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Matisse through poetry.

Imagine students eagerly writing and discussing poetry in a high school art class. I had been looking for a new way to involve my students in art criticism when I realized we could use creative writing techniques to describe artwork.

Embarking on an adventure in poetry writing, we looked at paintings and responded with a variety of poetic forms. Not only did this technique help the students relate literature to the visual arts but also it provided an easy way for students to get in touch with the qualities, feelings and emotional aspects of art.

Using Haiku and Diamonte

I introduced a unit on Henri Matisse with slides, books and prints of his Tunisian paintings. The students, awaiting my usual questions related to the critical process (description, analysis, interpretation and judgment), were surprised when instead I asked them to describe the works using poetry.

We began with a Japanese verse form called haiku. This form traditionally is used to capture a moment or view of nature in three lines. Haiku is limited to seventeen syllables in lines of five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables. Because of haiku's inherent limitations, it forces the student to search for the best words that will fit. This technique relates to the interpretation aspect of the criticism process. The aesthetic meaning of the work and the more profound and touching aspects of art viewing were described in the students, haiku.

Next, I introduced a poetic form called diamonte. It involves writing different kinds of words in eight lines. The lines are sequenced as follows:

1 noun

2 adjectives

3 action words

4 feeling words

4 feeling words (change of topic)

3 action words

2 adjectives

1 noun

This poetic technique compares to the description and analysis components of the criticism process-description through the use of adjectives and analysis through attention to movement and mood.

The students were very motivated when they created their Matisse-like cut paper renderings of collages. Combining early and late styles of Matisse, they each drew a plant, used the drawing as a template, painted papers, collected patterned papers and glued down the papers to make a scene that included a table, window, a patterned wall and a plant. They showed special awareness of the qualities of mood created through their use of color and composition.

Adding the Concept of Analogy

The poetry process was useful as we critiqued the collages. The students easily jumped into a description of their own work through haiku and diamonte. This time, I introduced the addition of analogy to help my "art critics" observe and express the most dominant qualities.

The playful, creative use of words was the key to my students, enthusiasm. Weeks later, they still asked, "When are we going to do poetry again?"

Jane Page Ferriss is an art teacher at Tucker High School in Tucker, Georgia. She wishes to acknowledge her mentor, Dr. Jean Ellen Jones.
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Title Annotation:teaching art criticism to students
Author:Ferriss, Jane Page
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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