Welcome back to my series where I curate groups of paintings around themes for use with your students. Each post, I will pick 5 artworks that you could start discussing today in your homeschool or classroom.
Also, check out this post on how to look at art with kids for tips on discussion artworks.
Note about the images in this series: Because of copyright law, I cannot include pictures of all the works discussed. Instead, I have included low-quality thumbnails for reference and commentary. For full versions of those works protected under the law, please click the link or picture to find the image. I couldn’t bear leaving them off the list just because I couldn’t post a pic! Also, click on the pictures to get a bigger copy to see all the details.
What Do Kids Learn from Looking at Art Poster
Our students learn so much from looking at art. Use this poster in your classroom to remind them of all the skills they’re growing!
In this post, I selected artworks good for all ages. This time, I am focused on captivating the older set. I picked some works that are interesting, quirky, and sure to capture the imagination of your high school students. Let’s get started!
1. Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas, 1939
The Two Fridas, as well as much of the work of Frida Kahlo, is a great painting on which to practice your art interpretation skills. Her paintings are so personal, so real, and so cool. I don’t want you to read anything below until you have clicked the link and looked at the painting on your own (the same goes for your high schooler). Go through these discussion questions and think about it first. Promise?
I’m hesitant to give you any information about this because your ideas are just as important as the “real meaning.” I’ll give you a bit to whet your appetite. Did you keep your promise and look/think first? I’m trusting you. Okay, this painting shows two elements of the artist and her mixed ancestry. One side displays her father’s German-Jewish descent, and the other side illustrates her mother’s Mexican roots. The real story shows her tumultuous relationship with the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. This link has a great roll-over activity showing key elements of the painting and highlights some of the elements of her relationship with Diego.
2. John Feodorov, Animal Spirit Channeling Device for the Contemporary Shaman, 1997
I hate linking to an “unofficial” source, but this link has the full image. I’m not sure why it is cropped in all the official sources.
Remember, your interpretation is just as valid as mine or the artists. Hopefully, when you ask your child about the feathers, bells, fur, and “shaman” in the title, they are reminded of American Indians, but if they don’t get there on their own, you might consider nudging them in that direction. This artwork has lots of connections to mass production in contemporary culture, convenience replacing meaning, cultural assimilation, etc.
This is what the artist had to say about it.
“Western culture likes to castrate the powerful, maybe because it doesn’t want to be less powerful than something else, that maybe it has to bring everything down to a level where…well, maybe it’s capitalism really, to where it’s a product, to where it’s something that can be controlled by purchase, controlled by owning it and by owning, even in art.”
– John Feodorov (source)
3. Nkisi Nkondi power figures made by the Kongo people of Western Africa
Oh, the emotions of an adolescent! Sometimes you need to take a nail and hammer the crap out of it to get your feelings out. That’s kind of what’s happening here.
The word nkondi comes from the word “to hunt.” The nkondi is a hunter–hunting down and attacking wrong-doers and enemies (wikipedia). This type of sculpture was used as a healer, protector, hunter, and provider of justice for the Kongo people. There were often holes in the stomach and mouth where medicine bundles were placed to give the sculpture its power. The nails hammered into the sculpture activate the powers and send the sculpture to perform his duty. Mirrors often covered the stomach hole and eyes to connect to a spiritual realm and provide a window to spy on the wrong-doers.
Check out this link for more great information about this type of sculpture. There are many many more sculptures like this. A Google image search for nkisi nkondi will give you lots of choices. Try compare and contrasting the works together for another great looking exercise.
4. Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781
Honestly, I’m not sure this needs any explanation at all. It’s just one of those artworks that always gets a “whoa!” reaction from anyone who sees it. I’m going to let you think about how to talk about this one on our own with your students. Share initial reactions, theorize about the meaning, and discuss the choices the artist made to intensify the meaning.
This painting is from the Romantic period in the art of the late 18th century and early 19th centuries. Don’t be fooled by the name, this art period is not about love and kisses and roses. Romantic artists were out to shock and engage the viewer with powerful imagery and emotions, explore elements of the subconscious, connect with other art forms (especially literature), captivate with exotic tales and locations, and mesmerize with the awe and power of nature. This painting sums all that up in one quirky and disturbingly delicious package; don’t you think?
5. Hugo Ball’s Sound Poetry, Karawane, 1916
This is Hugo Ball. He was a mover and a shaker in a short-lived art movement in the early 20th century called dada. Rumor has it they picked a random word out of the dictionary to name their group (check out the manifestos linked below for more info about what dada means. Spoiler alert: “DADA DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING”). While the movement was short and seemingly silly, it began as a reaction against the horrors of World War I. They valued whimsy, irrationality, shock value, and spontaneity to counteract the serious undertones and themes of politics, war, media, language, civil rights, and technology. These artists tested the limits of art by integrating visual art, public gatherings and demonstrations, theatre, poetry, and even just pure sounds. That’s what is happening here with Hugo Ball’s Karawane. He put on this awesome costume and read his poem of nonsensical sounds and words in a cafe. I can’t find a recording of him doing it, but poets.org has a great audio recording of someone giving it a go.
Side note: Although it started as an anti-war movement in Europe, once it hit America it became more about anti-art and questioning the value and purpose of art. Check out this “Ready-made” (That’s a fancy way of saying urinal.) by Marcel Duchamp to see where that went. Is art the idea, or is art the final product?
Dada. Dada, dada. Da. Da.
Thanks for reading! See more art-related posts on Art Class Curator. Which of these artworks did you like the most? Let me know in the comments if you tried out any of these artworks with your kids! What other artworks intrigue your older kids?
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This was originally posted on April 14, 2014.