Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Some Basic Beliefs in Contemporary Art Education - Foundations of Contemporary Art Education - A History of Educational Thought - History of Change in Art Education - Development of Psychological thought - The Values of Society - Recent Art History

Notes from: Gaitskell, Charles D., Al Hurwitz, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Michael Day, Univ. of Minnesota, eds. Children and Their Art, Methods for The Elementary School, Fourth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1982.

Recent Art History

There is a time for children to focus their attention on the external world and there is a time to honor their own dreams and inner desires; there should be opportunities to experiment with form; and there should be situations wherein the modes of one medium can borrow from another. The history of art provides ample evidence to support all such activities.

Impressionism. The traditional hierarchical organization of subject matter was abandoned in favor of a relatively modern preoccupation with light and color--responded to the invention of the camera as a recording device that surpassed the painter in accuracy and to the new scientific knowledge of optics. They began to concentrate on the creation of images that the camera could not achieve as they emphasized mood and visual impression . . . . Monet, Renoir . . . .

Post-Impressionism. The vivid, emotionally charged works of Van Gogh left their mark on the Expressionists; the broad, flat tones of Gauguin were to find their echoes in the work of Henri Matisse; and the construction of forms in terms of planes undertaken by Paul Cézanne opened the door to Cubism, perhaps the most revolutionary of twentieth-century styles. Cézanne refused to limit his vision to the forms given by the tradition of painting and thus examined the structure beneath the outward aspects of objects. He invited the viewer to study his pictorial subjects from multiple points of view, and he made the space between objects as meaningful as the objects themselves. Cézanne rejected the hazy softness of Impressionism and applied his paint in clearly articulated flat strokes of color, which appeared literally to build his paintings as one small passage led to larger areas. This method of organizing the structure of a painting served to unify the entire work into a "fused, crystallized unit, within which the shapes and colors work together."

Fauvism. "We must, at all costs, break out of the fold in which the realists have imprisoned us." (Derain's clarion call of 1906). The Fauves were creating their own reality, and they conceived of painting as a vehicle for expression that was totally autonomous, wholly independent of the viewer's perception of the world.

Expressionism. Celebrates the artist's individual expressive statement and allows for nearly unbounded abstraction and experimentation . . . . Expressionism, generally speaking, may be said to place emphasis on emotions, sensations, or ideas rather than on the appearance of objects . . . . Expressionism, in its narrower sense, was a development of early twentieth-century German art in response to the aesthetic furor taking place in France at the same time. We can think of the Expressionist artists of Germany, Scandinavia, and Austria as merging the color and design theories of the Post-Impressionists of France with attitudes toward subject matter that were uniquely Germanic in origin. This merger gave German Expressionism its distinguishing characteristics: a heightened use of color, an extreme simplification of form and distortion of representational conventions for emotive reasons, a preoccupation with hallucinatory religious experience, and the investment of conventional or "public" subjects, such as landscapes and human figures, with private visionary or mythic meanings. Considerably influenced by the Fauves, the German Expressionists in turn affected French painters such as Rouault, especially in terms of the ideological substructure of art . . . . As time went on, Expressionism took the form of extreme abstraction, and had liberating effects on painting and on art education.

Cubism. Picasso and Braque . . . . Their spontaneity and painterly qualities, born of their own emotionalism, were superseded by a more intellectual concern for order. As Werner Haftmann describes it: "Cubism embraces all the aspects of the object simultaneously and is more complete than the optical view. From the information and signs conveyed on the rhythmically moving surface, the imagination can reassemble the object in its entirety . . . . Cubism corresponds to that new modern conception of reality which it has been the aim of the whole pictorial effort of the 20th Century to express in visual terms." Within Cubism can be found many of the central concepts of modern art: manipulation and rejection of Renaissance perspective, abstraction to the point of nonobjectivity, emphasis on the integrity of the picture plane, introduction of manufactured elements in collage, and experimentation with different conceptions of reality.

Surrealism. André Breton, a poet, first used the term surrealist in his own publication, thus reflecting the close connection between an art movement and a literary one, a common situation in the history of art. The artists who were ultimately to be identified with the movement--Max Ernst, Hans Arp, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy--all shared Breton's interest in Sigmund Freud's ideas regarding dreams, psychoanalysis, and the relation of conscious and subconscious experience as the subject matter for art. They strove to divorce themselves from rational and logical approaches to art. In searching for a definition of Surrealism that would apply equally to literature and art, Breton wrote, "Surrealism: the dictation of thought free from any control of reason, independent of any aesthetic or moral preoccupation . . . . rests upon a belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association hitherto neglected, in the omnipotence of the dream, in the disinterested play of thought."

Nonobjective Art (or Nonrepresentational Art). Wassily Kandinsky . . . . considered the father of non-objective painting . . . . Piet Mondrian, Hans Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Louise Nevelson, and the artists associated with the Op, Minimal, and Hard Edge schools of art, such as Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, Donald Judd, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Stella. Before the arrival of nonrepresentational art, the subject matter of painting and sculpture derived almost universally from the natural world, although the degree of correspondence ranged widely from photographic likeness to highly abstract statement. The nonrepresentational artist, however, asserts that expression is based on the manipulation of the elements of design--line, mass and space, light and shade, texture, and color--without reference to the visible world. Subject matter is, in a sense, eliminated . . . . art education has profited greatly from the nonrepresentational artists' experiments with media, techniques, and pictorial composition.

Fragmentation & Reconstruction. The fixed point of view . . . . was seriously questioned by Cézanne and the Cubists and was followed by further movements that were not only to redefine traditional ideas of space and subject matter, but also to question the role of the very surface of the canvas itself. The collage approach, which combined diverse and unrelated "found" textures, eventually led to the addition, some thirty years later, of real objects such as Rauschenberg's stuffed birds and pillows. Artists such as Louise Nevelson and George Segal have either employed the real object as an adjunct to painting and sculpture or have used it to create a new kind of symbol derived from both arts. The idea of creating situations wherein found objects are set in fresh perspective by the creation of radically different frames of reference seems to be a part of the current thinking of artists, who have been freed from the limitations imposed by fixed media classifications. Thus, sculpture is not merely painted, it moves; and paintings wired for sound may speak to us literally as well as symbolically, thereby steadily weaning the viewer away from an attitude of passivity and contemplation towards greater participation.

Contemporay Trends (1982). The current scene in art is not dominated by a single style or movement, but exemplifies a pluralism that includes contemporary manifestation of nearly all that has gone before. Technical facility through modern technology is displayed by the Photo-Realists such as Chuck Close and Richard Estes, while at the same time conceptual artists such as Walter De Maria and Christo emphasize art as an aesthetic experience rather than as an object.


[Notes from: Gaitskell, Charles D., Al Hurwitz, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Michael Day, Univ. of Minnesota, eds. Children and Their Art, Methods for The Elementary School, Fourth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1982.]



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