February 2021

Realism/Abstraction

Art teachers share lessons that highlight, compare, and contrast realism and abstraction. Students revisit the classic Georgia O’Keeffe flower lesson with a fresh twist and draw extreme closeups of native wildflowers; manipulate paper to create bold and unconventional sculptures inspired by artist Crystal Wagner; examine the geometric works of Piet Mondrian and incorporate curved lines into their own unique paintings; and more.

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Editor's Letter: Realism/Abstraction
Editor's Letter

Editor's Letter: Realism/Abstraction

Up until last March, I was a docent at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Our governor shut the state down quickly because of the coronavirus and, as a result, all of the museums were closed. The museums reopened for a few weeks but sadly had to close again as our COVID numbers started rising.

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Mondrian with a Curve
Early Childhood

Mondrian with a Curve

Piet Mondrian inspires young artists to use bold colors, strong lines, and geometric shapes. His minimalist style helps early learners grasp important visual concepts such as lines coming together to make shapes. In this lesson, four- and five-year-old artists carefully examined several of Mondrian’s paintings and created their own inspired paintings.

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Revisiting O'Keeffe
Elementary

Revisiting O'Keeffe

Standing with my dry-erase marker in front of fourthgraders, I start drawing that one flower...it has a circle in the center, five petals, a stem, two leaves, some grass, and a sun in the corner. I ask students, “Does this look familiar?” “Oh yes!” They light up with recognition. Then I ask, “If someone asks us to draw a flower, why do you suppose most of us draw the same exact flower?”

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From Realism to Abstraction
Elementary

From Realism to Abstraction

As every art teacher knows, it’s difficult to finish everything we want to do in a given year, so I try to build several concepts into each lesson. I believe in helping students improve their drawing skills, thereby working on their powers of observation. I believe in using imagination to create abstract or nonrepresentational art. 

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Nonobjective Sculpture
Middle School

Nonobjective Sculpture

Students’ creativity is so often stifled by insecurity in their artistic abilities. As with any subject, it’s important to allow our students a means for success. I wanted my students to experiment, to take risks, and to make creative decisions.

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Foam Cup Sculpture Challenge
Middle School

Foam Cup Sculpture Challenge

How often are artistic learners challenged to intentionally push outside of their comfort zones? When learners encounter the unfamiliar, many are paralyzed by uncomfortably new concepts and techniques. So, how do we approach introducing something new? One way is through design challenges.

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Teaching Abstract Composition
High School

Teaching Abstract Composition

Give students a sheet of 12 x 18" (30 x 46 cm) dark charcoal paper and some drawing supplies: vine, charcoal block, a charcoal pencil, and a tortillion—but no erasers. Ask them to draw some random marks on the page to test out the materials.

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Still-Life Reflections
High School

Still-Life Reflections

One of my favorite contemporary artists is Janet Fish, known for her complex stilllife paintings that exhibit rich, color-saturated objects. I wanted to use Fish and her work as a way to inspire and provide students with a motivating approach to creating interesting still-life compositions.

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Art Education Is a Dark Horse
Point of View

Art Education Is a Dark Horse

For five years, I taught fine and digital art to a specific population of grade-oriented, high-achieving, private high-school students. Most of these students were not planning on ever using a paintbrush or photoediting app after leaving our studio.

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Remixed Fashion
Contemporary Art in Context

Remixed Fashion

In a world that is increasingly aware of the dangers of climate and environmental change, artist, fashion designer, and political activist Stevie Leigh is on a mission to alter the fashion industry’s ranking as the second-most polluting entity on the planet. Her unique fashion design studio works to divert unnecessary textile waste into gender-neutral clothing. In the process, she gives new life to discarded garments.

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