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.