At the beginning of every unit, I introduce artists and their work to the students for inspiration and ideas. Art History and the study of artists is a good way for them to begin to form connections to their own work. Because this unit will focus in part on finding an artistic voice, both literally and metaphorically, I will use examples of art that can be connected to sound. An example of this is Op Art paintings by Bridget Riley. When discussing art that is not abstract, we can say the voice is the mood the piece creates, such as a Picasso painting from his Blue Period. Generally, these paintings use cool colors, like blue and create a melancholy feeling. The voice in one of these pieces would be one of sadness and the sound would be one that reflects this emotion.
In addition to art and artists, I will also introduce the students to poetry and poets. While reading these poems, the students will discuss the art elements and principles that the sounds can reflect, which can give them ideas on how to create their own pieces of art based on poems. The artists that I have chosen can be adapted to grade level and student needs, but the following are a few that I intend to use in the teaching of this unit.
Elements and Principles of Art
When teaching Visual Art, we must focus on an understanding of the Elements and Principles of Art and Design. There are many different names for these, and even different lists. I will follow the most popular compilation of these as found in the book
Teaching Children Art
by Hobbs & Rush. In Grades 5 and 6, I focus on teaching the elements, which are color, line, shape, value, texture and space. In Grades 7 and 8, we reinforce the elements and begin implementation of the principles, which are variety, unity, movement, stability, rhythm, and balance. "Rhythm is the repetition of identical or similar units in a series. Rhythm in art controls the tempo of movement in a picture or design."
Rhythm is closely related to movement, which is an abstract concept for students in middle school. We will compare rhythm and sound throughout the course of this unit.
M. C. Escher
An easy place to begin when discussing the art principles of movement and rhythm is M.C. Escher. He was born in 1898 into a Dutch family of engineers. His body of work is vast and much of it focuses on tessellations, which are excellent representations of rhythm and often used to connect Mathematics and Visual Art. I will show the students many of Escher's artworks and tessellations. Some examples of pieces we will look at and discuss are
Circle Limit IV
Symmetry Work 25, Three Worlds, Depth, Symmetry Work 105, Symmetry Work 85
We will discuss how these works represent rhythm artistically, and how they can actually create sound in our minds. I will ask students to attribute sound to these pieces of art as one of my classroom activities. We will do this by analyzing the shapes used in the pieces and trying to find a way to create some kind of verbal pattern that coincides with the visual pattern created in the work.
Another artist we will discuss is Bridget Riley and her Op Art paintings. Riley is an English painter who was inspired by Georges Seurat. Op Art, or optical illusions can create a sound. Through the use of visual rhythm and line, many of these pieces can create a visual melody. I will ask the students to try and make sounds that they feel represent the painting. Some of her paintings are a variety of wavy lines, which create some tension. Students will hum a syllable or variety of syllables to represent a work in sound. Works like these focus on the artistic principle of rhythm and will help facilitate the sound-art connection. I feel that all works of art metaphorically have a voice. In an Op Art painting, the voice can be the digitized sounds that the shapes create. Her optical illusions create a visual sound, or rhythm. "Her almost hypnotic images (which she calls 'mysterious presences') are meant to remind the viewer of a feeling or memory."
We will look at Bridget Riley's
Breathe, Blaze 1, Streak,
As previously stated, Wassily Kandinsky is an artist with a firm connection to music, or a Synesthete. Using Kandinsky and his abstract paintings will allow students to connect to music, not just sound. His pieces share similar names of musical elements such as Composition and Improvisation. You can also find musical symbols within some of his paintings. He claimed that "music can respond and appeal directly to the artist's 'internal element' and express spiritual values, thus for Kandinsky it is a more advanced art".
Kandinsky was said to have painted while listening and in response to certain composers of classical music. I will try to recreate this in an activity with students by downloading pieces he listened to and have students create paintings while listening.
Voice / Sound
There are a wide variety of definitions for the word "voice" as defined by the Miriam-Webster dictionary. A few examples of these are: "the power or ability to produce musical tones; an instrument or medium of expression; expiration of air with the vocal cords drawn close so as to vibrate audibly."
Sound is defined by the same source as: "the sensation perceived by the sense of hearing; and mechanical radiant energy that is transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves in a material medium (as air) and is the objective cause of hearing."
In a piece of art, voice, is generally interpreted by the viewer. However, it may have had an intended meaning by the artist who created it. I want my students to be able to somehow connect these visual pieces to sounds they create. They should understand that voice is the way the piece of art speaks to us as the audience. What is this piece saying to us? What is the message it is trying to convey? Sound is not predicated on meaning, it is rather defined by the visual rhythms created in the piece.
There are so many poems that can be used to inspire young readers. This is another aspect of my unit that can and should be adapted based on the target class. I chose several books and poems that I felt would help me make the connection between art and poetry. Edgar Allan Poe is an obvious choice for middle school. His language is easy to understand and his subject matter is extremely intense. I also will use Langston Hughes, as many of the students are familiar with his poetry as well.
uses Romare Bearden's collages as a backdrop for Langston Hughes's poems. The examples I will use provide a good foundation for the connection between the poem and images or symbols that can be used to further convey the meaning of the poem. For example, in
, Romare Bearden's collages reflect life during the Harlem Renaissance, with both its beautiful, exciting arts scene and the run down neighborhoods where many of these artists and musicians lived. This imagery is closely linked to Langston Hughes's poems, first because they were written about similar subject matter, and were created in the same time period. Their mood is similar, mostly because they were two artists struggling with many of the same issues. The link between these two artists is evident in this book and is a great example for the students. Both provide insight into the worlds of these men. The tone that the pieces create, define a mood and intensity that make both so intriguing. There is an excellent book that actually contains famous works of art, with poems written in both their original language and translated into English. This book,
Side By Side
is another resource that I will use as a starting point. Keith Haring also has a book titled
, which is a poem that he wrote using his art as the backdrop. There are many of these types of books, which I will use as inspiration.