>I am teaching an adult painting class and we are talking about backgrounds. Do any of you have thoughts on the subject? It seems that background are always an afterthought for most of my students. Any ideas will be appreciated.
>Pam in So. CA.
Sorry, my last response to this sent itself before I wrote my note.
Many adults come to art classes with lifelong habits. Some of these are acquired under the direction of self-taught well-meaning artists and teachers. Therefore, "changing habits of work" can be a great way to get new learning, new discoveries, and more thinking. If students complain, I explain that all learning is change. Without change, there is not new learning. In order to make a choice, we have to know what the choices are. We are here to practice, to experiment, to learn, to search for ways to become better artists. Each of us will find our own ways to improve, but we all need to experiment.
In both drawing and painting assignments I often change habits of work by requiring that background tone and/or color to be applied first. A viewfinder helps them layout the composition so they know where the background is. I assure students they can always go back and improve it after the foreground is in place.
In another "changing habits of work" strategy, they can be asked to treat the whole surface of the work simultaneously and without prejudice, building it with every square inch (including background) of painting surface being loved and cared for by its creator without any discrimination. Paint surface and paint quality has to be consistently worked (or consistently not worked). Color blending has to look the same in every part of the work. They have to skip around the surface to keep it uniform during the whole painting process. No color may be used without including the same color at several other places, even if it is only a minor amount mixed in a shadow, a highlight, or the in the background at places to keep the viewers eye moving. There may be dominant and subordinate parts, but this is not to be the result of neglect. Mutual peer review is used at regular intervals for students to assist each other in learning to find the next area that may need more attention.
A third "changing habits" can requires the use of the boldest possible background color and pattern that each student can imagine. The painting problem is to make the rest of the painting strong enough to compete with the background.
These assignments are not presented as general rules, but as things to experiment with and see what is discovered and what is learned. Once students figure out how to work in a changed habit process, they are asked to look at least one major work from an artist who has work in a major museum collection that appears to have used a similar habit of work. As an instructor, one can find and imagine many unique habits of work creative challenges and assignments by browsing great works of art.