Jacques Louis David, The Death of Socrates
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Why is it that when we walk into a museum so many people gravitate towards the same images? What is it that many of us find so sublime about a Caravaggio? Why do we often feel pulled into the domestic calm of a Vermeer? What is it about the rich and compact images of Frida Khalo that we find so irresistible? How do we know when a painting, a drawing, or a print "works"?
While it does not explain entirely the beauty—or the popularity—of any paintings or group of paintings, one of the most important components of paintings and drawings is its composition. The composition—the way in which a painting is composed and the way in which the painting's elements work together to form a coherent whole—is key to the success of a work of art in conveying its message and visually "hanging together." The composition is an important part of the foundation of the paintings we find so compelling. In this curriculum unit students will be introduced to composition in the visual arts, including design principals, such as balance, symmetry, and repetition, as well as one of the formal elements: line.
You may wish to begin preparing for this lesson by visiting the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This web site contains a guide for learning about and identifying composition, perspective, light, color, form, motion, and proportion in Emmanuel Leutze's well known painting, George Washington Crossing the Delaware.
Composition in the visual arts is a large topic and this curriculum unit is only an introduction. There are some aspects of composition that will not be covered in this unit, but it should help students to begin to think about the kinds of choices that artists make when placing objects, figures, and natural elements in their work. The placement of objects within the picture plane is not an arbitrary act, but is the result of calculated decisions. This curriculum unit will assist students in beginning to identify some of those decisions. In addition, this lesson will help students begin to engage with the question of why artists make particular decisions.
One of the main purposes of focusing on the composition of a piece is to help students begin to read the information contained within the paintings they are viewing. Quite often artists structure the compositions of their paintings in ways that will bring the viewer's attention to the most important elements of the painting. Works of art are often encoded with a series of visual messages, some of which are readily accessible to all audiences, and some of which are only available to smaller, more knowledgeable audiences. This lesson should help students gain an awareness of one of the most important elements of a work of art—its composition—as an initial step towards accessing more of the information within a work of art.
Some additional definitions which you and your students may find helpful are:
The names of the primary and secondary colors are often among the first words we learn to speak and write. Even very young children can identify the red object in a painting, or the blue object in a photograph, but there is a lot more to color than initially meets the eye.
In this curriculum unit students will be introduced to the importance and effect of color in the visual arts. Why do artists use particular colors in their compositions? The activities in this lesson will guide students towards a greater understanding of the ways in which color can focus the viewer's attention, give the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional medium, and affect the tone and mood of an artwork.
How do artists use color to create effects of perception and to set the tone of an artwork?
This unit is one of a series of EDSITEment lessons designed to help students gain the skills to better understand the visual arts. You may wish to teach this unit alone or as part of the series of EDSITEment lessons that includes the curriculum unit Everything in its Right Place: An Introduction to Composition in the Visual Arts and Portraits, Pears, and Perfect Landscapes: Investigating Genre in the Visual Arts.
There are a number of definitions that will be helpful for teaching this lesson:
Additional color definitions include:
Students will compare and contrast Winslow Homer's painting The Veteran in a New Field with Timothy O'Sullivan's photograph A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, 1863. Students will imagine what a returned Civil War veteran might think and remember as he tends his wheat fields back home. Students will read a Civil War soldier's diary excerpt prior to writing and acting out a monologue.
In this lesson students learn how Birth of a Nation reflected and influenced racial attitudes, and they analyze and evaluate the efforts of the NAACP to prohibit showing of the film.
Heroes abound throughout history and in our everyday lives. After completing the activities, students will be able to understand the meaning of the words hero and heroic.
The purpose of this lesson is to consolidate the knowledge gained in the three previous lessons: Lesson One: The Phoenicians and the Beginnings of the Alphabet Lesson Two: The Greek Alphabet: more familiar than you think! Lesson Three: The Alphabet: The Roman Alphabet is our Alphabet
The Romans developed the alphabet we still use today. In this lesson we will introduce the Romans and ask how their alphabet got to us.
This lesson is about the Greeks, who inherited the alphabet invented by the Phoenicians, and used it to write their great literature.
Students are bound to be curious to know what all that Greek writing means. This lesson plan uses an EDSITEment created Greek alphabet animationto help students "decode" the inscription on the Olympic medal. Because the Olympic medal is both a familiar and mysterious object for students, it presents an ideal prompt to build basic literacy in the Greek alphabet. Thus, this lesson uses the Athens 2004 medal inscription as an elementary "text" to help students practice reading Greek and to help reinforce the link between ancient Greek culture and the Olympic games.
Many children are familiar with Snow White's evil stepmother and her poisonous apple, Cinderella's fairy godmother, and the witch in the gingerbread house waiting to eat Hansel and Gretel for dinner. But have they met Baba Yaga, the old crone who is both wise and cruel, who lives in a house standing on chicken legs, and whose servants bring with them the day, sunset and the night? Baba Yaga, the iconic witch of Slavic fairy tales, is one of the characters students will meet in this journey through Russian fairy tales.