Tracing the Influences: A Visual Diary Journey Through the History of Art and Design

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The journey through time in exploring the beautiful history of art, design and architecture is not just captivating – it is a journey of enlightenment as you begin to see the culture, heritage and influences that has been set in stone (or canvas). That said, inspired by a former lecturer’s work from PJCAD, I decided to explore and introduce to the (ICAD) Foundation in Design students the transformative learning tool of a “visual diary.” This post will focus on my exploration of using the visual diary in a classroom setting as a form of conceptual learning through stimulative research.

Student reflecting on the Realism artists and makes brief analysing on Millet’s The Gleaners.
Credit: Andrea Khor

The concept of the visual diary lies in its aim to be a conduit that links historical landmarks of human expression. We see this embedded throughout time in cave paintings and into the pristine beauty of Greco-Roman classicism. Each art period and movement tells a story of its own while making its mark and contributing to modern society. With this in mind, and while noting on the course learning objective of “describing the characteristics of the Western and Eastern art and design styles from ancient to early 20th Century“, students were guided into making a collective of their own.

To make a visual diary, I have to deeply understand and analyse the art movement. So, I have to research through websites and other online platforms, which helped me to know better about it.”

Extracted from the student survey responses.

Kickstarting with the first form of learning strategies is active learning in the classroom – students are introduced to each period or movement with a lecture and are encouraged to be engaged in active participation by observing and identifying some of the defining characteristics in each masterpiece. Each student is given a chance to share their thoughts through in-class verbal discussion. With this creating room for debate and motivating others to raise questions on varied topics ranging from theme to medium and tools.

As the weeks passed on, each page was filled with overlapping artistic representations hailing from the various periods – Gothic art, Renaissance, the Baroque period, industrial design revolution and post-modern architectures were penned in exploration and colour. The study analysis explored and gave a deeper insight into the design elements and characteristics that define the movement or period in its art or architectural form. This applied practice is referenced as visual learning – wherein the diary approach taps into the visual learning style. The engagement stimulates the student into creating sketches and footnotes to aid them in strengthening their independent study approaches on artworks, architectures, and sculptures.

In a survey conducted, one student noted, “the form of mind map to mark the key points corresponding to each knowledge point in order to improve efficiency when reviewing.” A statement that displays the student’s practice into the third applied learning strategy – reflective learning. Each exploration, the learning moves the students beyond the passive consumption of information and demonstrates active engagement into each topic more thoroughly. Here in the following photo, we see the pages extracted from the student’s visual diary, a display of how the information collated and later experimented into his own interpretation of what had been illustrated being reanimated.

(Left) Student’s exploration in creating a Political Sketch inspired by Daumier (Realism Art Movement);
(Right) Using Van Gogh’s technique to recreate a still life artwork. Credits: Oscar Leow

By encouraging students to create their own recreations that are inspired by some of the key artists or movements, the student delves into their creative and experiential learning aspects as it enables them to explore their artistic skills, creative thinking and apply what they learn in a practical manner. As seen in the example above, the student has harmonised the characteristics of the movements and exported it into a localised and creative expression.

“When trying to draw and structure different types of history architecture throughout different times and cultures, helped me appreciate the uniqueness of each specific art design and it’s said period.”

Extracted from the student survey responses.

Needless to say, the incorporation of various learning strategies has resulted in aiding the students to understand the complex interweaving of art periods; the evolution of design, and the creative transformation of architecture while expanding a skill of remembering in preparation for their final exam. In essence, the visual diary is not just a tool but an amalgamated testament of creative expressions and learning strategies to develop critical thinking skills and foster a deeper appreciation of art and design history.

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