For grades 7-8 and high school level.
There will be two types of lessons to carry out with the students. One will be a series of field trips in order to study nature and the other will contain plans to create abstract paintings from nature and still lifes set up in the studio room.
These walks needn’t be elaborate. A walk around the school grounds will suffice. The important point is to make the students aware of the variety of shapes and forms large and small that occur in nature. Also, to use Arthur Dove’s methods, to categorize the various natural objects picked up or viewed into “a few simple shapes and forms”. In other words first concentrate on the infinite variety and detail of objects found in nature and then move to their basic forms—a move from realism to the abstract. Try to get the students to participate by having them decide whether this or that object is more or less triangular or round or forms a spiral or is flat or spherical. Some of the smaller objects may later be used in still life arrangements in the studio.
STUDIO ART WORK
A working definition of abstract art:
Abstract art emphasizes the arrangement of color, shape and line instead of emphasizing skill in realistic representation of objects.
Abstraction is achieved by:
Fusion of foreground and background
Emphasis of the picture plane
Arbitrary use of color
Arbitrary use of perspective
Working from a still life set up in the studio, have the students help in deciding what sort of objects to use, collecting objects for the still life arrangement, and setting it up in a permanent position. Keep in mind a variety of shape, color and texture. Ask the students to paint as realistic a painting of the still life as possible, a painting that contains.
Well drawn well observed objects
Shadows, light and dark areas on objects
Matched colors to colors of objects
Differentiation of foreground and background
Have students maintain a fixed position. This practice in realism will help the student to observe the objects more intensely so that later he or she will be able to “play” with the objects abstractly.
Using the same still life or a new arrangement discuss with the students the shape of the objects and their most characteristic feature (the one or two features that if removed would make the object totally unrecognizable) and the various objects color and texture. Use examples of Dove, O’Keeffe, Sheeler.
Start another painting emphasizing:
Observation of still life as a collection of simple shapes
Leave out details
Leave out attempts at 3-dimensional illusion
The painting will still look representational but this will be the first move towards abstraction.
FUSION OF FOREGROUND AND BACKGROUND
Using a still life set up, point out to the students the spaces between objects in the still life.
Start another painting emphasizing the shape of spaces. By bringing the background areas into the foreground, this will flatten the picture plane. Use examples of the work of Hartley and Demuth.
EMPHASIS OF THE PICTURE PLANE
Using a still life, discuss the various ways to draw attention to the surface of the picture plane with paint and texture.
Dry brush work
Juxtaposing wet colors
Have students start another still life using paint and texture. Remind them to keep in mind and use or build on techniques learned in previous lessons.
ARBITRARY USE OF COLOR:
Discuss first, using a still life arrangement, the natural color of the objects and the effect one color can have on its neighbor and the color of its shadows light and dark areas.
Start a series of paintings that:
Exaggerate the natural colors of objects
Break tonal colors into separate dashes (pointilism or impressionism)
Choose two or three colors from the still life and use those for the whole painting
Choose any color or color scheme
ARBITRARY USE OF PERSPECTIVE:
Draw a series of views of a still life arrangement from above the set up, at an acute angle, and from below. Use examples of Sheeler’s paintings of interiors to point out how he uses a multiplicity of viewing points in a single work.
Finally, after all these exercises, have the students focus on one or more of the ways to abstract from objects and let them do some creative abstractions on their own.