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Modern cave art.

When the new school year began, I considered what our options were. Should we begin with the elements of design? We had completely exhausted the "most exciting moment of summer vacation" approach. A chronological base seemed appealing. Why not start at the very beginning with cave art?

Our third graders knew very little about the processes used to create the first known art, so together we became cave people and set about decorating our caves. Our first project introduced the students to Lascaux, as we tried our hands at drawing with charcoal on brown paper. We looked at the beautiful drawings found in the caves and decided that charcoal would make a good medium. We made our own tools out of sticks, leaves, weeds, rocks or any natural object we could find. This proved to be challenging. Some of our tools were unusable and broke immediately. Other designs were clumsy and awkward but functional. The marks made by these handmade tools were quite unlike any marks made by conventional tools and brought the students to a new area of experimentation with texture and pattern.

Our next prehistoric experience involved working with clay. The students molded, carved and incised animal forms and then bisque fired them. The students finished their designs by using natural colorants. Mud, fruit, vegetables, flowers, leaves and nuts were collected and traded for experiments in color. We were all surprised at the strength and variety of colors that were obtained through rubbing, crushing and dripping. We wondered if the colors would remain as intense over time but we've found they have changed very little in the months following our experiments.

The students' were asked to become modern cave people by pretending that their space vehicles had crashed, leaving them stranded alone on an imaginary planet. They drew pictures of the things that were most precious to them in their modern lives and showed how these things were missed in their new life. These drawings, done with handmade tools, ranged in subject matter from VCRs to family members and pets. Students also wrote stories about the struggle to survive without the benefit of modern conveniences.

Our cave art start was a multimedia, multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary adventure, sparking spirited discussions about the many qualities contemporary art shares with the art of the cave people. We speculated on the need to create, and learned to appreciate the skill required to make such beautiful art with handmade tools on crude surfaces. Start with cave art again? You bet.

Jill Webb teaches art at the Wellington School, Upper Arlington, Ohio.
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Author:Webb, Jill
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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