Good Vibrations!

Possible Classroom Concepts:  Science – Insects, Sound Waves And Vibrations

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Charles Burchfield, Gustave Caillebotte, David Hockney, Arthur Dove

Pattern, Repetition , Realism, Abstraction

Last fall, while visiting the Brandywine River Museum of Art, I was excited to be able to view the “Exalted Nature: The Real And Fantastic World Of Charles E. Burchfield Exhibit”. I was familiar with the artist, but had never seen his work in person.  I knew Burchfield was famous for watercolor landscapes  painted “en plein air” (outdoors). I’ve talked about some of his weather landscapes  before here.  At the exhibit, I also noticed that he sometimes incorporated insects into his paintings as in “A Dream of Butterflies”,  “The Moth and the Thunderclap” and “Summer Afternoon”.  What I didn’t realize was that Burchfield also tried to incorporate the insect sounds into his paintings. He was in the habit of keeping sketchbooks containing copious notes explaining the thoughts behind his paintings. The following is what he said about “The Insect Chorus”:  “It is late Sunday afternoon in August, the child stands alone in the garden listening to the metallic sounds of insects; they are all his world, so to his mind all things become saturated with their presence – crickets lurk in the depths of the grass, the shadows of trees conceal fantastic creatures, and the boy looks with fear at the black interior of the arbor, not knowing what terrible thing might be there.” To illustrate the insect sounds, Burchfield repeats zig zag lines and dots. Learn more of his thoughts about sounds and his paintings herehere, and in this video. In art, the repetition of lines or shapes is known as pattern. What other patterns did Burchfield use to show sound in “The Insect Chorus and  “The Song of Katydids on an August Morning”?

As with wind, one cannot see sound.  I found in this video that sound creates vibrations which can be physically demonstrated by dropping something into water. Note the waves of concentric circles or vibrations that go out and out in Caillebotte’s “The Yerres, Rain” and David Hockney’s “Rain”.  Arthur Dove’s “Foghorn” shows the vibrations of the sound created by the foghorn, not the horn itself. What vibration lines does Burchfield show in “Telegraph Music”“The Woodpecker”, and “Autumnal Forest”?

If you wish to make an art project with your students to teach insects and sound vibrations, you might use this lesson as inspiration. First, have students brainstorm different insects. Next, they draw or collage an odd number (three to five) of insects. Students should include and be able to identify the major parts of an insect (head thorax, abdomen, six legs, wings, etc.) After discussing the different line patterns artists used to show sound, ask students to brainstorm patterns their insect might cause. Examples: Bees and dragonflies buzz. Crickets chirp. Using crayons or oil pastels create an all over sound pattern design on the background paper. Collage in ground and grass shapes. Lastly, arrange the insects in an interesting  way to complete the composition.

I hope you like this new riff on an insect lesson. What ways have you taught insects? I’d love to here about them . Just click on the title and scroll down to the comment section.

Hope to see you real soon!


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