Wednesday, March 20, 2013

5th Grade Learns About Picasso (and Draws Tootsie Rolls!)

Several months ago, my 5th graders studied the art of still life artist Pieter Claesz. Claesz's art practically resembles photographs! After seeing his art, they drew their own still life of vases (which I blogged about last  year here and here).

This year, after completing still life drawings in September, I decided to revisit the topic of still lifes, with a new spin. I showed the students Pieter Claesz's still life painting, and asked them if anyone remembered who it was by. Thankfully, several students did remember his name! Even the students who didn't remember his name remembered some things I mentioned about Claesz's technique.

After reviewing Claesz's art, I showed a still life by Picasso. I asked the students if anyone thought it was more realistic than Pieter Claesz's still life. Of course several class clowns raised their hands to say they thought it was much more realistic. After everyone laughed a bit, I told them that actually, many people think that it is much more realistic. Claesz's art looks like a photograph. But, is a photograph real? No, a photograph is just a flat page. If you look at it from the side, you can tell it's nothing but a picture! Picasso didn't want to portray just one view of his still life; he showed many different angles at once! He didn't want his painting to just look photo-realistic; he wanted to show the whole essence of the still life; the sides, the front, the top, the bottom, even the inside of the vase (which is why the opening of the vase looks like a circle. When the 5th graders had drawn their own still life of vases months ago, we spent some time discussing how the opening to a vase looks like an oval from the side, and only looks like a circle when you are standing directly above it, looking in). Thus, by showing the whole object, instead of just one angle, Picasso's still life is, in a sense, more realistic than Claesz's.

Thankfully, my students really understood the concept! I pointed out different parts of the painting, and asked them where he might have been standing as he painted that part. Clearly Picasso had looked at both sides, the top, and even under the table! I could tell some of my students were blown away by Picasso's genius, which really made my day.

Next, I asked the students if they wanted to see a person painted by Picasso in Cubism (which I had already explained was the style that Picasso had painted in). The students were very eager to see such a thing, so I showed them a portrait by Picasso, which showed the side view of an eye, both sides of the nose put together, ears pointing different directions, etc.

Next, we discussed how Picasso could only paint in the Cubist style after he had already mastered painting with photo-realism. I showed them a self-portrait that he had painted at age 15 to prove his talent.

And lastly, the students each drew a Tootsie roll from three different angles. I told them that if Picasso were drawing a Tootsie roll, he would show all of the sides, not just the front. The end looks one way; the side looks another way; if the Tootsie roll is turned slightly so both the end and the side shows, it looks different again! If they drew the Tootsie roll well enough, they got to eat it. (We're getting close enough to the end of the school year that bribing my students is sometimes necessary to get quality art out of them!)

Here are some of their drawings:

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