Mosaic art is one of the most ancient forms of artistic expression known to man. We’re all very familiar with the concept of Roman mosaics, but the practice is actually much older than the villas we see unearthed on the television. However, what can modern children learn from this ancient art form?

Creating special spaces

The earliest mosaics can be traced back to Ancient China. In those days, they were primarily made from pebbles to form geometric patterns. Slightly later, the Aztecs took mosaics from floors and ceilings and used the concept to decorate ceremonial and religious artefacts and objects, using precious stones. The recurring theme is that mosaics were used to differentiate certain spaces, places and objects from others; they highlighted that they were, somehow, special.

The practice spread to Ancient Greece, although the majority of mosaics still consisted of geometric shapes; it wasn’t until the Romans that we begin to see depictions of mythology, wars and of scenes from everyday life. Without the mosaics left by the Romans, we wouldn’t be as informed about their culture as we are, today.

Using ancient ideas in the modern world

Today, craft specialists believe that teaching children to use mosaics is a great way of communicating the idea that their work can give a lasting record of how they live. In addition to encouraging their abilities to express themselves, it also demands that they look at and observe the world around them, as a historian might. For those who want to comment or record 21st century life in artistic form, using mosaics encourages them to think in ‘snapshot’ terms and decide the aspects of the modern world that are most important or have the greatest impact on them.

Craft teachers are now aware of how mosaic work is also a great way to teach the basics of planning and construction – particularly if it is to be a group endeavour. In addition to creating the initial design, students will have to work out the best and most effective ways to create the picture, working together as a team.

Mosaics might be as old as time, but they still have plenty to teach us in the 21st Century.