Monday, January 30, 2023

Visual Music Interpretation

 One of my favorite ways to introduce students to Expressionism is to have them learn to feel something and name that feeling. In order to do this, play contrasting musical pieces. It usually works best if it is instrumental only or if the words are in another language so that students can interpret the mood of the piece without getting hung up on the meaning of the lyrics. It's also good if the song is over three minutes; ten to fifteen minutes of continuous music works best.

Students use watercolors to interpret the sound. A fast tempo can result in quick brush strokes; a joyful sound may represented with bright colors. They may paint a representational picture of people dancing or a funeral march, or they can work non-objectively.

Once everyone has made two different paintings from two different pieces of music, students pass their paintings to the neighbor to their right, who is the one to match the images to the first and second songs and explain how they drew that conclusion. They have to find adjectives other than just "happy" and "sad" to describe the paintings in support of their conclusion. 

Koyaanisqatsi by Phillip Glass is a great soundtrack to create a dark, mysterious, suspenseful, gloomy, ancient sound. Pretty much everyone finishes by the first 9 minutes. This is an especially intriguing piece when it follows something as joyful as Beethoven's 9th, or Lady Smith Black Mambazo songs, which feel hopeful and playful. 

Overall, it is a short but powerful interdisciplinary lesson that touches fine arts and language arts. It helps students think analytically and creatively. The experience is also therapeutic. Everyone works quietly and leaves the room feeling more chill than they did when they entered.

Synthetic Cubism Art Project

Picasso and Braque were friends in Paris who had similar ideas about art in the early 1900's. The idea of showing multiple points of view of a still life at the same time somehow seemed more honest or interesting than just one perspective at a time. A cup may be a circle if you trace the bottom onto a piece of paper, or a rectangle if you trace it on it's side. Why not tell the whole store by showing both the rectangle and circle simultaneously?
Another thing the Picasso and Braque did was to introduce collage to their paintings. pieces of newspaper or table cloth along with parts of a guitar and cup may add up to equal the ambiance of a Parisian cafe with someone playing music while you take a sip and read the paper. This synthesis with collaged materials were what made for Synthetic Cubism.

It's hard enough for those of us with sight to understand how cubism used fragmented planes, but for my students with no vision, it was very confusing. They grasped the concept of collaged materials very quickly, however. Wall paper of various textures, and thick to thin cardboard pieces helped students differentiate between and arrange shapes.

Students were asked to leave little clues for the viewer: a hint of a fruit bowl, parts of a table, some wood grain or table cloth pattern.

As an art movement, Cubism didn't last very long, just six years, ending with Braque leaving Paris tin 1914 to go fight in World War I, but the little clues about what was happening in the lives of the artists are still there for us to see.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Georges Seurat and Color Theory Lesson

I've been humming "Que Sera, Sera! Whatever will be will be!" All week as my students have been working on their Seurat style paintings. I've been coming at it from as many angles as I could, making references to the musical "Sunday in the Park with George" and the scene in Ferris Bueller when Cameron is sitting in front of Seurat's most famous painting "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" and going from big picture view to focusing on the individual dots. My students have heard the "I didn't have the Monet to buy the Degas to make the Van Gogh." joke more than once leading up to this project as we've watched videos and had discussions about Impressionists and Neo Impressionists. But one of the most important parts of preparation for this assignment was making a color wheel.
Differentiation is the name of the game when it comes to color theory and students who are visually impaired. Impressionism is about capturing light and color at any given moment so subtle shifts between an orange and a yellow orange are important to capture. My students used red, yellow, and blue to mix and paint all of their secondary and tertiary colors before arranging and gluing them to a neutral background.
For students who are colored blind or completely blind we used Mr. Sketch markers with the scent to match each color. Blue smells like blueberry; red smells like cherry. And instead of mixing paint they would take a pointillist approach and stipple dots of two primaries to make each secondary. The part of the color wheel for green, for example, would have yellow and blue dots together that would read green from a distance. For students who are totally blind added a tactile element as well. Maybe red would be rice and blue would be beans, which means, the green section would have dried rice and beans glued to it.  These adapted color wheel assignments only had primary and secondary colors.

The fun begun when started using their understanding of color to mimic Seurat and use paint brushes or the backs of their pencil or to put small dots of color close together to create the illusion of another color. Middle School students did portraits.
High School students did landscape paintings. We didn't paint en plein air (outside) as the impressionists did, but neither did Seurat for his huge canvases. Instead we walked around campus and took pictures of interesting views. Then we came back to the classroom and printed out the most interesting image by each student.
Students transferred their photo to a large sheet of paper, some of the pencil drawings had to be hot glued in order for students to feel the boundaries of shapes, and then they began to work their magic. The confetti of color and cracks of white paper create a sun dappled effect. In our critique, the images with the greatest value contrast faired the best. I hope students will remember this part of art history fondly and appreciate the special quiet spots on campus more fully, as a result of this project.


Saturday, December 3, 2022

Cardboard Gingerbread Houses & Paper Snowflakes

 Nothing beats edible gingerbread houses for hands-on seasonal craft projects, but when an emergency bulletin board situation arrises, 2D versions can made quickly and easily. Cardboard is the perfect gingerbread color, and white paint is the perfect substitute for piped icing. 

The thing I love most about this simple 30-minute project is the endless variety that can come out of it. It's a great time to talk about parts of a house: door, window, stairs, shutters, roof, chimney, etc. But you can also discuss the importance of shape. A barn is usually a different shape than a castle or a church. The front of a house is different from the side. A rectangle can be a two-story town house, or a southwestern ranch house. Windows can be rectangles, squares, circles, arches. The window size may vary depending on whether it is a store front or a log cabin.  So even though it's an easy and straight forward craft, it brings up such lofty concepts as form and function in architecture. And even very young and totally blind students can choose and paint the house shape before choosing, placing and gluing smaller architectural elements.

Snowflakes are another one of those required childhood craft (see hand turkey post). Some of my students struggle with scissors. Those of us with vision learn so much from observation, but it may be difficult for those who are blind to know how to even hold scissors with the thumb in the small hole and the fingers in the larger hole, thumb up and fingers down, unless someone teaches you explicitly. My students also tend to use the tips of the scissors and close them completely with each snip, when it requires much less effort to slide the paper back towards the thick part of the scissor blades and just close the scissors slowly and partially while maneuvering the paper to make small shapes. For students who scissors are a serious hazard, I just had them fold the paper, which  is a challenge in and of itself. Snowflakes have six points, so getting the 60 degree angle means folding the paper in half, and then finding the center of the fold, making a cone to get complete overlap from the back and two front flaps. Then creasing before cutting the corners will help get a circle with six sections. Some students make the point of their triangle on the folded side and then are surprised when their finished snowflake is two semi-circles instead of one whole. By cutting a V shape on the opened, rounded edge of the triangle, and then cutting a few half diamonds or half hearts on the folded edge, a snowflake can be made with three or four cut shapes. Once a child gets the hang of it, they can become a one-person snow factory and turn a window or tree into a winter wonderland.

Festival of Trees

It's that time of year again! The Museum of Art and Science has it's annual Festival of Trees and my students and I love to! At the Academy for the Blind, we make sure our projects contain a tactile element, but this year, one of my students suggested we incorporate sound. So we made clay bells to hang, and we have a speech device on the tree skirt. It was truly a sensory tree. The museum employees say that children know just what to do when they see the button. They run over, push it, and hear my students wishing them a merry Christmas!
For our 3D snowflakes we used discarded Braille book pages. It's been fun watching my students find words and parts of words on these ornaments that they can read, like little hints on what story may have been contained there before we cut each page up into 6- 3 to 5 inch squares. We folded the squares, diagonally twice to make a triangle, which had three slits cut into the side, parallel to the none-folded bottom, longest side of the triangle, Then we opened and glued the strips to make each of the six portions of the snowflake which were than glued together. You'd probably need to watch a video to know what I'm talking about and there are plenty out there for you to choose from.

We spray painted some red and some green, while leaving plenty of them white. They are supposed to be snowflakes after all, but we didn't want it took look like we just dumped a bunch of copy paper on the tree, and the spray paint helps intensify the Braille's texture. Then we used red and green card stock to make different kids of ornaments, that don't require much time. We were down to the wire
I took about a dozen students on a field trip to the museum to decorate the tree. Our assigned tree ended up being right by the entrance to the museum and it didn't take us long to finish the task. Then we were able to explore the museum.
The hands on exhibits are the most fun, and my high school students are fun enough to participate in things like puppetry, building toys, fossil digs and magnetic tiles. I love the museum; I love my students; and I love celebrating the season!


Clay Bell Ornaments

Making bells out of clay is not as hard as you might think. A simple pinch pot technique is the starting point. I gave my students who were blind a small ball of clay to push their thumb into. By creating a paddle of straight fingers, the thumb and fingers gently press against each other and turned in increments to create even walls and a big enough hollow space for a clapper to move freely. Students rolled a very short coil and attached it to the top of the upside down "pot" and then two holes were poked into the upper part of the bell, and a larger hole at the top of the handle.  Some bells had rubber stamp images pressed into the sides for decoration. Students rolled little balls of clay and poked holes through them for beads, but many of these ended up being too small, or having the hole close up in the drying process.  Remember, clay shrinks, including holes so make everything slightly larger than you want in the end. Plastic beads, jingle bells can be strung on wire and then tied onto the bell through the two holes, but glass beads ended up making the best sound. By spray painting the bells gold and adding some red ribbon, the end product felt much more presentable. Because my students are all blind or low vision, being able to make ornaments that appealed to their sense of hearing made it all the more appreciated. Ring in the season!


Tactile Ornaments

It's easy to make tactile Christmas tree ornaments with young children with dried beans and pasta. My elementary school art students with visual impairments loved making something tactile that they can hang on their family tree. I offered them a piece of mat board cut in the shape of their choice, and then it was a matter of them choosing from bowls of dried foods to glue into place. Some made turtles from pecan shells and beans, others made flowers from pasta shells, but they each ended up with something they could feel and remember for years to come. These can be spray painted silver or gold, or left with the natural colors contrasting with the board. Make the next snow day a craft day and try this simple ornament idea with your kiddos!