I will begin this section by reading Laura Conlon's book,
, to the class. In word and through photographs it provides a very simple description of what a painter does and the material he/she uses. At this time I will introduce such vocabulary terms as canvas, easel, gallery, palette, sculptor, sketching and studio.
From this basic description we will move to a more detailed study of the important elements found in a painting in an effort to prepare my students for the upcoming viewing and analysis of the four paintings described in Section II. I have used the following sources in creating my descriptions of these elements: Clarkin's
National Gallery of Art Activity Book
Looking at Pictures
, and Knapp and Lehmberg's
Off the Wall Museum Guides for Kids
I will be using the four paintings focused on in this unit to lead my students through an examination of the basic art elements found in paintings. To better appreciate the artist's use of color and perspective, we will study Van Gogh's
The Night Café
. Lesson Plan I provides a detailed example of my approach. For the purposes of examining how light is used and mood created we will look at Hopper's
Sunlight in a Cafeteria
. To examine how lines and shapes are used in a painting we will study Picasso's
and to better understand how an artist plans a composition or uses symbols we will look at Dali's
The Persistence of Memory
I have simply defined these basic elements of painting below. The teacher may find these descriptions useful when preparing to present these concepts to their students. However, it is essential that they be presented within the context of a painting to ensure a clearer understanding and appreciation of their role in and effect on the painting.
There are three distances to look for in a painting. The part of the painting closest to the viewer is called the foreground. The middleground is the part between the foreground and the part which is farthest away is called the background. It's important to train yourself to look at each of these distances one after the other consecutively. In this way, the viewer will be able to take notice of and see things that he/she might have missed in the initial viewing of the painting.
Artists use colors to convey feelings and moods within their painting. They can create a cheerful mood by placing bright colors next to each other. They can create a calm or gentle mood by placing soft colors alongside each other. Basically colors can be divided into warm (reds, oranges, yellow) and cool (blues, greens and violets) colors. It is interesting to notice which colors the artist uses, which ones stand out and how colors make you feel as you view the painting. When complementary colors (blue and orange, red and green, yellow and purple) are used alongside each other, they intensify each other and look extra bright. The artist also uses black to tone down colors (shades) and white to lighten them up (tints).
Painters spend a lot of time studying the way light falls. They often experiment with light in their paintings simulating natural light or using hidden spotlights to focus your attention on what they want you to notice in the painting. Light affects the color of the subject and objects in the painting look real and solid if the artist shows the way light falls on them. Use of light and darkness also conveys particular moods in a painting. It is important to look for the light sources in the painting and describe their effect on the appearance of the subjects and on the overall mood it communicates.
Artists use various types of lines (diagonal, curved, vertical, and horizontal) to express ideas and feelings in their paintings. Be sure to look for various lines in a painting and note where they are and what they seem to convey.
An artist uses shapes to express ideas. They may be circles, triangles, rectangles, ovals, or squares. When arranged close together they help add energy to a painting. When placed far apart they look more serene. It is interesting to find both small and large shapes in a painting, counting how many you find of each and noting the similarities they may possess.
Artists seriously plan how they will arrange elements like color, line and shapes in their paintings. This is called composition. Some artists make a master plan before they actually begin the painting. Others plan as they go, deciding how to arrange things as they paint. The composition helps to draw the viewer's eyes into the picture and guides him/her as he/she walks through the painting. A composition is often likened to an invisible skeleton that holds the painting together.
Through perspective artists convey 3-dimension space. Perspective makes a flat picture look 3-dimensional and have depth. How an artist layers the three distances of foreground, middleground and background is one way he/she creates perspective. To create deeper space an artist may make parallel lines come together. To give the effect of distance the artist may make the objects in the background smaller in size, lighter in color or less detailed.
Artists often include symbolic objects in their paintings. A symbol can be defined as something which has a special meaning or a special message. Artists use them to express such ideas as life, death, hope and faith in God. A painting may have hidden meanings within it as expressed in the symbols the artist uses. For example, the sunflower in Van Gogh's paintings represents ideas of the sun, the south, and hope. In paintings by Van Dyck, the sunflower symbolized the king, Charles I.