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Predators.

Long before people lived in towns and cities, they were often the victims of such predatory animals as tigers, lions, bears and wolves. But the numbers of these predators have been greatly reduced by hunting. Sharks still remain in the oceans and sometimes attack bathers, but even their numbers are being reduced through fishing.

People in every part of the world tell stories about animal attacks--and escapes--which students may enjoy reading. At one time, however, about the only way most people could see real animal predators was in zoos and circuses.

Over the last century, writers like Rudyard Kipling and moviemakers like Walt Disney have given almost human qualities to what in real life are wild and untamable animals. Other films have been made that describe the actual lives of wild animals in their normal surroundings and these can be borrowed from libraries.

On the other hand, only a handful of visual artists have chosen predatory animals for subjects, although some students may be interested in following up on what these artists have done and perhaps attempt to show predatory animals in adventurous artworks of their own.

Just as professional artists have to do, students may want to learn how animals' bodies are put together: how their bones and muscles are arranged, and how all the parts work together. Without knowledge of this kind, the animals they draw or paint will not look right. Copying paintings and sculptures by artists may help in this task, as well as drawing diagrams from books that show animal anatomy. Students will also want to find out what kinds of poses predators use, especially when hunting prey.

More abstract artworks are often just as good as studying more realistic artworks, so the Rufino Tamayo painting may be as helpful to students as the more realistic one by Delacroix. In fact, students may like to try exaggerating the more realistic alligators seen in the John Singer Sargent painting to make them more abstract. The Winslow Homer painting might also be altered to put greater emphasis on the shark's fearsome teeth, much as Tamayo did with the dog-like animals.

In the examples shown with this article, teachers may also need to guide students to think about alter native settings for their own artworks about predators, especially those in which a background is needed. While none of the four backgrounds in these paintings is shown very clearly, this enables the viewer lo focus attention completely on the predators and the stories they tell. Many other backgrounds are possible, however, and students may be interested in inventing them.

The problem of the choice of alternative settings for these action paintings may be difficult for students to create. This may require them to find out more about where these animals normally live and develop their own ideas for a place without losing the main message of life-and-death challenges seen in these paintings.

Since sharks live beneath the surface of the ocean, students may decide that an underwater painting is more interesting. Similar artistic solutions could be presented for different interpretations of alligators and the dog-like animals. The artistic solutions, however, would need to fill all the available space in a picture; or, if students chose to make sculptures instead of paintings, they would need to think of all-around views el their work.

Other ideas for student artworks might be to move ahead in time with one of these paintings--or some other artwork about predators a student like--to what might happen next. Will the fisherman land the shark or will the shark twist around and drag one of the men into the sea? Will the alligators charge the artist when he least expects it and haul him into the muddy pool? What will Tamayo's animals do if someone were to get too close to them? Or might each of these pictures have quite different endings?

ALTHOUGH JOHN Singer Sargent was an American, he was born in Europe and lived most of his life there. His parents were wealthy and spent their time traveling while he was a boy and, as a result, he visited such important artistic places as Rome and Florence in Italy, and Dresden in Germany. He was educated at home by private teachers (tutors), and also showed talent in art. Starting at age 13 he attended art classes with the goal of becoming a professional artist and, in Paris, he enrolled in an art school to learn how to paint portraits. As a result, he became well known for many oil paintings of wealthy people, although he really preferred painting quickly in watercolors.

In 1917 he visited Florida to paint a portrait of the millionaire, John D. Rockefeller. While there, he made numerous watercolors. The one seen here is of alligators basking on a muddy shore. The large reptiles are lying perfectly still, but anyone who knows about alligators understands that at any moment they may surge forward at great speed if there is a chance they can grab hold of a small animal--or even a person--and drag it into deep water to drown it.

Alligators are dangerous predators but they will chase prey only if they are fairly close to it. They can run on their short legs very quickly but only for short distances. Rather, they prefer to creep up on an animal and surprise it before it can escape. This scene looks peaceful enough, but the artist shows the watchful eyes of the alligators, telling us that the slightest mistake could be very dangerous.

The rough, scaly skins of the alligators are very well-painted in this picture, although they have been done rapidly. The artist shows that he can paint these animals with quickly painted brushstrokes much better than if he outlined them carefully with a pencil before painting them.

DELACROIX WAS one of the leading painters in France about 200 years ago. Most of his pictures showed scenes that were full of action and emotion; and for this reason he is called a Romantic artist.

He began his art studies at 18 and also read books by great authors who were then at work. By the time he was 24, his talent had been recognized and from then on he was continually being asked to paint pictures for the king of France and other important people. Many of his paintings are very large and fill the walls of palaces.

Delacroix also visited North Africa, after which his paintings became even more violent and romantic. During his lifetime, he became a master of Romantic art and focused his attention on a sense of drama and storytelling in art.

The tiger in this painting is shown in a crouching position, at the moment when it is about to spring at the snake. Its back is raised and the rear legs are ready to launch its body at the snake, while the rail seems to be whipping around in cat-like anger. In typical attack position, the front of the tiger's body is almost touching the ground while the snarling jaws are wide open and the eyes are focused, without wavering, on every movement the snake makes.

The snake's pose is less easy to read, although its body is supported by being wrapped tightly around the tree. As small as the snake's head and venomous jaws are, however, the snake is far from helpless; and Delacroix has painted its eyes to give them a hypnotic gleam that should give the tiger cause for concern. This is far from an unequal battle, even though at this point we may now know what the outcome is going to be.

SHARKS ARE GREATLY FEARED BY PEOPLE. WHEN THEY are sighted off a beach, lifeguards call bathers out of the water to the safety of dry land. There is no doubt that sharks are dangerous predators, although most of them seem not to enjoy eating humans. Not many people believe that, however. The fact is that human beings are far more successful predators and kill far more sharks than ever kill humans. So this painting is really about two kinds of predators.

We see two men out fishing in a small rowboat somewhere in the Bahama Islands. The shark's mouth is gaping, showing its razor-sharp teeth that could easily slice a person's body in half. However. while the shark may be bigger and stronger than the men, the men are more intelligent than the shark. They know how to tire the shark out and then kill it. And, unless they are careless and are bitten when the shark is hauled aboard, they are likely to be successful.

Winslow Homer, was a very successful artist and illustrator who lived over 100 years ago. At the beginning of his career, he worked mainly as a commercial illustrator. By the time he was 40, he stopped producing commercial art and became a painter of pictures and illustrations. The editors of illustrated magazines would pay him to paint pictures they wanted to include in their magazines. Sometimes he would paint hunting or fishing scenes, and other times they would be wilderness scenes. He first went to the Bahamas on a painting trip in 1875. Homer enjoyed it so much, he returned many times from his home in Maine to enjoy the warm weather during the cold, northern winter.

Homer was very good at painting in both watercolors and oil paint, and all of his work is quite realistic. In this watercolor, he uses quickly brushed ripples of watery blue-gray paint to show the sea and even lighter colors for the sky. He painted with greater care the more solid parts of the painting, such as the shark, the fishermen and the rowboat; and students will quickly see that Homer knew exactly how to paint the main objects in a picture accurately and quickly. To do this so well he must have practiced a great deal beforehand.

NO ONE CAN BE IN ANY DOUBT ABOUT THE TWO animals seen in this painting. The type of animal cannot be identified, although they look like dogs of some kind. Perhaps Tamayo decided to invent the most vicious-looking dog-like shapes imaginable just to emphasize the dangerousness of his choice of subject. In any event, there is no doubt that these animals are violent, merciless predators. Judging from the well-chewed bones lying on the ground, they have already torn other animals apart and eaten them--although from the expressions on their faces it doesn't appear that their ravenous appetites have begun to be satisfied.

Early in his career, Tamayo began to use colors that were so brilliant that most artists about 50 years ago did not think they were suitable for serious paintings. His reason for using them was because he was a Zapotec Indian, and such colors were popular in the part of Mexico where he grew up. So, instead of the normal kinds of colors of animals, this Mexican artist added to the savageness of these animals by painting them in startling choices of red, yellow and green.

The garish color, the gaping jaws, the gleaming fangs and staring eyes of these dog-like animals further add emphasis to their never-ending hunger. The result is a painting of animals that would be difficult to imagine being any more ferocious and merciless.

Students will be right in recognizing the influence of the artistic style of the Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, in this painting, although Tamayo later developed a unique style of his own. When he was about 40 years old, the artist left Mexico and went to live in New York for about 20 years. He also visited Paris, France, where he was influenced by many of the artists he met there.

Guy Hubbard is Professor Emeritus of Indiana University, Bloomington, and is on the Arts & Activities Editorial Advisory Board.
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Title Annotation:Teaching art with Art
Author:Hubbard, Guy
Publication:Arts & Activities
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:1969
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