Cave Kids: Pecos River-Style Art

By Clark, Sylvia T. | Arts & Activities, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Cave Kids: Pecos River-Style Art


Clark, Sylvia T., Arts & Activities


A look through my collection of Wassily Kandinsky's calendar art prints inspired a two-part project designed to bridge the gap between primitive and contemporary art for my sixth-grade art students. My goal in creating this project was to help young students understand that drawing is a primal activity, a manifestation of humanity's inherent needs to communicate information and to express emotions.

In keeping with Kandinsky's philosophy, I wanted this project to "make art an abstraction of thought and finally arrive at purely artistic composition." To this end, students used tempera to create abstract-expressionist paintings that emphasize the visual elements of line, shape, color, rhythm and composition. As added inspiration and a further link to Kandinsky, the students painted while listening to Tchaikovsky's "Concerto No. 1" as played by Van Cliburn.

Students were given simple guidelines to follow in paintings. They could begin in with a direct impression of something in the real world, and then paint that object in a spontaneous manner, or they could use reason and purpose to express an inner feeling. These instructions echo Kandinsky's idea of a new age of consciously created musical compositions.

We applied the colors on 18" x 24" construction paper using brushes, pieces of cardboard and sticks. The paper colors selected were earth tones of black, brown, gray and cocoa. I cautioned the students not to "fall in love" with the paintings because they would be cut up and made into something else later.

When the paintings were done, they were set about the room to dry and I had the students partner with a friend or get into groups of four and choose a rock (from a pile of my favorite ones), which each student then had to draw.

Using the prompt, "Stories in Stone," I instructed the students to follow the same "abstraction of thought" idea, and answer several questions describing their rock, including its color, texture, size, shape, "voice" or "sound," and these responses were used to create a poem.

Next, the students put all of their group poems together acted out one long poem. For these presentations, I have sticks, stones, an odd assortment of percussion instruments and colorful scarves on hand. Of course, they could also use "found objects," body percussion or spoken words as part of their three-dimensional poem piece. The resulting performances were stunning.

During our next session, we explored examples of the rock art of American Indians in Texas. We watched 10 minutes of a video on the history of Pecos River rock art, which included a map of the Pecos River area. For further reference, we visited some great Pecos River rock art Web sites, including www.utexas.edu/depts/ tmm/anthro/rockart/.

Another helpful source of information is Canyon de Chelly, Its People and Rock Art, in which Campbell Grant writes, "In the lower Pecos region of Texas, near its confluence with the Rio Grande, there are caves decorated with large polychrome human figures similar to those of the Canyon de Chelly Basketmaker era. Whatever the original impetus, whether the idea was introduced or independently devised in various widely separated areas from California to Texas, a number of aboriginal groups sharing a common basketmaking trait all created conspicuous, large featureless human figures in their caves."

In addition to printed reference material, I hung calendar art prints of Lookout Shelter, Slick Trail Shelter, Panther Cave and Painted Cave all around the art room. We discussed the fact that all of these caves are located at the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Pecos River.

Some of the figures at Painted Cave are 10 feet tall and are believed to have been painted for ceremonial use. Archeologists have discovered evidence that these people were hunters, gatherers and fishermen from 6,000 B.C. to A.D. 600. When the students compared their abstract-expressionist paintings to the ancient cave paintings, they discovered that there were a lot of similarities in the visual elements. …

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