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Observation ... reflection, imagination....

Today's society tends to bombard us with visual images, making it hard for us to be good observers. As teachers, we need to encourage our students to develop a sensitivity toward their environment and the things they encounter every day.

Time for Reflection

The idea for this activity came to me one day when I was buying kitchen utensils. I discovered a very interesting phenomenon, too ordinary to be readily noticed. A set of highly reflective silverware caught my attention as I walked past it. I noticed that my image in each and every object was different due to the objects' varying forms. I would go nearer to the object, then step back and note how my image changed and became distorted in different ways. The distortion also created various combinations of colors and forms, resulting in very interesting images. An attempt to draw an object of this nature from life, and to transform it into an imaginative composition could be an enlightening experience for students.

An Art History Connection

While developing the lesson to present to my students, I tried to relate the concept to some of the Photo-Realists' works where the subject was drawn by a method of cropping and exaggerating parts of the image in changing reflective surfaces.

The works of two Photo-Realists, Don Eddy and Richard Estes, served as good examples for the lesson. One of Don Eddy's series focuses on automobile bumpers. The effects created by these paintings coincided with my aim for the lesson. Eddy's paintings involve abstract composition, but are representational. if some of the details were removed or blurred, the result would be a truly abstract composition of color and spatial relationships. In dealing with color, Eddy did not strive for reality; he preferred to create compositions more concerned with form.

Another Photo-Realist artist, Richard Estes, chose automobile and window reflections as the subject of many paintings and created interesting semi-abstract compositions.

The Dimensional Shift

Each student was instructed to bring a highly reflective object to class. They arranged the objects with different items and in different settings to create interesting reflections before deciding on one setup to draw. When they had chosen their subjects, they studied the reflections until they looked more distinct than the real object, sometimes referring to the actual objects to look for details. I told them not to try to achieve the accuracy that the Photo-Realists had; these artists used a camera and photographs to gather information about their subjects and transfer it to the paper by mechanical means. The concept of Photo-Realism was emphasized only as a guideline.

When the students started drawing, they pondered over the three-dimensional aspect of their subjects. They predictably had some trouble translating the three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface. Why not look at how Estes and Eddy solved this problem? I asked the students to view reproductions of works by these artists close up and at a distance. They were surprised to see that when viewed closely, the pictures appeared to be abstract--no readable forms; at a distance, the subjects became evident--they were actually details from reflections. The students were fascinated by this effect.

A New Way of Seeing

By the end of the lesson, the class had produced many interesting works. Most students felt that inadequate drawing skills caused them difficulty in getting the desired effect. A few students complained that the process was tedious because of the details that they needed to observe and draw. Overall, however, they found it a challenge and were excited to have experienced something new.

This lesson can be adapted and expanded to provide more opportunity for exploration and creation. After the students have experience with the reflections in an object, they could be asked to observe other kinds of reflections that appear in daily life--in a glass of water, a pond or a puddle. Overlapping reflections from high-rise buildings with big glass panes or stainless steel are other areas worth exploring. The theme could also be extended to a more conceptual area where the subject of reflection can be taken to greater depths.
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Title Annotation:teaching art
Author:Lim Chinhong
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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