Magazine article School Arts

At the Heart of Abstraction

Magazine article School Arts

At the Heart of Abstraction

Article excerpt

I wrote the words "Warp! Mutate! Morph!" large on the chalkboard. The seventh graders began enthusiastically describing the terms. "Morphing is what a caterpillar does when it changes form into a butterfly." "Like when things melt or change shape." "Starting as one thing and mutating into another." I had them! Then I wrote one more word large on the chalkboard--"Abstract!"

Again, the students began describing the word. "Strange. Unreal. Weird." We discussed the term in relation to the visual arts and looked at examples of nonrepresentational images. Students began to describe the colors, shapes, lines, and textures they saw and the mood those elements evoked. We discussed if art should always "look pretty" and why it is acceptable to not like a painting or sculpture but learn to appreciate the process and artist.

Abstraction has long been a concept difficult to define for students. Students often feel the pressure of making their artwork "look real" and frustration can often lead to burnout in the classroom. This lesson alleviated much of that pressure as students created an abstract acrylic painting using the heart shape as our jumping-off point.

Challlenging a Stereotype

When the theme of hearts was first presented, students immediately had stereotypical visions of lacy Valentine's Day hearts of pink and red. The girls moaned. The boys cringed. I cut out a typical heart shape from paper and began cutting away pieces, tearing sections, and gluing added paper shapes to the once pretty heart. Students began to see beyond the original image into how the heart could mutate. I then did a similar heart abstraction drawing on paper, adding elements, textures, and color. I steered away from typical reds and pinks. The rounded edges blurred and changed form, the hearts barely resembling their original form at all.

Preliminary Drawings

Students drew six to eight heart abstraction drawings, and then chose the three or four they liked best. …

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