Hands-on Art History: A Quick Recap and Resource Guide

This fall we introduced a new program called Hands-on Art History for children ages 7-9. At this program we had short lessons on an aspect of art history including movements and specific artists. These lessons used images, picture books, and lots of discussion questions. Then we cemented what we learned with an easy, cool project!

If you were unable to come to this program, no worries we are starting it up again in January! However, if you did miss I wanted you to be able to replicate this activity at home and I wanted to credit the cool people whose lesson plans and ideas were incorporated into this program. To that end I have compiled a quick how-to complete with pictures and links to useful resources. So here we go!

Not what we made but really close to it!

Byzantine Art – Tissue Paper Mosaics

The Byzantine Empire (which existed roughly from 300 AD to 1300 AD) is famous for their intricate and beautiful mosaics. I would recommend showing a map of the Byzantine Empire and showing pictures of the mosaics–all easily obtained through Google. These mosaics were often not very realistic because the artists were more interested in expressing strong (often religious) emotions.

To make a tissue paper mosaic you will need:

  • Contact paper
  • Cardstock
  • Tissue paper

I got the idea for this project from a colleague at Goodnow Library, but a great example can be found at this blog full of child appropriate art projects. Simply cut out a frame from card stock and place a sheet of contact paper on one side, with the sticky side up. Stick small pieces of tissue paper to the sticky side of the contact paper to create a picture. (HINT: Draw your design on a piece of paper and lay it under the non-sticky side of the contact paper to make an easy outline to follow.) When you have finished placing your tissues paper squares seal the picture with another piece of contact paper sticky side to sticky side. That’s it! So easy!

Impressionism – Pointillism Paintings

Creating something like this!

Impressionism originated in Paris, France and become most famous in 1870-1880. The Impressionists were very interested color, line, and form and how that created art. They did not care about making what they were painting look real! I took some time to point out in Impressionist works how sometimes artists used colors creatively…like using green to make a skin tone! Impressionists were also some of the first artists who created art outside of an official studio, preferring to see their subjects in their natural world. Some of these artists include Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Manet, and Seurat. We focused specifically on Seurat whose method, called pointillism, used little and large dots of interesting color to create large scenes. This website helped me understand Seurat and Pointillism. Also, here are some library books you may want to consider using:

To make a pointillism painting you will need:

  • Thick paper (cardboard from clothing packaging works very well)
  • Pencil with a flat eraser
  • Paint of different colors (We used acrylics)

First draw a simple picture. Big large shapes work best for this project…fine details are difficult to capture. Then using the eraser end of the pencil dip it into paint and begin placing dots to fill in the picture you drew. That’s it! So easy. This website also has directions to do the project with watercolors and q-tips.

Last one now!

Abstract Expressionism – Marble Action Paintings

marbleactionFinally I can actually use one of my own pictures from our program! Abstract Expressionism is exactly what it sounds like…trying to convey thoughts, feelings, and ideas through abstract (not physically concrete) ways. This was a hard one to explain and I relied heavily on this lesson plan. This particular movement grew out of the confusion the world was left in after two world wars and the Great Depression. Life was very confusing and artists were finding new ways to express how they felt about the world. This included Jackson Pollock. I showed how his work begin realistic and steadily became more abstract over time ending on his famous “No. 1, 1950,” also called “Lavender Mist”. Part of Pollock’s technique was connecting to the painting physically on the ground while he painted and using extreme motion to create the painting. That’s why he was called Action Jackson! Whatever bits of dirt or straw or even screws that fell into the painting while he worked stayed there. A picture book that really helped explain his methods is Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

To create a Pollock-esque marble action painting you will need:

  • Thick paper
  • A tray to hold your paper (and marbles)
  • Marbles
  • Paint of different thicknesses and colors in cups
  • Glitter

Drop marbles into all the different cups of paints and leave spoons in the cups. Place a piece of paper on the tray and then drop paint covered marbles onto the paper. Move the tray to make the marbles roll and create paint streaks and blobs. Leave the marbles in the tray as you add more paint-covered marbles and continue moving them around. Experiment with different colors, paint thicknesses, movements, and where you drop the marbles. Remove marbles after you are satisfied with the painting and drop them in water for cleaning. Add glitter to the painting if desired to add texture and shine. Another way to increase the educational value of this project is to assign the children tasks; for example, I asked the children to think of an emotion and try to express it through their abstract art. All of them were capable of doing this!

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