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Chinese Art and Architecture and Japanese Art and Architecture

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Chinese Art and Architecture

Written and Narrated by Ronald M. Bernier
Edited by Ann Campbell

Japanese Art and Architecture

Written and Narrated by Ronald M. Bernier
Edited by Ann Campbell
P.O. BOX 1882
BOULDER, CO 80306-1882

Reviewed by Ann W. Norton

These splendid multicultural programs can help educators and a broad range of students to become familiar with the richness of Chinese and Japanese cultures. The choices of images and facts have been carefully culled to bring alive the history and artistic heritage of East Asia.

Examples of art and architecture are used to help illustrate the philosophical and socio-political aspects of the cultures. The spoken text, written and narrated by Ronald M. Bernier, is accurate and concise. Contemporary photographs of towns, villages, and landscapes, as well as contextual slides, are used in conjunction with the voiceover. Details of artworks are often included in split-screen format.

Workbook page of Chinese Art and Architecture
Typical workbook page. Used with permission from Alarion Press

One example of a complex subject masterfully handled in Chinese Art and Architecture is that of Shang bronze vessels. The illustrated discussion includes the technique of their manufacture, their function within the culture, and the interpretation of the taotie (t’aot’ieh) often associated with them. In the accompanying workbooks, written and illustrated by Ann Campbell, the subject is further enhanced by a diagram and related projects. Along with this topic are such classroom project suggestions as carving a taotie mask on a clay pot “as if you planned to cast it in bronze.”

In Japanese Art and Architecture the program begins with early tomb art, moves on through various religious and secular works, and ends with contemporary Japan’s continuing to honor ancient traditions. The portion on Zen Buddhism is particularly well done, including diagrams and class projects in the Japanese “dry garden” and ikebana.

Line drawing from Creative Workbook and Teacher’s Manual for The Art and Architecture of China
Drawing by Ann Campbell From Creative Workbook and Teacher’s Manual for The Art and Architecture of China Used with permission from Alarion Press

The elementary offering of Chinese Art and Architecture also includes a CD ROM for the Macintosh. The fact that a student can move about the material at his or her own pace is appealing. The background music further enhances the multimedia experience. This choice of such interactive technology is particularly commendable, and hopefully the entire set will have this additional format in the future.

The videos, creative workbooks, teaching manuals and wall posters of these two programs are well coordinated. The same basic information is covered in both the elementary and advanced examples, but with appropriate development in sophistication. Elementary students even earlier than grade 5 could benefit from the videos and “Look and Do” workbooks. The programs labeled “grade 9-adult” are well suited to any high school expanding its multicultural offerings, and could also be useful as an introductory reference complementing first-year college courses in Asian art and culture.

The Teaching Manual describes the goal of author Ronald Bernier as “above all to bring works of art to life as catalysts to understanding entire cultures.” These programs offer a superb vehicle for developing awareness and understanding of East Asian civilizations. Now is the time for more schools to purchase such quality resources and for more educators to accept the challenge of conveying this exciting material to their students.