My objective in this unit is twofold and based upon a French art class. I intend to use several examples of the visual art of Thomas Eakins from America, and Gustave Caillebotte and Edgar Degas from the later nineteenth century in France, to introduce my students to three similar, though very different contemporary artists. To complement their work, I will include examples of the verbal arts from the American poet, Walt Whitman. It is my hope that we may be able to form some parallels between art and prose, between one culture and another, by viewing and hearing the shouting that comes from their silent art.
My students will experiment with several different, though complementary, modes of communication in this endeavor. First, they will research the lives and times of these primary artists. What was happening in both their countries in subtle and cataclysmic ways? What subjects held the artists' attention? How did the rapidly changing faces of Paris and Philadelphia impact the lives of these artists and of ordinary citizens? How did the development of science and technology impact the outside world, and therefore their painting? What did people do, and how were their customs changed by the rapid race towards knowledge and information? In examining these themes, students will learn to appreciate the differences and similarities between America and France in the context of their art. In so doing, they will come to know about the traditions, customs and dreams that energized their own world and nurtured their creativity.
Secondly, students will experience the art first hand, at the Yale University Art Gallery. They will visit the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In order to experience the paintings of French artists whose work is elsewhere, they will visit to the Louvre and the Orsay museums in Paris by means of a virtual visit on CD ROMs.
Next, my students will take a closer look at photography and how it may have influenced the painters we will examine. We will ask questions about space, the arrangement of objects and about figures and their environment. How can photography be used to catch a "slice of life?" What does a photograph show that a painting can or might not reveal, and vice versa? Why would an artist use photography to contribute to his/her painting? Students will experiment first through the eye of a lens, and then through the medium of pencil or oil pastels when they create their snapshot on paper. Then, with the help of the school art teacher, students will create a painting on canvas. In this hands-on, studio experience students will broaden their awareness of what is seen and unseen and how art may be created with both in mind.
Finally, they will write in-depth analyses of several paintings, with close attention to line, color, perspective and content; and then learn how to make assumptions about the painters and their work based upon their observations. In addition to this detailed analysis, students will write, in a form of their choosing, about an object they see: either through the analytical eyes of a critic, a poet using more succinct, sensory vocabulary
or, in a more anecdotal way, as a spectator "on the scene" of the painting. My hope is that an example of visual art becomes a matter for language as well as sight. In that way, the vocabulary of words may offer another way to describe the vocabulary of a painting.