Exploring Picasso and Cubism

Term: 1 Year: 2007
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The Art Department at South Oakleigh College could easily have been mistaken for Picasso and Dora Maar’s apartment at 6 rue de Savoie, Paris this year.

The team of students and teachers set about exploring and re-creating some of the themes Picasso had developed. They investigated some of the most significant themes that inspired Picasso, which included his portrayal of the women in his life and the plight of human suffering due to the effect of the war.  Also explored was the wide range of mediums and techniques Picasso employed, particularly Cubism.

The program was designed to give students a deeper understanding and appreciation of Picasso’s work and life, and at the same time develop their visual art skills and knowledge. It also incorporated the three main Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS), the strands and associated domains and dimensions. The levels of student ability, skill, knowledge and experience varied enormously and had to be one of the most critical points to consider when
planning the program. The strands were easily worked into each level but the domains and dimensions had to be modified for each group.  The personal and interpersonal learning skills of students developed as their strengths and weaknesses were identified at each level.

In 2D, Year 10 students were organised into small groups and given a choice of several paintings that represented different periods in Picasso’s life to develop into artworks. They were also given individual pieces to interpret and respond to such as “The Weeping Woman” and “Guernica”. Using the visual art elements and principles of design, they were able to determine the meaning of the artworks, and then had to dissect and re-create the work in order to communicate their own ideas. The results were amazing! Some students combined several paintings in the form of collage to tell their story, which gave a slightly different version of the artwork’s original meaning. This activity emphasised all aspects of interdisciplinary and discipline- based learning.

The group work involved creating and making larger scale paintings, and depicted themes from the Blue Period, the Rose Period and Cubism. Each group had to research, analyse and interpret the meaning of the work and then explore the materials and techniques Picasso used.  Group 1 worked on “The Three Musicians” and Group 2 worked on “Le Camigou.” They dissected each piece of the painting and then re-established it by putting each piece back in semi-relief according to the various plane changes. This process enabled the students to decipher the multiple viewpoints used by the Cubist artists. Both groups used a range of materials such as fabrics, newspaper, paint, fur, photocopies, rope, guitar pieces and many more in order to convey their understanding of analytical and synthetic Cubism. They also had to work with a range of tools from the wood technology area, which included jigsaws, band saws, electric drills and sanders.

Group 3 used the image of “Woman with a Dead Child”, Group 4 used “The Korean Massacre”, and Group 5 used “La Joie de Vivre”. These paintings were chosen to give the students the opportunity to develop essential thinking skills by increasing their awareness of how Picasso interpreted his source of inspiration. They did not use formal Venn diagrams or cluster maps to analyse the works but did discuss meaning, techniques, art elements and principles, in an open, mind-mapping way. This helped them make informed decisions about how they were going
to emphasize different aspects of the paintings, and why Picasso used certain shapes, colours and forms. It also demonstrated the many different painting styles he used. The outcome for this project resulted in excellent collaboration between all groups.

Year 9, 2D explored the meaning of signs and symbols, abstraction, distortion, expression and exaggeration in Picasso’s work. They used several portraiture styles to reproduce and change according to their own impression and interpretation of the original work. The work in this unit was designed to develop creative skills in painting and construction.
Students worked with acrylic on canvas and mixed media, which included balsa wood, magazine extracts, poly-blocks, skewers, buttons, string, sequins, feathers and anything else they found in the art room. The mixed media paintings were to be three-dimensional with two different expressions on either side. They had to be free standing. Students cut semi-figurative shapes out of the balsa and then painted and glued anything they wanted to convey their meaning.
These images developed extensively after the students had explored the sculptures of Picasso and looked at the way he handled space and form.

Year 9 Visual Communication. The students responsible for the College Magazine selected an image of one of the final solutions created by the students in 2D for the cover of the 2006 edition. They employed photo-shop, photo-elements and a range of graphic programs.

Year 9 Ceramics students developed an understanding of Picasso’s glazed imagery to decorate the pieces. The decorating process developed skills in transfer-release with slip onto the surface of the clay. Exercise 2 students had to explore a wide range of options for surface decoration, including mark-making, incising, texturising and glazing.
The option they chose was to use slip monoprinting. This process meant they had to choose an image of Picasso’s and transfer it on to cotton fabric and then release the image by using a kidney tool on to the clay. Working with clay developed a different vocabulary and extended their skills in creating, making and responding. Students in this area of study had to complete a major research study based on Picasso’s themes and inspirations for creating three-dimensional works of art, which included his sculptures and ceramics.

Textiles. Year 9 students used a similar process of transfer-release on to litho paper, then built up the image of Picasso’s women with layers of the ink, then heat-transferred this on to 100% polyester fabric using an iron. Then they constructed cushions using these prints with the images as dominant features. Another topic explored was one where each student had to design a “Crazy Critter”. The idea was based on the Cubist concept of using only shape and form. The release-transfer technique was once again employed, but the extension to this was to start with a digital photo image of themselves in both full frontal and profile. This was built up as a montage and printed onto fabric.  Students added embroidery and other decorative embellishments. These “Crazy Critters” were three-dimensional and quite abstract. Skills and knowledge developed in this area included construction, machine and hand sewing, measuring, designing, hand painting fabric and printing.

Year 7, 2D gave the students the opportunity to use the digital camera and develop their design process using images of themselves to produce self-portraits. Examining the most important angles and features that characterised the student’s image developed the portraits. They investigated the way Picasso used this process to paint the images of the women in his life. Students studied images of Dora Maar and “The Sleeping Woman” and were required
to discuss and write their thoughts in story-telling format. Some of their interpretations ranged from very sad to highly humorous. The outcomes for their visual work reflected their understanding of how the Cubists disregarded perspective and realism. This was a major learning curve for year 7 students.

Overall, the program covered a period of three terms, and clearly encompassed the three main VELS strands and the domains and dimensions. Physical, Personal and Social Learning was evident in students’ responses to the tasks, risk-taking, development of self-awareness and self-motivation. Interpersonal learning was clearly demonstrated through the development of individuality and respect for each other’s opinions and work. Evidence of interdisciplinary
learning was demonstrated in the development of communication skills, interpretation of the artworks, the use of art terminology, an expanded vocabulary, the development of a wide range of skills and techniques, and the application of artistic principles. Creating and making the artworks reinforced the importance of understanding measurement, ratio, multiplication, perspective, volume, weight, structure and analysis. It also demonstrated the importance of
reading, writing, speaking, listening and sharing ideas. The visual, sensory, tactile and spatial elements of art were evident in all levels of the program, which means discipline-based learning has occurred, as well.

Assessment of student achievement is based on individual development.

The program included the following areas of study:

2D Visual Art:   Teachers – Poppi O’Connor, Kylie de Niese.

Student teacher – Arieh Hoffman.

3D Visual Art – Ceramics and Textiles: Teachers – Valmai Todd. Student teacher – Cy O’Neil.

Year 9 Visual Communication: Teacher – Glenda  Bloore

Technology Wood Teacher – Daniel Drury.

Library staff: Dianne Dunne, Kay Wilson and Neil Gorham.
South Oakleigh College