Emotions Unleashed in Paint

By Skophammer, Karen | Arts & Activities, April 2012 | Go to article overview
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Emotions Unleashed in Paint


Skophammer, Karen, Arts & Activities


There's nothing like an exhibition to get me all fired up to present an art concept to my students.

I had viewed Emotions: Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera at the Des Moines Art Center a while back. This particular exhibition is one in which Kahlo and Rivera entered into a private experiment with their friend, Olga Campos, a psychologist. Campos asked each of them to respond in paint to certain human emotions, such as love, hate, sorrow and so on.

After Kahlo and Rivera died, Campos sold these vividly done, abstract works of art. They are powerful images. Kahlo's are rounded in nature, while Rivera's are more jutting. Without knowing which emotions the artists were portraying, I found myself guessing for each painting. Did color play a part in the expression of the emotion? I thought it surely must have.

Although marks on paper or any other surface have meaning, the meaning really comes from two places: the person making the mark and the beholder. People can interpret different marks and different colors in various ways, depending on their past experiences with both. This exhibition left me energized and ready to try an "emotions" study with my middle-school students.

Many painters use lines to express powerful emotions. I thought of Vincent van Gogh and the modern artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both of these artists had difficult lives filled with hardship, and died at a young age. They both used art to deal with their emotions. It seems like the stronger the feelings were in them, the faster the strokes were put down in their work.

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I asked my students to look at a few works of art and tell me what emotion they thought of when they saw it. Then I asked them, "why?" Not everyone agreed and, to me, that Was a good sign. As I mentioned before, different people interpret different marks or works in different ways.

Next, I totally darkened the room and flashed 10 words on the wall in different colors and fonts, such as "Hatred" in blood red with large dripping letters, and "Sadness" in small gray, wavy letters. I asked the students not to make comments, but just look at the wall and think.

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