26 May, 2015

Abstract art 4th grade

Woah!  It's been a while since I've posted.  It's that CRAZY time of year again when you look up and realize there's only a month of school left and SO. MUCH. TO. DO.

This week I'm writing report cards and taking down all our fabulous art that we had in our school wide art show.

This afternoon, I've been taking down my 4th graders' work, and I really want to share it.  I've never taught abstract art before.  And while I like making it and love looking at it, it was quite a scary prospect.

The first lesson we had, not one student in either of my 2 classes was familiar with the word "abstract".  We looked at various abstract art, discussed it, discussed what they wanted to find out about it and began.

For the first project I had them trace around circles, rule some lines through them and color the resulting pattern.  For this unit I really focused on the elements of art and principles of design (contrast, pattern, rhythm and movement in particular) to ground all of our discussions about abstract.  So this first exercise was a focus on line, color and shape introducing the idea that abstract art was scaffolded on known and predictable elements.

Then I took a leap!  Our next project we started with a big piece of card paper; as big as I could fit on the tables and have them all work together. Knowing that these pieces of paper would take a battering, I watered down some gesso a little and had them gesso theirs.  At this point, I also showed them how they could add some tissue paper for texture in places on their paper and then gesso over it.   Only a few chose to do this step.

When that was dry, I broke out my tools.  I collect all kinds of "texturisers" for students to use.  Things like silicone oven mitts, those stretching things that you get around your wine bottles, palette knives, ice-cream lids cut to make scrapey things, window squeegees etc, etc.

I wanted them NOT to use paint brushes with this project.  I also had them all stand.  The first lesson was a bit crazy.  I put out paint in warm and cool color groupings.  So if you were at the warm color table, that's how your painting started.  I did this to minimize brown.  Students were free to just experiment with the paint.  They slopped it and flicked it and smooshed it.  I drew the line at finger painting because I was trying to encourage non literal art.  THEY LOVED IT. Layers and layers of paint made it hard to transport them to the drying rack, but a few days later there was a fabulous dry base to work on.  At the end of the lesson I had them walk around and see what others had been working on.

The next lesson I put out analogous color groupings and they could choose where they sat for that lesson.  I showed some videos of people creating abstract art and focused on the thoughtfulness of their work.  They also had access to charcoal and chalk at this point (and pencils on the table).  We talked about the elements of art again, and I encouraged them to have a partner hold up their work so they could really look at it.  "Do more of what you like, and less of what you don't like" I told them. They had another go at this in a second lesson and I also added chalk pastels.

The next lesson, I had them work in groups and talk about each other's work.  They could talk about what they thought was working and offer suggestions for what wasn't.  I gave them a handout which explained the elements of art and principles of design and encouraged them to use that language when talking about each other's work.  They had to write down a few ideas to plan how they were going to finish their work.  We talked about "tipping point"; where the work is nearly finished, but that we have to work carefully so we can see when to stop.

For their final lesson they had a choice of what they wanted to use: paint, chalk pastels, pencils, oil pastels.

I am so proud of the work they produced.  It's all so individual and I think they did a fabulous job.  Here are some highlights from the two grade 4 classes I teach.
I had them write a few sentences about what is abstract art to display with their art for the art show; they could write in their home language if they wished.

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