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Playful with Picasso.

One of my former students, Michael Gershberg, now teaches elementary school art in Glendale, California. He recently invited me to conduct a demonstration art lesson in his fifth and sixth grade class using Pablo Picasso as a focus. The children, mostly of Hispanic and Armenian origin, use English as a second language.

My plan was to introduce the concepts and ideas behind certain Picasso artworks, and to instruct the class in making exploratory drawings of humans (either themselves or a close friend). Their assignment was to use design ideas formulated by Picasso in which he arbitrarily changed his subjects into exaggerated and expressive forms. Later, the drawings would be painted in tempera under Mr. Gershberg's direction.

First, I read the class certain pages from a new children's art book called A Weekend with Picasso by Florian Rodari (Rizzoli International), and showed pictures which are described in Picasso's own words. Excitement was generated by this unique book and it was easy to see that the children were eager to start their drawings. They invented unique faces, exaggerated body parts, and applied geometric and organic forms to create original views of the calm or energetic force of the characters they chose to depict. We discussed arbitrary versus naturalistic color schemes for use later when Mr. Gershberg would take up the painting phase of the project.

The class worked for almost an hour after we talked about the ideas behind Picasso's fantastic images of people. Picasso had used sweeping lines and flowing forms to express movement, and to convey inner feelings such as tension or anxiety. At the end of the work period, we asked all of the students, whether they were finished or not, to stand in a large circle so that they could hold up their efforts for each other to observe. Everybody was amazed at the creative and unique styles that the artists brought to their figures.

Throughout the lesson, it was clear that the students were beginning to comprehend modern art, Picasso, and the uses of abstraction to say something different and expressive about the human body. This small focus on a few selected pieces by Picasso produced a better response than a broader focus on all of Picasso's work could have achieved. Whatever language your students speak, they'll enjoy getting playful with Picasso.

Nancy Faust is Assistant Professor, Art Department at California State University in Los Angeles, California. Michael Gershberg teaches art at Horace Mann School in Glendale, California.
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Title Annotation:Pablo Picasso
Author:Faust, Nanct
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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