Appreciating Abstract Art
To appreciate abstract art it is important to understand what it is doing and what it is not doing. The abstract expressionist movement broke away from nearly all traditional norms in art as expressed since the Renaissance. The primary distinction between abstract art, and that which preceded it, was the absence of subject matter. Although previous art movements had explored a variety of mediums and techniques, the finished pieces were still recognizable representations of concrete images. This is not the case in abstract expressionism. In abstract art, the intention is not to reproduce a particular image, but rather to express an emotion, project a mood or make a statement. The result, therefore, is, as the name suggests, abstract rather than concrete.
Through the use of these abstract art lesson plans, students can gain an appreciation for the purposes and techniques of abstract art and begin to explore ways to express themselves in the abstract art movement.
Mondrian’s Love of Lines
Dutch painter Piet Mondrian was an early contributor to the abstract expressionist movement. His work became part of a Dutch art movement known as De Stijl. This movement focused on the use of straight horizontal and vertical lines. Mondrian’s most famous pieces are grid-work paintings of intersecting black lines which create squares and rectangles of varying sizes, some of which are filled-in using primary colors. Mondrian specialized in this particular abstract art form and identified his pieces as neo-plasticism, a sub-movement in abstract art intended to demonstrate the absolutes in life. The best examples of Mondrian’s work are his compositions in Red, Blue and Yellow.
Students can experience working in neo-placticism by attempting to create a Mondrian-like composition of their own. For this project they will need canvas or paper, rulers, pencils, and paint. Grid-lines should be created first in pencil and then filled in with black paint. A simpler project could be accomplished with markers. If computers are available, students can easily accomplish this art project in any paint program. Teachers may choose to allow students to break away from the color confinements that Mondrian chose and explore other meaningful color combinations. A color-wheel may be useful for choosing alternate color arrangements.
The most famous American abstract expressionist of the 20th Century was Jackson Pollock. Unlike Mondrian’s orderly use of symmetry and balance, Pollock expressed himself in entirely random displays. His most famous contribution to the abstract art movement was in is method of painting as much as in the finished product. Pollock preferred to lay his blank canvas on the floor and walk across his artwork while dripping and splashing paint onto the canvas. This non-traditional technique produced unusual swirling lines, drips, and color patterns across his exceptionally large canvases.
Abstract art lesson plans can help students experience Pollock’s abstract expressionism. If space permits, canvas or rolled art paper should be secured to the floor and students should be instructed to walk over it while dripping paint in various ways. For the sake of time and space, students may need to work in groups to accomplish a finished piece. For a smaller project, students can drip paint onto a canvas board while holding their brushes directly in front of them at arms’ length and moving their arms over the canvas to produce a series of random splashes and drips. Pollock’s work should be studied to determine which colors are most in keeping with his art.
Some modern art may look too abstract to try with your students, but these projects can be done with many different age groups and they always produce some fascinating results. Try adding one to your lesson plans to see how much the students appreciate it, then be sure to find a good place to display your abstract art for all to admire.