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Getting down to the roots in art.

"We're studying language in art class?" This was the overall reaction in my introductory and advanced Art courses. I explained to the students that improving vocabulary is a new all-school curriculum goal. Every course would somehow incorporate Latin and Greek root words in their classroom curriculum.

The root word for the month was "gen" from the Latin "genus," which means origin, beginning (Genesis), birth, creation, race and kind. I explained that in art we were going to focus on a "kind" of art called "genre painting." In art history, "genre" is from the French (which is derived from Latin) word "type" or "class" and refers to scenes of daily life among the merchants or peasants.

One of the best-known artists for genre painting was Dutch artist Pieter de Hooch (1629-84). De Hooch usually showed servants performing everyday tasks and was a genius at lighting and perspective. His paintings were known to have beautifully patterned floors in the main room and then in a room off that room. The far room would often be fit up with sunlight.

By the end of the language and art-history presentation the students already had an idea what the assignment would be. They were to design their own genre scenes that related to their modern lives. We discussed how different our modern society is than in Pieter de Hooch's era, so our scenes probably would show our families' everyday lives--and not servants performing tasks for us.

Since this was one of the first projects of the year, students were reminded that they needed to use proper body proportions and perspective in their compositions. They could juxtapose their scenes from photographs and could even base their rooms from famous artworks, as long as they added their own touch. I did an example, showing them how they could glue parts of a scanned photograph onto their drawings and then build their compositions around the magazine clues--I used the head of a woman and a Dalmatian dog to help get my drawing started mad then built the scene around those two parts.

Students began their colored-pencil drawings by picking out their paper from a selection of white, manila or blue. Many of them chose colored paper so the white colored pencil would show dramatically. Later as they were working, those students discovered that other colors did not contrast as well as they would have on the white paper, so they had to work through the problem.

Students ranked this project as challenging. Many struggled with the juxtaposing part of the assignment. Students could not just find a scene already composed, they had to develop their own scene and then within that scene use correct art language such as proportions, perspective, depth and contrast. It was good for both the students and the teacher to review what art is about and to get to the root of art.

Susan Buck teaches art at Valley Heights High School in Blue Rapids, Kansas.
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Author:Buck, Susan
Publication:Arts & Activities
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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