Friday, July 24, 2009

Artist Discoveries

And, one more post on July's theme of "great discoveries while researching"...

"The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web." Pablo Picasso

"An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need
to have but that he - for some reason - thinks would be a good idea to give them." Andy Warhol

"Every good artist paints what he is." Jackson Pollock

When researching a new artist, I always find myself asking the same question: "Why the heck did _____ make this?" And, then, after every class discussion, I'm giddy with new found knowledge about the passion of the artist.
Here's the truth: Yes, I took art history in college. For my entire Freshman year, three days a week, five hundred students stumbled into a darkened auditorium. For the next two hours, the instructor in a monotone voice explained slides of pictures from Janson's History of Art. Those chairs were cozy. And, the room was always toasty warm. Perfect sleeping conditions. If you weren't fast asleep, you spent the entire time fighting the natural response of nodding off.
I think I did well in the class only because the exams were multiple choice questions, straight from the book.

Now, while checking which artist I assigned for my own class, I ask, "What the heck was _______ thinking when he created this?" By the way, the benefit of running the program is that I purposely assign artists/artwork instead of letting the volunteers pick out what they want to present. Personally, I'd never make up my mind, but this system challenges me to find something that I (and the students) can relate to.

For example, panic struck when I realized Andy Warhol was the artist who I assigned to my son's Kindergarten class. Yes, several cool Warhol t-shirts were already in my closet, but how to explain Warhol to six-year-olds? What would interest them to sit still and listen for at least 10 minutes?

  • Andy Warhol had 25 cats all named Sam in his house.

Uncle Andy's: A Faabbbulous Visit With Andy Warhol
James Warhola
Putnam 2003

And, I have to mention that I so agree with Betsy Bird's comment about this book in a March 2009 School Library Journal Librarian Preview: I've always felt that Uncle Andy's is one of the more underrated picture books out there. Betsy also listed Warhola's new picture book, Uncle Andy's Cats as: Book I Am Most Looking Forward To In The Coming Season.

  • Pablo Picasso had cats in his studio and his paintings were very reflective of his emotions.

Picasso and Minou
P. I. Maltbie author
Pau Estrada illustrator
Charlesbridge 2008

  • Jackson Pollock was influenced by his childhood growing up in the vastness of Wyoming and the west. He had a tame crow named Caw Caw.
Action Jackson
Jan Greenberg author
Sandra Jordan author
Robert Andrew Parker illustrator
Roaring Brook Press 2007

All three of the above books are perfect reading material to incorporate into an art appreciation presentation to elementary students.
Now, if only I had read a few children's books in college. Then, maybe, I would have appreciated artists and art more back then!


Linda Salzman said...

Ah, The History of Art by H.W. Janson. I remember it well. Did you have the edition with the giant shell on the cover?

After you've solved the curriculum problems on the elementary front you truly need to move on to the college level. If they're still all using Janson exclusively, and I bet most of them are, then they need your help as well.

Mary Couzin said...

Great article!

I was an Art on Parade volunteer at my kids' school and my favorite activity was taping paper under their desks, having them get on the floor on their backs and paint the paper ala Michelangelo. The kids loved it and appreciated the Sistine Chapel even more!

Yat-Yee said...

Who would've thought: artists and cats!

A great question, this: why the heck did so and so make this?