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Surrealism: not for the faint of art.

Middle school students are fascinated with Surrealism. They love the startling images of Rene Magritte and the disturbing paintings of Salvador Dali. Middle school students are dreamers, and fantasy is a daily experience. To introduce Surrealism to my students, I show them a video about Dali. I fill the artroom with prints of the works of Dali, Magritte and Ernst, as well as works by other artists who influenced or were influenced by the Surrealists, such as Chagall and de Chirico. Slides of works by these artists and students artists are viewed and discussed.

To help students gain a better understanding of this movement, and to help them develop their own ideas, I break Surrealism into four categories: 1. Dreams or Nightmares

(Daydreams count too.); 2. Realistic Objects Placed in

Unusual Settings; 3. Realistic Objects Given

Unnatural Characteristics; 4. Pure Fantasy.

The students are asked to think about these four categories as a basis for a pencil value drawing. Compositions are required to demonstrate awareness of foreground, middle ground and background, and we review the importance of size relationships. Students are asked to experiment with three to five thumbnails in their sketchbooks. They are encouraged to work out ideas in their thumbnail sketches and develop concepts in different categories.

After the drawing pencils are distributed, the students create a value scale of 1" (2.54 cm) squares, using six different values from white to black with grays in between. Following an individual student-teacher conference examining their thumbnail sketches, a selection of each student's best idea is made. Compositions begin on 12 x 18" (30 x 46 cm) white drawing paper, and work continues for about five to seven class periods. Throughout the drawing of their Surrealist works, students are encouraged to refer to their value scales to ensure a variety of values in their drawings. Values should be used to suggest form, space and texture. Students can use sharp contrasts in value for dramatic effects.

Critiques are held at various points, and a student-teacher assessment finishes the process of evaluation. Students are very excited with the finished results. Hallway displays produce lines of students studying these unique compositions.

The influence of this lesson frequently appears in other classes when students choose to include an element of fantasy in their clayworks, colored pencil drawings, paintings or sculpture. To unleash the imagination is a thrill for the creator as well as for the viewer. Perhaps your middle school class is ready for a trip into the subconscious. Beware--it's not for the faint of art!
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Author:Watson-Newlin, Karen
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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