Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Art of Paul Klee

Because our Living History theme this year is the 1930s, we'll be learning about artists who were working during that time period. Third graders are learning about artist Paul Klee. One of the interesting things about this artist is that he was one of the first modern artists to recognize the importance of children's art and give it equal place among the other fine arts. He often borrowed directly from children's drawings. Here's what he had to say about it:

"Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in there having it! The
more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish
us; and they must be preserved free of corruption from an early age. " -Paul Klee

I think what he was getting at is that maybe sometimes we are in too big of a hurry to get them to draw like grown-ups. Artists like Klee and Picasso envied the way children freely and spontaneously created such lively images. At first glance, some of Klee's work looks like a child did it, but they are full of symbolism and ideas.

The PA Standard for this lesson is:

9.3.3.E. Recognize and identify types of critical analysis in the arts and humanities: contextual criticism, formal criticism, intuitive criticism, contextual criticism, and formal criticism. That sounds like quite a mouthful, but it's actually a benchmark for third grade. It actually sounds more complicated than it really is because it's written in Educationese. Here's how I describe it.

There's three ways to look at a picture:
  1. What do you think? (Intuitive criticism). When we look at art and talk about it in this way, there are no right or wrong answers. Sometimes it's fun to look at art and explain what we think is going on. For instance, someone looked at this painting by Paul Klee and called it "The March of the Pajama Bottoms". That's not really what the artist had in mind, but it sure is a fun way to look at the painting.

2. What do you know? (Contextual criticism). This is when we learn more about the artist, what was going on during his or her lifetime, and what did they have to say about their art. Sometimes from reading about an artist we can learn things that help us to understand and appreciate the art more. In the painting below, I didn't realize until I read about it that there's something unusual about the numbers on the clock. The numbers 1,2,9 and 5 are in red. It was painted in 1925. Maybe the secret message is, "The Time is Now!" It looks like there's a net or fishing pole trying to catch the clock, but the fish are all going on their way, business as usual. It's as if there's a secret message in the painting, but Klee never told anyone what it was. I think he wanted us to decide for ourselves.

3. Let's talk about the design (Formal criticism). This is when we look at a work of art and analyze it based on the elements and principles of art. We might describe colors, shapes and lines and talk about how the artist arranged them into a composition.

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