The Wonder of Nature and Modern Art

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Ecology, Decomposition, Light, Spectrum, Insects

Technology – Computer Coding

Mathematics – Numbers, Measurement, Time

Possible Art Concepts: Modern Artists – John Grade, Patrick Dougherty, Chakaia Booker, Tara Donovan,  Janet Echelman, Maya Lin, Leo Villareal, Gabriel Dawe, Jennifer Angus

Installations, Organic Forms, Abstraction, Pattern

I am amazed by modern artists. Many of them produce art that is not only visually pleasing but also thought provoking. Today’s artists have moved art into that next dimension and make me think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” So, I was really blown away when I visited the Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder Exhibit”.  The Renwick Gallery has just reopened after a two  year renovation. Instead of filling it back up right away, the gallery challenged modern art sculptors to design on sight installations. Nine artists were chosen to bring their designs to life. These works are like the pop up shops and restaurants we find around today. Most of them will only be around for a short. Four are already gone. See a few artist interviews in some of these  videos.

All the artists were inspired by nature somehow. Many want to shine a light on one category of nature. While others transform common objects into organic or natural forms.

Two of the artists, John Grade and Patrick Dougherty work from reclaimed or found wood. Work that eventually ends up decomposing back into nature. Definitely add their names to a decomposition science unit. I have talked about Dougherty before in my post, Autumn Nature Art. You could also talk about these artists in an ecology unit. They reuse or recycle wood and don’t leave much of a carbon footprint. Dougherty leaves none.

Chakaia BookerTara Donovan,  Janet Echelman and Maya Lin (You may remember her as the sculptor who designed the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, D.C.) all used everyday objects to create organic forms in their installations. Booker, Echelman and Lin are all referencing ecology. Booker is recycling rubber tires. Echelman wants us to realize all of nature is interdependent. Lin is promoting water conservation. Donovan transforms multitudes of one everyday object into one organic form. For this installation, she created 10 forms. Find some lessons including Tara here and here.  Her work could also be used as inspiration for a reusing project (i.e.- bottle caps, all those plastic fasteners on bread bags, etc.) .

Two of the artist’s would correlate nicely with a science unit on light. Leo Villareal‘s  sculpture includes numerous LED lights that are controlled by computer codes. I’ve talked about light in art before in this post, Light And Only Light.  Gabriel Dawe‘s work always contains light spectrums and can be mistaken for actual rays of light. Don’t be fooled though, they are actually miles and miles of stretched sewing threads . Find a Dawe spectrum primary lesson here. Dawe’s work reminds me of the string art we used to make back in the 70s. My all time favorite blogger, Cassie Stephens, is crazy about all things retro and created this intermediate level string art lesson found here. This lesson even contains a how to video. 🙂

Last but not least, let’s talk about bugs. Yes, I said bugs. Jennifer Angus covers the walls of entire rooms with patterns consisting of real insects. She is trying to take the “Ick” factor away by showing insects in a beautiful way. They play such an important role in our survival as a planet (pollination, decomposition). She hopes that after seeing one of her works, maybe people won’t be as compelled to “squash a bug”! Add her name to your insect unit.

These artists could also be used in a math unit. The information in this exhibition reference numbers of objects used, an increment of time and measurement. Angus owns over 30,000 bugs, which cost between 50 cents and $25 each. What’s the least amount she could have paid for her insects? What is the most she could have paid? Maya Lin used 54,000 marbles in “Folding the Chesapeake”.  John Grade used 1/2 million wood pieces to create “Middle Fork”.  Tara Donavon used about a million index cards to create her installation. Leo Villareal used 23,000 LED lights in his work. Students could graph these numbers. They could determine who used the most material. Who used the least? Gabriele Dawe used 60,000 miles of sewing thread in his installation. That’s equivalent to all of a human’s blood vessels laid end to end or 2 1/2 times the circumference of the earth. The title of Janet Echelman’s piece, “1.8”, references the 1.8 millionths of a second of time lost during the 2011 Japanese earthquake.

I’ve mentioned in my post, Earth Day, that artists began recycling before it was even a twinkle in anyone else’s eye. They are still out there promoting the care of our earth today. I hope that you will integrate some of these artist’s works into your classroom curriculum.

If you like what you see, how about giving me a like or share this post with a fellow teacher or friend.

I hope you will stop by again real soon!

Silhouettes and Shadows

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Shadows, Movement

Social Studies – Women’s History, Countries Around The World (Crafts)

Mathematics – Symmetry

Language Arts – Reading For Information, Literature

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Lotte Reineger

Motor Skills (Cutting), Symmetry, Contour Drawing, Crafts (Paper Cutting), Puppetry (Shadow), Animation, Neutral Colors (Black And White)

I don’t know about you all, but I just love checking out Google Doodles when they appear. If you are unfamiliar with Google Doodles, Google often changes their logo on special occasions or to celebrate milestones in history. Sometimes the doodle will just be an illustration and sometimes it’s an animation.

Last week, there was a doodle animation on German animator, Lotte Reineger.  What a treat! I had never heard of Reineger before. Little did I know, she produced the first feature length animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed. I had always thought Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs  was the first. You can find information  and videos about Lotte Reineger and her Google Doodle here.

Lotte’s animations are all done with silhouettes not unlike her native country’s paper cutouts called, scherenschnitte. Paper cutouts originated in China and the tradition spread to several other countries. Find a short history of paper cutouts here. Lesson plans and examples of Poland’s wycinanki paper cutting tradition can be found here and here. More information about Japan’s kiragami can be found here and here. A Mexican papal picado lesson can be found here. So, if you are studying countries around the world in social studies, you might explore some paper cutting variations with them. If you are studying symmetry in math, many of these cutouts employ both regular symmetry around a line and radial symmetry around a point. Cutting is also an excellent way to improve fine motor skills.

Reineger was also influenced by wayang kulit or Indonesian shadow puppetry. Shadow puppetry was first done only with the hands. Look here for a reading for information lesson and a video about hand shadow puppetry history. Look here for wayang kulit lesson and video. 

So, Lotte combined jointed paper cut outs and the back lit idea of shadow puppetry to create her animation. Instead of just filming a shadow puppetry performance,  Reineger painstakingly moved her jointed figures and used stop motion photography. I talked about stop motion animation and how to use it in the classroom in my post about another woman animator, Mary Blair. Lotte created animations about several fairy tales. So, if you are studying fairy tales or shadows, students could create a shadow puppet show or a stop motion animated film to reenact the story. To help them create the characters and sets, they might use simplified shapes like these.

If you are looking for a new literature book for your classroom, there is a fairly new picture book out entitled Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viva.  This little girl loves all things black and white and loves filmmaking. I think it’s interesting because the name Lotte is short for Charlotte and  Reineger is mentioned in the book. Could this main character be named after the famous filmmaker?  I also find it surprising that I found Young Charlotte, Filmmaker not too long ago and now I hear about Reineger. What a bit of serendipity!

As you can plainly see, there are many places that Lotte Reineger’s story could be used as inspiration for classroom units of study. I hope you will introduce this very talented individual somewhere.

Come back again real soon!

Man vs. Machine

Possible Classroom Concepts:  Social Studies – Industrial Revolution, Inventions, Machines

Technology (3D Printers, Lasers), Science (Flower Parts)

Possible Art Concepts: Commercial Art History

Commercial Art (Fashion And Clothing Design)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an extensive collection of fashion and costumes. As with art on paper, constant exposure to light can destroy clothing, thus it cannot be on display for long periods of time. Once a year the Met creates an opportunity to share a portion of their fashion and costume collection in a themed exhibit and fundraising gala.  A couple of weekends ago, I was fortunate enough to visit this year’s exhibit entitled “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”.  That certainly is a mouthful! Allow me to break down the title for you. Manus means hand, as in sewn or created by hand. Machina, which I’m sure you can plainly see, stands for machine made. Over the years, there has been a certain discrepancy between haute couture’s (handmade)  and prêt-à-por·ter ‘s (ready to wear) stature. So, if you’re a Project Runway fan, you are familiar with the “haute couture challenge” or a comment like, “This designer’s work is very ‘ready to wear’!”  The handmade fashion has been traditionally considered more valuable because of it’s craftsmanship and the time involved in creating it. What this exhibit demonstrates is how today’s designers are using handmade, machine made, or a combination of handmade and machine made skills to create haute couture. (whatever it takes to achieve the desired result)  This exhibit also shows that fashion has consistently used innovations of its time in its designs.  The concepts are explained quite well in this video. See examples of work from the show here.

In the first room of the exhibit, are several copies of Diderot’s eighteenth century Encyclopedias opened to different fashion pages. This portion of the encyclopedia illustrates the science, skills and tools behind haute couture. Like other arts and trades, haute couture houses are made up of many different skilled artisans (called métiers in the fashion world). The exhibit shows examples of métier skills mentioned in the encyclopedia which are coincidentally still used today (embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, lacework, leatherwork, and pleating)  Modern technology, such as laser cutting and 3D printing are also highlighted. Each category has examples of the traditional way of completing a skill and a then examples of modern versions. For example, bird-of-paradise feathers are hand sewn onto silk to create this Yves Saint Laurent evening dress from 1969. While the Iris van Herpen’s 2013 dress, found among these images has machine made strips of laser-cut silicone feathers and silicone coated bird skulls applied to a cotton base.

You might adapt the child friendly explanation of the Met’s costumes and fashion found in this Family Guide, to incorporate this exhibit into your classroom curriculum. (You may have to go thru the following steps to get to the guide:  The Met> Learn> Kids and Family> Family Guides > What Should I Wear Today? Sorry, my link doesn’t seem to be working, but believe me it’s worth the steps to get there!)  To correlate with an inventions unit, students might identify the different fashion inventions found in the guide. (the bustle and baby crash helmet) Ask students where helmets are used today? Students could invent their own modern day helmets. Side note, the pleated collar fashion piece from this guide is included in the Manus x Machina Exhibit. You might also like to check out the invention and history of the hand sewing needle here and the colorful story behind the invention of the sewing machine  here or here or in the first five and a half minutes of this video.

This exhibit would also be a great inspiration for an Industrial Revolution unit.  The Haute Couture Houses do a good job of utilizing a division of labor. The garment passes among the necessary métiers until the garment is complete! I’m so jealous that I’m not teaching anymore. I would so teach the following lesson. First, I would divide the class into different métier groups. I would then adapt the following paper skill lessons:  emboideryfeatherworkartificial flowerslaceworkleatherwork (make the bark background), and pleating for corresponding métier groups. Using their skill, each métier group would make as many handmade papers as the the class period allowed. The next class period, with the choice of all the different handmade papers, the students each become designers and create a one of a kind collaged outfit on their mannequin. (You may have to enlarge the mannequin to 12″ x 18″ to be proportionate with paper samples.) See a collaged dress idea here and a sculptural example here. On the back of the back of their collage, students could list the different métier groups required to complete their outfit. If you wish to streamline this lesson, you could collect materials to symbolize different métier groups (i.e.- doilies/ lacemakers, brown paper/ leather, patterned paper/embroidery, flowered stickers/artificial flowers, cupcake liners/ pleating, etc.) and have the students construct a predesigned outfit [created by you or one of your students] assembly line style.

Let’s talk a bit about the technology part of the show. Technology of the late 1800s led to faster tanning processes which resulted in leather being included in fashion design. Back then all  the intricate leather cutouts had to be cut by hand. Today  this work is all done with lasers. New technologies have also created faux leather. Iris van Herpen  is a good example of a contemporary designer who uses technology in her fashions. Not only does she incorporate lazers, as mentioned above in the featherwork example, but she also utilizes 3D printers to create lace and exoskeleton-like structures  on her contemporary fashion pieces.

Do you teach a science unit on flower parts? Check out the Christopher Kane outfit among these images. This would be a fun image to pop your science unit.

Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box to motivate students. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, including baseball cards in math or social studies units might spark some sports minded students. For some other students, fashion might be just the inspiration to kindle an interest in science or social studies.

Stop by again real soon!