Posts Tagged ‘jackson pollock’

gotham news 1957
Gotham News, 1955 by Willem de Kooning ( 69 x 79” Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo)

We looked at images of paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, including pictures of the paintings in galleries, and Helen Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollock working in their studios, to show the very large scale of pictures in this school. I also told them where some of these pictures are, and had a snapshot of one (Small’s Paradise, by Helen Frankenthaler) I took in Washington D. C. in March.

I told them how Abstract Expressionism was painting that was not of something, but was the thing, in the words of Jackson Pollock. And how painting is a language, in which you can express things you can’t put into words.

The paintings they liked were both by de Kooning: Excavation and Gotham News, which is the one we talked about. The kids each noted something about the picture, and brought out the bright colors, and how it references people, dogs, layers, cities, noise, excitement, heavy equipment, Batman, buildings and other structures, without being pictures of those things.

It could be too that they were drawn to this picture because it holds up better on the rather dim “interactive white board” projectors the school has. You don’t get the benefit of the brilliant colors of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. We held up the laptop so they could get an idea of the brilliance of the actual paintings.

Inspired by the picture, they made paintings in the manner of Abstract Expressionism. I think some of them felt like they were being naughty, by using a finger or their hands, in making layer on layer, in using gobs of paint, and even in scraping back to get to layers below. But they were not naughty, they were all fully involved in the paint and what it was doing. This was the most energetic and focused group I’ve had, as far as everyone diving in.

We asked them to mix at least 3 colors, and this time not to make a picture of a thing but to paint with colors and shapes and lines, and to try different brush sizes.

As in other classes, each kid got a paper plate palette with primary colors and white, a yogurt container of water, paper towels, a plate to mix colors on, and they had had a short reminder of how you rinse your brush between dipping into the color.

We even had time to clean up and to spend a few minutes looking at our work.


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Excavation, by Willem de Kooning

This was lesson one of five in Mrs. Pike’s first grade class at Baranof Elementary School in Sitka. I did this through a mini program funded by the school’s Principal’s Advisory Committee . This group, open to all parents and caregivers of Baranof students, plans and organizes fundraisers and activities to benefit the children at the school.

Goals of these sessions are first of all to introduce them to the language of art – the way an artwork can speak to them, and the way they can express themselves, through the language of art. Then to introduce them to a handful of great artists and their art, so that they have enough familiarity and (I hope) affection that they can enjoy experiencing art in person. And finally, to give them experience mixing colors and painting, and to introduce terms like Abstract, Still Life, and Modern Art.

This is a really neat bunch of kids. I am in love with all of them.

I introduced Abstract Expressionism, with projected images of Jackson Pollock painting, some of his work, Willem de Kooning and his Excavation, and then Helen Frankenthaler and some of her work. I had anticipated the kids would be most interested in her, because her pictures are so beautiful and appealing.

One boy said, “I don’t get it.” I told them about what these artists were trying to do, that they felt they could make better paintings when they did not make a picture of a thing but made the picture itself the thing, a direct expression of their emotions. Also that this was 60 years ago, when their (great) grandparents were being born. Then had the kids go around and say something about the painting Excavation, the one they chose. One after another, they put their finger on everything important about this painting, and the movement.

The very first boy noted how the artist painted over what he’d painted. The next child, a girl, noticed the (what I think of as “de Kooning pink”)  pink patch, upper center right, this artificial lipstick color, which she described as “sparkly.”

I led them to some extent, asked them about the energy level, mood, and depth (or lack of it in this case). Told them what an excavation is – they were familiar with excavators. Kids like to play “I spy” with abstract art, but this is part of the picture too, and how it works. In this one there are anthropomorphic elements, especially eyes and mouths. (In fact, de Kooning didn’t stay long with Abstract Expressionism, and is most famous for his figures. ) So they quickly “got it.” They even got, on their own, the idea of Action Painting, another name for this movement.

The project was to make their own abstract painting, and to mix at least one new color, from red, yellow, blue and white. The results were creative, and beautiful.

The paints the school has are good, bright and attractive, and mix cleanly: Crayola washable tempera paint. If you have an orange-ish red, or a greenish blue, then your blue-red mix is muddy, due to having all three primary colors – red, yellow and blue, which make brown.

It is delightful to hear kids call out, Hey, I made pink! Or, Look at the color I made!

One girl painted a while, then mixed all the colors on her palette (into a sort of pinky gray), and proceeded to obliterate her painting with it. It is important when kids do this, and I found out later that she consistently ruined her art projects, to give them autonomy. Her neighbor told her, “I think you’re done.” I said, “it’s up to the artist to know when they are done.” So many things in school have one right answer and this kind of self-sabotage is a child’s way of trying to have some control, even if it is negative. The best thing about art is that they have complete control over their art, there is no “wrong” way. Anyway, while the finished result was not interesting to look at, her process was certainly interesting.

Then the next week, she made a nice picture, but then was holding it in such a way that it was folding in on itself. We said, “oh no! your beautiful painting might get smeared!”  Her genuinely pleased smile, as she put her painting to dry, went straight to my heart.

Art is a great way for kids to explore their individuality, you see another side of them. Some of the kids are incredibly creative, others very intellectual and try to figure things out, some take joy in color. The best thing is that nearly all kids love it.

There’s that cartoon, What Dogs Hear:  “/ / / / / Sparky / / / /,”  What Cats Hear: ” / / / / / // / / / / .” Well, what art students hear: / / / / / / Good!/ / / / / / .

A little (sincere) praise goes a long way (for all of us!). It’s sad but many first graders have a lot weighing them down – many have stressed-out, single, or divorcing parents, for one. I think that the incessant testing (assessments) makes kids even more insecure. You can’t learn if you are fearful. The most important thing is to make a safe place, where kids can try and won’t be judged. Then it’s a matter of giving them something interesting to try, and getting out of the way.


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