence.

Ask your students to analyze their images frequently, both objectively and critically, based on "the three Cs":

  • Composition: Is there evidence of competent visual organization?
  • Craftsmanship: Is there evidence of technical proficiency and visual acuity?
  • Concept: Is there evidence of a clear conceptual idea viewers can recognize and understand?

Answering these questions honestly and objectively empowers students. It lets them make important decisions to develop their Sustained Investigation (Concentration).

Authored by

  • Steve Willis
    Missouri State University
    Springfield, Missouri