Thursday, October 25, 2012

Art That Makes You Smarter: The Arnolfini Portrait

Using Art Prints in the Classroom


Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portraitc.1434
Medium: oil on panel
Dimensions: 82.2 x 60 cm

There is some mystery around this piece. It is unclear if the painting is of an engagement or marriage. Also, it is unclear if the portrait is of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami OR of Giovanni's brother, Michele, and his wife, Elisabeth. Some even believe it to be a portrait of Jan van Eyck himself, with his wife Margarete.

The mirror in the painting is convex. It shows a larger area than a flat mirror. Flat mirrors had not yet been invented in 1434. It shows that there were other people in the room, yet it is not known who they were. The frame of the mirror shows the Passion of Christ.

The woman in the portrait may or may not have been pregnant. In 1434, women wore dresses that would have concealed that part of their figure.

Questions for Students to Ponder and Explore:
Why are there two pairs of shoes on the floor? Why can't we clearly see the man's feet? What are the cat-like figures on the red seat in the background? Why would a small broom be hanging on the bed? Why would the artist include a small statue of Saint Margaret? How does the (geometric) orthogonal perspective and the reflection in the mirror make this painting innovative for the time period? Why are the colors more vibrant on the right side of the portrait and more muted on the left side?

Arts Integration Ideas (adapt for specific grade levels as needed):
History/Social Studies/Religion- Research the Passion of Christ to determine why this would be included in a painting of this time period. OR research dating and marriage traditions of this time period. Compare and contrast those to the dating and marriage traditions of modern times.
Science- Research common plants of the location and time period of this piece. Make a best guess at what type of plant is outside the window and defend your reasoning. OR compare and contrast convex and concave lenses. Determine the historical implications of each and how they relate to our daily lives.
Writing- Write a love letter from the man in the portrait to the woman in the portrait. Write a love letter from the woman in the portrait to the man in the portrait. Show understanding of the time period through choice of wording.  OR write about the event from the perspective of one of the people in the mirror. This would require making an educated guess about who is shown in the mirror and what role they would have played at this event.
Math- Draw a floor plan for the room. Based on your estimations of the contents (furniture, people, window, etc.), what would be the dimensions of the room? Determine area and perimeter. Determine the size of each wooden floor panel that would be necessary to fill the room. Compare the number of floor panels in the portrait to your judgements about the dimensions of the room. OR measure the contents of the room, including the people, furniture, window, fruit, shoes, and dog. Determine if the proportions are real or if artistic liberty was taken in the painting. For instance, does the size of the fruit make sense proportionally compared to the size of the people based on the placement of each in the portrait? (Discuss foreshortening.)
Language- Use prepositions to tell about the piece. (The oranges are on the table, etc.) OR use adjectives to describe the right side of the painting and the left side.

Helpful Resources:
Jan van Eyck-Wikipedia
The Arnolfini Portrait- Wikipedia
13 Paintings Children Should Know by Angela Wenzel
The Arnolfini Portrait- National Gallery, London
50 Artists You Should Know
Short Lessons in Art History: Artists and Their Work



 Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Watermelon Self-Portraits

9 year old
Timeframe: 1-2 hours total for the visual art 
Grade Level: All grades

Watermelons are a staple snack for late summer and early fall in the south. They're juicy and messy, and so refreshing when it is hot. Its always fun to get outside and have what my grandmother used to call a "watermelon cutting".

During one of my art camps, we did just that. We had a traditional, southern "watermelon cutting". We put quilts on the ground, picnic style. I gave each student a slice of watermelon and took their picture while they took the first big bite. Obviously, I won't post those here for privacy reasons. But, the picture served for the basis of these Watermelon Self-Portraits.

I got the idea for this art activity while searching ideas for summer photography of children. There is so much adorable photography out there of children eating watermelons. There is also a lot of great  artwork featuring children eating watermelons to show students with this project. Google it!


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Here's what we did:


After I let each student study the digital copy of their photo, we began drawing self-portraits.
8 year old

We actually drew the entire face first. Then we went back and drew the watermelon slice and hands. It really seemed to help the younger students to draw the whole face first, and then draw the watermelon and hands on top. We erased the parts of the face that would be covered by the watermelon slice. I think this helped them with their proportions. However, the hands were still very hard for them to draw. We had to practice and practice!!

6 year old
We selected a pattern from the fabric of the quilts to use as our background. Then we traced over our pencil lines with a black permanent marker. 
9 year old
We used Crayola Multicultural tempera to paint our skin. This paint is WONDERFUL for painting people, because it is always so hard for students to mix skin tones themselves. We used Yasutomo Pearlescent Watercolors to paint the rest. Tempera cakes would work great for the background if you are strapped for cash and can't afford to use that much Yasutomo!

This activity is great for summertime. It would also be a great beginning of the year activity for a regular classroom. 

Here are some integration ideas for the younger grades:
  • Save the seeds and glue to a piece of construction paper to tell addition and subtraction stories.
  • Sort the small, medium, and large seeds for graphing.
  • Have a seed spitting contest to incorporate measurement. (Just keep it outside, because that could be a disaster indoors!)
  • Do a descriptive writing piece and incorporate the science of the 5 senses. 
  • Use a seed to make a Flow Map of the watermelon lifecycle (glue it to the actual map).

Here are some integration ideas for the older grades:
  • Use the seeds to make an array of a multiplication fact.
  • Do a piece of descriptive writing OR a piece of procedural writing. Some procedures would be "How to Cut a Watermelon" (after watching the teacher demonstrate), "How to Clean Up After Eating a Watermelon", "How to Make Watermelon Juice".
  • Do a scientific experiment to determine the best way to get the seeds to sprout AND write about it.
  • Paint the seeds, create a class mosaic, then write about the teamwork process.
  • Put all of the seeds in a jar, have a contest to let the lower grades estimate how many, then write a blog post or newspaper article about the event.
  • Write an "I Remember When" poem about another time they had watermelon OR about the time they had watermelon at school
  • Google image search "Americana Watermelon Artwork" for a social studies unit to address stereotypes in American History, then do a persuasive writing piece.

10 year old
 (She did a great job on the hands!)

 Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room