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Post Impressionist Painting

I'm working with my second grade students to create Post-Impressionist landscape masterpieces. One thing that I find helpful is starting by looking at some work by artists like Monet, then working through some Post Impressionists like van Gogh and finally I like to end with Matisse. As we compare and contrast, by the time we get to Matisse, kids are noticing how Post-Impressionists tend to have wilder color that is less realistic than the Impressionists. Once, kids make this discovery by themselves, I like to pose the question of why artists would choose to paint with such wild colors. The natural response from a number of kids tends to be something like "to be creative" or "to make it pretty."While these answers have some truth to them, I then like to expand on kids knowledge base.

One of the things I think is under appreciated about Impressionism and Post-Impressionism is the role of technology in influencing their work. The camera came about in the mid to late 19th century and to some, this was a liberating device, but as a practical matter, many artists at the time would likely find it a bit of competition. Imagine you spent your career making pictures then suddenly there was a device that could more accurately capture the lines, shapes, proportions and value in a fraction of the time it would take you. If you valued your career, you might start looking for things a human could do that a camera couldn't. At that time, photographs were black and white. A camera was also brilliant at capturing what something looked like, but it had no emotion or imagination. It seems to me no coincidence that just as this technology came about, painters started to focus more on optical color theory as well as abstraction and modifying elements to convey a mood.

Another interesting though often overlooked innovation of the era, is the arrival of the tube of paint. Advancements in chemistry and mass production during the industrial revolution meant that for the first time, artists and easy access to a wide range of colors that were portable and would last a long time without drying out. The predecessors to the tube of paint were glass jars, and pigs bladders. If I had spent my time grinding stones into dust, mixing the dust with oil to form a paint and then carrying that paint in a pig bladder, I would be super excited to be able to stop that and just go to the store and buy a tube of paint. I think it's really important to explain these kinds of historical aspects because it helps to humanize the artists and helps kids understand not just what paintings looked like from various artists, styles, periods. Kids need to understand the factors that shaped the style. When I started to put the use of different colors in this light of artists being like kids with a new toy, students are able to understand why artists would want to show all the colors that they have by making their paintings extra colorful and leaving the brush strokes visible so viewers can see every color being utilized. Of course we can get to other aspects like the notion of truth to materials, use of texture and brush strokes to help define the various planes of a picture etc. but putting the art history in line with some technological developments seems to have helped my students grasp the concepts much better and I no longer get kids questioning why they have to paint with dabs of color or why they should use more than one shade of green for their grass.

I made this quick video to help showcase the techniques I wanted my second graders to demonstrate of course this could be applied to pretty much any grade level.


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