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Finding your tradition.

Finding your tradition

ART IS A TIMELESS AND UNIVERSAL language; style is a special dialect of that language. The word "style," a linguistic term, is derived from the word stylus, a writing instrument of the ancient Romans. Style can be said to have a specific vocabulary of forms and motifs and a syntax that governs their relationships. The following unit, entitled "Finding Your Tradition in Art" examines two contrasting styles from the same historical context. It presents aesthetic and art activities that teach students about the separation of art into Neoclassical and Romantic styles during the Baroque period of art.

Background French art of the early nineteenth century had two major tendencies: rational Neoclassicism (as exemplified by the work of Jean Auguste Ingres) and emotional Romanticism (seen in Eugene Delacroix's work).

The Neoclassical style promoted balance, restraint and control. Forms were simple and appealed to the mind and reason rather than the senses and emotion. Pictures were built up of shapes; artists emphasized drawing rather than color or motion. Neoclassical drawings were elegantly simplistic, with sensitive, gradual gradation and tonality of color. Neoclassical art corresponded to the art of the Italian Renaissance and ancient Greece in subject matter.

Romanticism, on the other hand, was a style full of feeling and emotion. It developed as a response to the age of Enlightenment and reason: people began to see that despite the advances of science, the world was still in turmoil. To Romantic artists, nature was wild and constantly changing, and they painted it that way. Their style reflects this emotionalism. Their paintings are highly ornate and decorative. Jumbles of shapes swarm together, rising to peaks of bright colors and falling back into dark areas.

Lessons in art history are important for students because, in addition to transmitting our cultural heritage, they teach students about a paradoxical problem: how to be unique while at the same time acquiring and using knowledge, skills and techniques that have been developed by others. Seeing and studying the visual manifestation of two opposing viewpoints (in this case, Neoclassicism and Romanticism) gives students a special awareness of the intellectual nature of art.

Understanding style You might begin a study of style by giving students an encounter with ideas that have inspired artists to make certain styles of art. Emulation is a basic way to learn, and art history can provide models for students to use in their own artwork.

Using works by Poussin, Rubens, Delacroix, David, Ingres, etc. as examples, help students see how each reflects a particular style. What kinds of ideas does each work seem to express? What differences in use of color, composition, mood, subject matter and the like can students identify?

Viewing Romanticism Next, present several painting techniques used by Romantic artists. After studying and critically discussing artists whose works have elements of Romanticism in them, students will use these painting techniques in works of their own. Use a slide, print or filmstrip presentation to trace the technical and conceptual approach to Romanticism from nineteenth century French painting to Romantic elements used in modern and contemporary art. These elements include pure colors that contribute to a painted surface alive with the excitement of exotic subject matter and intense light.

Students should understand that art history is made up of movements that last for varying periods of time. Stress that students' knowledge of these movements will help them view the past and see beyond everyday experiences; it will help them interpret both present and future. Help students refine their observational skills by asking critical questions concerning their reactions to the works, what they see in the paintings and what they feel the paintings express.

The use of art history as a source of ideas and inspiration for artwork has become acceptable, and now artists are free to work in any style they choose. The study of art history provides a rich resource for what is possible in art. This is a healthy development in the arts, educationally, because it gives the history of art an important place in the production and consumption of contemporary art and media imagery.

Practicing Romantic techniques To give students actual experience in techniques used by Romantic artists, let them do some experimentation. Have them divide a 9" x 12" (23 cm x 30 cm) sheet of white drawing paper into four squares, and label each square with a feeling or emotion, such as fear, jealousy, happiness, excitement, hope, etc. Using colored pencils, colored felt-tipped pens or acrylic or watercolor paint and brushes, students should make strokes or marks that express the feeling in the square. When satisfied with one square, they should proceed to the next. This activity gives students practice in using color and movement to construct compositions.

Neoclassicism: viewing and practicing Repeat the same sequence of activities for Neoclassicism as for Romanticism. In a slide, print or filmstrip presentation, show examples of Neoclassical art as well as modern and contemporary works that contain elements of Neoclassicism (works by David, Ingres, Cezanne, Miro, Leger could all be used). Throughout the presentation, ask critical questions that help students see the differences between Neoclassical and Romantic approaches to art.

To experiment with Neoclassical drawing and painting techniques, have students fold a 12" x 18" (30 cm x 46 cm) sheet of drawing paper into four parts. In each of the rectangles they should draw one of the following: a landscape, a cityscape, a still life and a group of people. Students should use only flat contour shapes to build up a composition, and each of the themes should be drawn with simplified shapes. Shapes within each composition should be filled in with flat colors. Emphasize the use of simplified forms for expressing the essence of each theme.

A final work of art To conclude this study of style, students should create a final work that shows what they have learned. They could, for example, choose one of two possible approaches: a) choose a photograph or painting of an event and reproduce it in a Neoclassical or Romantic style; or b) select objects from several sources and, through drawing and painting, combine them into one Neoclassical or Romantic composition.

Have them begin by quickly sketching the preliminary composition in the style they prefer. This plan will help them when they start their final paintings. Working from a design or plan is an important part of developing visual literacy.

Students should begin the final painting by adding a light wash of watercolor over the picture to eliminate unwanted white areas. Using pencils, pens, acrylic paints or oil pastels, they should then draw and paint the main features and details of the piece. Through in-process criticism, point out elements of their artwork that suggest either the Neoclassical or Romantic styles.

Some general suggestions A primary skill used in acquiring and reporting information in art history and art criticism is competence in verbal language. Verbal language refines aesthetic perception and artistic expression. While the image plays an important part, in that it is the subject being observed and discussed, the primary working medium during activities in art history and art criticism is words. Taught as an integrated whole, each area provides its own contribution to learning in art and simultaneously becomes a catalyst for other areas, resulting in accelerated artistic and aesthetic growth.

Students learn in the "Finding Your Tradition in Art" unit that artists have studied other artists' work and that style in art is like a dialect. Some artists use Neoclassical techniques and others prefer Romantic techniques. Some artists paint realistically while others paint abstractly. Some prefer to express the inner world of the mind and others express an outer world of nature and human environments. The most important objective of this unit is to help students find the way to make art that is best suited to them and develop an appreciation for styles preferred by others.

Helping students find their tradition in art is important because it forms a basis for them to learn about their own aesthetic and artistic taste and expands their appreciation of a variety of styles. Once they are able to identify aesthetically and artistically with styles, techniques, subject matter and content, students gain confidence in their choices and are better able to make informed judgements concerning the quality of art. For example, students may prefer Neoclassical to Baroque style or Surrealism over Cubism; but they can accept and appreciate exceptional and superior performance when it is achieved in any style, and they will be better able to understand and value new styles as they emerge.

Students profit from the study of art history. Through it they gain an appreciation of the uniqueness of the part the arts have played in cultures since the beginning of civilization. The acquire an appreciation of the uses of media, tools and processes people have used in expressing their ideas and feelings. They can see the variety of artistic techniques and skills used by people from various cultures throughout the world and can become familiar with some of the styles that have characterized both art and culture throughout history.

PHOTO : Eugene Delacroix, The Lion Hunt, 1861. Oil on canvas, 30" x 38 1/2" (76 cm x 98 cm). The

PHOTO : Art Institute of Chicago.

PHOTO : Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Madame Moitessier, Oil on canvas, 57 3/4" x 39 1/2" (147 cm

PHOTO : x 100 cm). The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
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Title Annotation:Part four of four; Artistic & Aesthetic Growth
Author:Cromer, James
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Previous Article:Totem tribute to high school life.
Next Article:1988 Scholastic Art Awards.

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