And so we come to our final lesson in our History of Art project. It’s November and this project was supposed to only last for the summer break so, while in many ways it is a shame to bring it to an end, end it must.
I chose Keith Haring for our final lesson. It seemed appropriate to end with a Pennsylvania born artist and I also had a feeling that the kids would really love his artwork, allowing us to end on a high note. We looked at lots of examples of Haring’s artwork and discussed why he might have felt inspired to use blobby stick men lacking facial features. We talked about the design of the figures being levelling, equalising across gender, race, age and other categories, resistant to labels, and how in many ways they were reminiscent of the stick figures our primitive ancestors were daubing on cave walls. We also talked about Haring’s use of bold, vivid, neon colours contrasted with thick, black outlines, the graphic quality of his work, and the way he meshed “high” and “low” art forms. We also got into a discussion about the use of art for political provocation and protest, specifically the way in which Haring used his “fun” art work to highlight subjects such as gay rights and HIV and AIDS. We also looked for recurring motifs and symbols across dozens of works.
The boys were then set free to create whatever they wanted inspired by Haring’s works. My oldest and youngest were the only two who opted to paint. The 6 year old painted a figure whose arms end in wings, inspired by one of Haring’s paintings, but he could not resist the impulse to add facial features. My 12 year old adopted some of Haring’s symbols – the pyramid, the pink triangles, the figures – to create his painting and discovered that drawing blobby stick figures is harder than it looks.
My middle two sons were keen to work with polymer clay again and saw the blobby figures of Haring’s artwork as a jumping off point for sculpting little figures. My 8 year old kept his small sculpture featureless but my 10 year old could not resist the temptation to add features to the figure. Specifically, he turned the figure into an alien. Since he used glow in the dark clay, the result was quite fun.
My youngest, seeing his big brothers messing around with the clay, decided to sculpt too. Thinking of bright colours and black lines, he decided to make a bumble bee. I think it turned out super cute.
I worked in my art journal to create my Haring inspired painting. I have not worked with neon paint since my chameleon over a year ago. I didn’t find it any easier to work with this time around. It goes on really thinly and the brush marks are always visible so that my scrappy, messy painting style is terribly evident. The subject is probably obvious: my love for my four little Pictlings.
We have had a lot of creative fun and interesting discussions and a whole lot of learning while undertaking this History of Art project. Our recent trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art proved that the learning was sticking. My 8 year old also recently impressed his art teacher by knowing a whole lot about Chagall. I also like to think that my boys have been inspired to just keep creating and to find inspiration all over the place, to try different media and try on different styles to see what fits. I hope you have enjoyed reading about our project these past few months. Now I need to have a think about what our next project will be. Suggestions are always welcome!
We have arrived at the penultimate lesson in our History of Art project. The artist being covered was Andy Warhol and I knew his graphic style, his bold use of colour and his allusions to pop culture would appeal to the kids. They were able to see the genre connections to Roy Lichtenstein’s art work right away which was pleasing. We spent a lot of time looking at and discussing various Warhol paintings and prints. It was interesting how much the art appealed to the boys’ sense of fun but there was not the same depth of discussion as there has been about many of the other artists we have studied. We covered Warhol’s commentary on mass consumption, commercialism and celebrity but otherwise the discussion was pretty superficial. Interesting.
I thought for sure that my 8 year old, as a massive fan of the king, would choose to work on his own version of an Elvis print. He surprised me, however, and instead took his inspiration from the banana on the Velvet Underground’s album cover.
My 10 year old liked the idea of playing with iconic brand logos and so drew a can of coke from memory.
My 12 year old continued on his mission to make every drawing about either Minecraft or penguins and created a series of four Creeper portraits instead of Marilyns.
My 6 year old went completely off piste and churned out several drawings. I never ask my kids, “What is this?” so I cannot relay to you what his drawings depict. He was inspired and he loved drawing. That’s all that really matters.
Like my 10 year old, I went with Warhol’s use of brands and logos as my inspiration. The Campbell’s soup can series was my jumping off point but I put a Halloween twist on things by combining my favourite fruit with my favourite vegetable to make a disgusting concoction, adding a zombie bunny to the logo and using unappetising colours.
My kids were over the moon when I announced that Roy Lichtenstein was the next artist we were studying in our History of Art project. My oldest reads a lot of graphic novels and my younger three are comic book aficionados so the aesthetic of Lichtenstein’s art really appeals to them. I introduced them to the concept of Pop Art and its use of popular mass culture and everyday objects as inspiration for art work. Their familiarity with comic books meant that the boys found it easy to identify the elements that Lichtenstein used in his art work: strong black lines, primary colours, Ben Day dots, speech bubbles and onomatopoeia.
The boys all unanimously decided to use sharpies as their medium for their Lichtenstein inspired drawings. My oldest continued with his penguin theme and drew a ninja penguin and his narwhal sidekick. I think he did a great job with the composition.
My youngest drew a whole comic strip. He can be a wee perfectionist and gets frustrated if a line or shape is not exactly as he intended. He uses the eraser a great deal. I was curious, therefore, about how he would handle drawing directly onto the paper with sharpie. I was predicting some sort of flap and maybe a few scrumpled first drafts. However, he worked diligently and precisely and with no eruptions. I have no idea what the story is about.
My middle two sons are obsessed with Marvel and DC comics and characters so I knew that was what they would opt for in terms of subject matter. My 8 year old loves Robin so that was what he plumped for. He is also obsessed with pugs so his Robin has a super-pug sidekick. I think his drawing has a lot of personality.
My 10 year old opted for Batman and a showdown between him and Penguin. I like his sparing use of colour and I think he has a strong sense of composition.
I drew a face in my art journal and used the black lines and bold colours in order to emulate Lichtenstein. I didn’t want to go dot crazy so I just used a few in certain places and I then added the “Kapow” in one corner even though in the context of the drawing it makes absolutely no sense.