Art English (1994)

R.J. Preece (EFL) , Margaret Tisa
English for Art & Design | 12 January 2011
This review first appeared in the PennTESOL-East Newsletter (Winter 1994), page 14. Click to see the English for Art and Design overview page.

Art English

Over the past few years, English as a Second Language programs have sprouted up at art and design schools in the United States and Japan; most notably at the Kanazawa International Design Institute (an affiliate of the Parsons School of Design in New York), the School of Visual Arts in New York, and the Rhode Island School of Design. Due to art schools’ relative isolation from universities at large, ESL programs have been able to specialize their curriculum to serve the needs of the art student. These programs lend themselves to further development and indicate the emergence of a new area in ESL, which we will call Art English.

At present, Art English is a combination of ESL with art content. As with the previously established ESP fields of Business English, English for Science and Technology, and Medical English, Art English has several challenges: (1) developing a suitable combination of art content and ESL in an ESP framework; (2) developing textbooks; (3) creating networks of information exchange with similar efforts in the field and (4) realizing, due to the unique English needs of the art curriculum and the needs of its students, the lack of an Art English curriculum model.

For the art student, coursework includes a combination of art studio and liberal arts requirements. Unlike other disciplines, many classes for the art student do not demand extremely high English proficiency. Studio classes, at least initially, are not language demanding, as they focus on art production with its inherent context-embedded visual language. This allows the art student to take studio classes when he or she is at a lower language level than that required for other disciplines. Most often, liberal arts requirements can be taken at a later time when a student has developed greater fluency.

At the Intensive English Language Program at Temple University, Art English serves as an advanced-level content elective and at the same time as a pre-course for an undergraduate arts requirement at the University. The course also provides foreign students with a rewarding study-abroad experience in the United States. The seven-week course is made up of four components: art language/binder workshop; notetaking/lecture-listening; practical reading; and, a study-tour component in the European study-abroad tradition. During the course, we train the student to develop confidence and competence to master the skills required in the art analytical process.

For the first component we present a 15-minute lecture using slides followed by a seminar activity wherein students analyze works of art with the aid of a prompt sheet. In the process they develop speed and accuracy in talking about works of art. While the language stays the same, the context continually changes, allowing students to acquire the language and visual skills necessary to master the course. During the seminar, students take notes and use them to write their essays. With these essays, thirty in all, the students create a binder arranged in chronological order, thereby laying the foundation for an understanding of the history of art. The second component deals with lecture listening/notetaking activities with sections on painting, sculpture, and architecture.

The third component is comprised of critical reading activities dealing with Renaissance art, perhaps the most important period for understanding the Western tradition in art. Students analyze excerpts from an introduction to art history text to discover the relationships between styles, artists working within each style, and works of individual artists.

The fourth component, modeled after the instructor’s experience studying art history at the Tyler School of Art in Rome, takes students out of the classroom to analyze significant works of art and architecture in Philadelphia. Study tours include looking at paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, outdoor sculpture and public space around Philadelphia’s City Hall, and Colonial and Neo-classical architecture in historic Philadelphia. Students compare and contrast various works and incorporate their analyses into their binders.

The implications of Art English are significant. Art English allows for art and design schools to accept international students in greater numbers and create a more dynamic international environment where artists from a variety of cultures come together to produce art and talk about it in detail. While art is a visual language, the common verbal language, English, provides greater opportunity for the exchange of ideas. ESL art students can come to know through all their senses the thinking behind an image within its cultural context.