Friday, October 16, 2009

Action Jackson in the Classroom

In celebration of our new Ink Think Tank Database, I would like to share a classroom activity for my book Action Jackson (K-4). I hope classroom and art teachers, as well as librarians, will find this teaching guide useful. The section called Responding to Art can be applied to other paintings, as well.
Begin by reading Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. You can read it out loud, have the children take turns reading it aloud, or allow them time to read it to themselves. Then let everyone take good look at the reproduction of Jackson Pollock’s painting, Lavender Mist. Children should also have the chance to look at any work of Pollock’s that you have in your collection.


The Abstract Expressionists abandoned the idea that painting is a picture window looking into the real world. To these artists and others who followed them, three-dimensional effects in painting were sheer illusion. A painting to them was a flat surface with paint on it, an object to be appreciated for its own sake. The subject matter of these paintings is not realistic image, as in a portrait or still life. The subject matter is color or line or shape or texture, or the relationships among these elements. The artists use color or line to translate their emotions on canvas, stressing risk and unpredictability, thus capturing the mood and rhythm of contemporary life.

Born 1912, Cody, Wyoming; died 1956, The Springs, New York.
Studied at the Art Students League, New York. His large paintings, in which he dripped and poured paint on canvas spread on the floor, are considered the most starling and influential paintings of his generation. Drip painting, action painting, and gestural painting are some of the terms that critics have applied to Pollock’s unrestrained creations.

What do you say after you say, “I like this painting” or “I don’t like it?” For a moment, forget how you feel about the painting and think about what feelings the painting expresses. You can figure this out by answering some questions:
1. Do your eyes travel all around the painting, or focus on one spot in the center?
Is there a repeated pattern?
2. What do you see? Is it a house or a tree or a design without a recognizable
3. Sensory words refer to qualities in the painting that appeal to your five senses: sight, touch, smell, sound, or taste. What are some sensory words that describe the elements of color, line, shape, or texture in the painting?
a. Are the colors bright or dull, soft or garish?
b. Are the lines straight or curvy, wavy or angular?
c. Is the paint thick or thin? If you put your hand on the surface would it be flat or bumpy?
d. What kind of shapes do you see?
e. If you were to step inside the canvas, would you move slowly or quickly? Would it feel as if you were walking on a soft cloud, on rocks, or through syrup?
4. What is the mood of the painting as expressed by the colors, lines, shapes, and texture?
5. What kind of music would you choose to go with the painting? Jazz, rock and roll, or classical?
6. Pretend you are holding a paintbrush or a stick. Move your arms following the lines of the painting as if you were a conductor leading an orchestra.

Spread a sheet of brown paper on the floor. Moving around the painting with a paintbrush or stick dipped in black paint, make swooping line from one edge of the surface of the paper to the other. Let the paint dry. Add a new color. Use different arm motions-long and sweeping, short and quick. Notice that the way you use your arm changes the lines on the paper. Walk around the painting, working from all sides. You can let bare patches of brown paper come through. Make a handprint or two in the corner.
Put some music and paint in rhythm to the music. Now you will have an idea of what it felt to be Jackson Pollock working in that quiet barn.

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