I have written elsewhere about my admiration for Frank Gehry. In the documentary by Sydney Pollack, it opens with drawings (sqiggles) by Mr. Gehry, while Frank in the underlying audio track says "You think starting is hard? You bet it is."
So, I poke and prod my students but "frank" truth, I have the same reluctance to place that first stroke on that white canvas. So, the Saturday before last, I took out the stuff: the l'huille d'lin (linseed oil) and colored oil paints, and my bigger brushes and I started.
Swash, splash, and slob it on, I did not care ...it was just a free flow of fat, wet, loose paint on a big surface (1.9 x 1.3 M = 75 x 51") and there is just so much of it, it just did not seem to matter if I made any mistake; it would be recovered in the main.
The truth be known, I could not resist and at the same time I had no idea what I was doing, just using everything I know and everything I don't.
I got to "step 1" and stopped.
Then "step 2"
and tonight after a four day rest "step 3".
I am sure that tomorrow I will regret some of my spastic work, but I will remember that it is just "goo" on a "surface"
May 18, 2009 We have nearly completed a "do it yourself" Art history independent research assignment with all four classes of my senior high students, 9 through 12 grade.
Until this project we have: studied and produced still life drawings on canson paper with dry media using Cezanne as a reference, drawn life drawing proportion, expression and exaggeration based upon the work of Rico Lebrun and Picasso’s Guernica, painted surrealist paintings based upon Magritte and others, discussed Dada and its influence on the discussion of art of idea, produced a meter x 0.8 meter photorealism canvas; now it was time for a change of work method; a “DIY” research paper.
The students start with an artist or movement that they think they could love and are instructed to research the web, the library and ebsco, a library source for print articles that the school owns, and are asked to write a thesis statement. The idea is something like this: Artist or movement "A" influenced Artist or movement "B" in such a way that "C". Once agreed upon the student builds a bubble diagram or outline.
The assignment promises that if they will dig in, work and do the process (resulting in a 10 page paper and PowerPoint with at least 10 reproductions/examples of each "A" and "B" that they will be rewarded with a benchmark art history paper and a passion for that artist or artists that will change their own life, perceptions and work practices. The project started March 5th and I supervised all four senior higher classes (42 students) to look and read seek and find, record and think for eight weeks.
Some of the presentations and some of the papers are simply put; amazing. Some of the papers were weak but so far the presentations have proved well conceived and some are even moving. Students have pressed and have found incredible examples of influence. The best originals included Hokusai on Monet, Caravaggio in relation to Rembrandt, Christian Audigier and the Zeis School, Hogarth and Thomas Frye, Cubism on Abstract Art using four key artists, Pininfarina on Frank Stephenson auto designer etc.
One student (completely plagiarized) wrote: Warhol was fascinated by Hollywood, fashion and style and like his contemporaries Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, he borrowed images from popular culture for his artwork. He was also influenced by Marcel Duchamp, who took ordinary objects and displayed them as "readymade" works of art. And added the original statement …Andy Warhol turned himself into a great influencer himself.
Regardless of questionable practices…every single student has confessed an overwhelming love (or hate) for the artist. One student came in and passionately told me "Mister, I am in love with a dead guy...Renior is a hero, he never gave up"
This next is from my youngest student who is also least fluent in English. She came to me about 2 weeks ago to talk and I determined that she had done very little. "I hate Picasso" she said. "Then, why did you pick Picasso" I asked. "Because I thought he would be easy" she snapped. We continued to explore this and I found that she had looked a tremedious amount of his work ….looked at but not “read about”. I have since discovered from her ESL teacher that her reading level in English is about grade 3.
Leslie and I own a copy of "Life with Picasso" by Françoise Gilot, Picasso's third "wife". I asked this student who again please note, is first-language-French-speaking if she would read this book. She agreed and is now nearly finished. While I am not sure about comprehension, I note that she is extremely zealous about her discoveries in the work of Picasso. I have given her a special contract to extend her deadline to June 1st, and asked her ESL teacher-coach to join me in keeping her on task.
Last Thursday, she presented her PowerPoint. She had absolutely the best examples of any student, depicting influences (and the direct appropriation of images) of Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Paul Cézanne, Rousseau and African art upon the work of Picasso and specifically on Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) a large oil painting from 1907 by Picasso.
Here is her first writing received today:
________ Picasso, is a huge artist, everybody knows Picasso, he changer ART, he made ART!! Before to know about him, i was always asking myself what did Picasso to be so famous, and what he did to change Art history???
Now, i know, he was someone really bad, he was lazy, but he was an artist, a real one. He learned a little from everybody, he took the best and he was so smart that when he (reunir) what he learned from Matisse, Rousseau, Cezanne, African Art.. it was his Art, Picasso's Art, and it was better than Rousseau, Matisse..
He can have nothing and made something. People always think that Picasso was a perfect man, he knew how to paint... but the truth, Picasso learned how to learn, and he make himself his own Art..
Picasso stay and will stay forever for us the biggest artist ever because he knew how to answer every moment of his life..
(How he would know that someone like me, will be so fascined by his art...)
Throughout the winter of 2008 and early in 2009, all classes worked on larger scale paintings.
(Middle School Art) The two classes of middle school students worked on individual "tiles" or sections of two rather unique murals. One mural featured Mussorgsky's "Pictures in an Exhibition" and the other was based upon the famous children’s symphony "Peter and the Wolf" by Sergei Prokofiev. Students first listened to the music and sketched ideas for the characters and the instruments. Then after scanning all of the individual drawings into “jpgs”, I spent several days designing the large murals using the students drawings combined with copyright-free photos from the web. Using Adobe Photoshop to manipulate the photos to hi-key contrast and to posterize them, I then layered the work and designed the layouts in a very large Photoshop file.
Once the composition was finished, it was output to Illustrator, then as “.eps” to “.pdf” and then each of the 24 “tiles” was printed in full tone grayscale on letterhead sized paper.
The first job was to get some color. The idea was that we would paint with bright rainbow color, a field to cover each of the smaller canvases. So each student was given a 70 x 50 cm (28 x 20”) canvas, and proceeded to paint whatever they wished to create a large color field. We used only the primary colors: magenta, cyan and yellow acrylic, and the students mixed their own color variations for oranges, greens, violets and other colors. Once these were completed, the color tubes were put away and only black and white tubes were made available. Students first were instructed to paint the white highlight areas first and then the grey value tones and then the blacks.
Each student used a scale-up technique that we had used on a prior assignment and then they mixed values on little plastic plates, used as palettes. Each student was required to use a rather large 12 mm wide (½” wide) boar’s bristle brush. Each student was also required to bring their own brush and care for it and clean it and their work areas. (This point was a small nightmare for the teacher but we will leave that to your imagination.) Each student worked in our “atelier” at their own easel.
A quick note here about the easels: We needed 40 easels for the new art department at the beginning of the year. Fortunately, one of the directors had given me an unused mini easel (about 20” tall), which I originally nearly declined as it was so small. But later, I was able to use this as the model for the local carpenter, who used it to make our first six foot tall prototype and in turn, forty more for about a quarter of the cost of an imported art easel. We are using these easels now in every class and they are really wonderful.
The “atelier” is the special name for the class which I was after much negotiation, able to acquire. It is a double sized classroom upstairs in the unfinished portion of the school. We measured off the classroom walls with blue masking tape to separate the “artists” by about one and a half meters each. Each student had his/her own workspace and this reduced the shenanigans by some percentage. I still found many delightful and unexpected surprises. For example to turn around to see one young man trying to pants his neighbor, or another running after another student with a loaded paint brush hollering “I’m gonna get you..back”! There were several serious talks at the top of my lungs and several much delayed detentions given. But all in all when you look at the result, it is a really big work and the many latitudes (and errors) made by the students come finally together in a very sweet semi-abstracted work.
These two large murals will hang in the music room, and not only provide color and interest but will act as an acoustic dampener for a very acoustically bright room. I only wish the artworks would have helped dampen some of the extra acoustic chatter during the painting of the murals!