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Controlled chaos.

Using paint with middle school students can be messy. Allowing students to imitate Jackson Pollock is inviting disaster unless the lesson is well planned and students paint with a purpose in mind.

After drawing in one- and two-point perspective for two weeks, my class was ready to put away the rulers, loosen up, and get a little more creative. Since most students had experienced splatter painting as little kids, I decided to introduce them to Jackson Pollock, the inventor of splatter painting, and help them understand why this style of painting is considered great.

Observing Principles of Design

We spent the first class period talking about the life and art of Jackson Pollock. His action painting was the result of many years of searching for his own style of art. Although later paintings look as if they were painted without plan or purpose, they illustrate many of the formal principles of design. Pollock was trained in formalism, and this foundation shows up in his drip-and-pour method of painting.

I focused the lesson on the principles of design to give students a goal for their paintings and as a means to control the chaos of splatter painting. Students observed balance, rhythm, movement, contrast, variation, repetition, and unity as they looked at slides of Pollock's work.

Exploring Action Painting

The second day started with a demonstration of action painting and an overview of guidelines and boundaries for the painting process. Getting paint on the table was okay, getting paint on the floor or each other was not. We taped 12 x 18" (30.5 x 46 cm) tagboard to the tables with masking tape. We applied large background areas of thinned tempera paint. Students carefully applied the base layer with a small amount of paint so it would dry quickly. Sponges, fingers, spoons (anything but a paintbrush) were used to apply the background. Students used colors that would contrast with the ones they planned to use for the splattered foreground.

The next step was to drip, pour, and splatter paint over the entire surface of the tagboard. Students used spoons, fingers, and paintbrushes as long as these utensils never touched the surface of the painting. They considered balance, rhythm, movement, and repetition in the application of their splatters. Even though they planned the direction and force of the paint, each release of the colors created a pleasant surprise that could only be described as serendipity.

The final step was to remove the tape, sign the border, and let the paintings dry. Because many students tended to use more paint than was necessary, the paintings needed to be placed flat so the paint would not run. In some instances the paint did run, but it created a marble-like look that pleased students.

Critiquing Efforts

The lesson concluded with a critique. Each student described the process and principles used in creating their action painting. Students reacted to contolled chaos with pure joy. Comments such as, "I wish this class would never end," and, "This is really fun," were heard repeatedly. Other comments were, "I never liked to paint before, but this is something I'm good at," and "...I've finally found my style of painting."

Materials

* 12 x 18" (30.5 x 46 cm) white tagboard--one per student

* 24 x 36" (61 x 91.5 cm) white tagboard--one per group

* tempera paints thinned with water

* paint cups

* plastic spoons, paintbrushes, or sponges

* slides or posters of the art of Jackson Pollock

NATIONAL STANDARDS

Students select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas.

WEBSITE

www.artlex.com/ArtLex/a/ actionpainting.html

Lois Chattin is an art teacher at Meridian Middle School in Meridian, Idaho. chattinl@meridianschools.org
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Title Annotation:Middle School; splatter painting
Author:Chattin, Lois
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:620
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