Here a Dot! There a Dot! Everywhere a Dot, Dot!

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Vision, Spectrum, Mixtures/Solutions

Language Arts: Literature

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – George Seurat, Yayoi Kusama, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, Roy Lichtenstein, Kelly Goeller, Ashley Anderson

Color Wheel (Primary, Seconday, Intermediate, Complimentary), Pointillism, Pop Art

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”         “Circus Sideshow”

Not too long ago, I learned a new expression: Frequency Illusion. It is defined by Arnold Zwicky as “once you’ve noticed a phenomenon, you think it happens a whole lot, even ‘all the time’. ” This has happened to me in the last couple of weeks in regards to dots. Recently my daughter and I attended the Broadway musical, Sunday in the Park with George. The musical is about the creation of George Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” . For those of you not familiar with Seurat’s work, he created whole paintings in nothing but dots. The next day, as we passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we saw a large banner advertising  Seurat’s “Circus Sideshow”, more dots. Of course, we had to check out the exhibit. Just this past week en route to the National Gallery in Washington, DC, I spied a very long line outside the Hirshhorn Museum and the barricades were all decorated with, what else, dots. Upon closer examination, I discovered that dot artist, Yayoi Kusama was exhibiting there. Frequency illusion, wouldn’t you say? So,I decided that I needed to do a post about the DOT.

Actually, I have already done a post on dots as they apply to mathematics (points/shapes). It can be found here.  I even mentioned George Seurat and Yayoi Kusama. However, at Seurat’s “Circus Sideshow” exhibit, I discovered that Seurat’s dot paintings have more to do with science than math. He was inspired by three nineteenth century scientists/writers, Eugene Chevreul, Ogden Rood and David Sutter. Chemist, Michel Eugène Chevreul, devised the first color wheel and the theory that all the other colors of the spectrum can be made from the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue). In art, we study the color wheel. In Science, you study the spectrum or rainbow. Chevreul also figured out that complimentary colors (Colors across from one another on the color wheel), when placed next to one another, appear brighter in intensity. He also discovered that if you stare at a primary color, let’s say red, for a while and then look away, you will see it’s compliment, green. There is a fun picture book that covers all these color theories called  It’s Me, Marva!. A Story About Color and Optical Illusion, by Marjorie Priceman.  It would be a great addition to a literature or science unit. Also Fifty’s Op Artists,  Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely created optical illusions with dots. I digress. The Impressionists had used larger brush strokes and studied the way light shone on objects. Seurat wanted to get away from that. He reduced the brushstrokes to small dots and employed the color scientists’ theory of placing pure colors next to one another. This way, when viewed from a distance, a third color was perceived. For example, red and yellow  dots would appear to be orange from a distance. One of the fifth grade teachers at my school used Pointallism to teach the difference between mixtures and solutions. She had the students simulate a mixture by creating a Seurat-style dot painting, using primary colors to create secondary colors, with q-tips. If need be, the students could cut the dots apart and still have the primary colors. Then she had them physically mix the primary colors into secondary colors to make solutions and create a second painting. There was no way of getting the primary colors back here. This was a logical way to see the difference between the two concepts. Find some Pointallism color wheel lessons here and here. Find a primary dot song here.

In dot history, science seems to have inspired art two more times. Simultaneous to Seurat’s work, the printing world was devising a method to cheaply reproduce images for newspapers. Up until this point, newspapers used a printing method called letterpress, where wooden/metal letters and wood carved images were inked and printed. Fine art images and photographs were more time consuming and thus more expensive to produce. They were still only used in expensive books and periodicals. Then came halftone printing. It is a method of reproducing the gray tones in a black and white photograph using varying sized black and white dots. With this process, realistic images came to newspapers. See a halftone example here. American, Benjamin Day, invented a method, called Ben-Day, to use like sized repeated dots to create color images. These were used in Sunday comic strips and comic books. Both these methods repeated dots, that seen from a distance, blend just like Pointallism. Pop artist, Roy Lichtenstien, was inspired by comic strips and created enlarged comic strip images that even included Ben-Day-like dots.

Then came the tv and computer. Repeated dots changed to repeated squares or pixels.As anyone who has tried to enlarge a low resolution picture has seen. Well, yes, now there are artists and filmmakers inspired by pixels. Has anyone seen the Pixels movie? Loved It!!! Check out some pixel artists here. The thing that is so amazing about the art inspired by pixels is all the different medium used (computer screen, sculpture, painting, cartoon). I am particularly enamored by Kelly Goeller’s and Ashley Anderson’s work.

Have you noticed how the above mentioned technology and art advancements echo how the eye (with it’s cones and rods) and brain work? I find it fascinating how life imitates nature. In a science unit on how human vision works, your students also may. What do you think? Could any of these artists help reinforce your science units? I’d love to hear how you might use them in your classroom. Simply click on the title of this post and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Hope to see you again real soon.


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