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Teaching color through Neo-Impressionism.

Like many busy art teachers, I finally found time to read the September, 1989 issue of SchoolArts during winter break, and was excited to find the Looking/Learning article, "Painting: Neo-Impressionism." Coincidentally eighty-five Meadowbrook fifth and sixth graders, their classroom teachers, a half-dozen parent volunteers and I had planned to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum to tour the W. J. Holliday Collection of Neo-Impressionist works. Having already planned this outing in June, I had ample time to prepare my students with a solid art history background. They saw slides borrowed from our district's central art office covering the periods of Realism, Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism. Prints covered one area of the artroom as a constant reminder.

Since Neo-Impressionism involves the science of color, I felt a color review was necessary. Given only the primary hues, students worked in pairs to mix the paint, but individually to create a twelve-part color wheel, a nine-part value scale and an intensity chart. Armed with this experience and information, the Neo-Impressionist paintings at the art museum, with their pure color dots, made quite an impact on my students. They were inspired.

I assigned the students to find an interesting and fairly colorful photograph to use as a guide for their own Neo-Impressionist attempts. Because landscapes were a favorite of our historical art heroes, I encouraged that subject, but students also used animal and flower photos as source material. (Outdoor sketches from nature are preferable if weather permits.)

Supplies were simple: pencils and white paper for light preliminary sketches, oil pastels for brilliant interpretations. I demonstrated a few different kinds of "marks" the medium could make, and then we began.

The results were outstanding, and the differences between student techniques equally diverse. Some placed small controlled dots of color next to each other, some built up very thick, oily layers to achieve color blending, others were more conventional. All tried to achieve the goal of visual color blending.

We trimmed and mounted the compositions very simply on contrasting paper. We displayed them first in our school hallway for all of the students and parents to admire, and later outside the school boardroom in our district administrative building.

I am truly proud of these efforts and results, and I want to share this success with other art educators at all levels who enjoy combining art history with specific art concepts. Paul Signac and Georges Seurat would approve.

Kay Bantz is the art teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary School Waukesha, Wisconsin.
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Author:Bantz, Kay
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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