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[teacherartexchange] Reinventing the (color) Wheel


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed May 17 2006 - 10:29:48 PDT

Recently, my third grade granddaughter phoned to ask me, "What colors do you use to mix red?" I told her that this was a very good question. We had an excellent discussion about experiments she could do to try to find the solution. If you think it is not possible to make red from other colors, consider your ink jet printer. Does it come with red ink? How does it print red?

Joseph Albers, Bauhaus teacher and Yale art professor, wrote the book on color theory. His square paintings were color studies. He also had some great insights about learning. In March, I had the pleasure of seeing an exhibit of Albers' work at the Tate Modern in London. The Tate had these quotations from Albers on the wall.


"The school should nurture the individual possibly without disturbing personal development -- School should allow a lot to be learned, that is to say that it should teach little -- Learning is better than teaching because it is more intense: the more is being taught, the less can be learned -- In the end all education is self-education -- All knowledge, theoretical or practical is deadwood when it does not result in a positive attitude proved by action"


I. LEARN FROM THE EXPERTS method (following experts)
Teaching color theory and principles can be taught as a series of expert ideas to look at and memorize. In this method the teacher displays the color wheel and explains it. The teacher explains the established color terminology and phenomena and students are required to memorize as much as possible. Students look at a famous artwork that employs color theory and review their learning by painting something that uses the same color theory.

II. REINVENT THE WHEEL method (active learning)
In this method of learning color theory the teacher does NOT tell or show students anything about the rules. The color wheel is NOT shown. The teacher has students do experiments to discover things until the color wheel is invented by them. The color principles are developed out of their comparisons, experiments, and observations. In the Reinventing the Wheel method they experiment, and the teacher helps by asking questions to focus and keep the experimentation on track. Students learn how to question, how to experiment, how to observe, how to feel, how to think, how to invent, how to be creative, how to be independent, and how to make their own choices. These are the kinds of thinking, feeling, and expression done by most great artists, scientists, poets, composers, and so on.

In this method, it is essential for the teacher to be sure that students review and summarize their discoveries and inventions so that they realize and appreciate what they have learned. In this method students are solving visual puzzles. In this method they are and making discoveries and inventions about depth, flatness, feelings, relationships, observations, and meanings related to color. The experimentation is followed by paintings based on memory, imagination, or observation, that make observational, depth/flatness, emotional, and/or symbolic use of the color principles that they discovered through experimentation. By prohibiting the use of unmixed paint students continue to make discoveries as they paint.
What follows are a few COLOR THEORY ideas for the teacher
to KEEP SECRET until after the students discover them.

Color studies can involve the SYMBOLIC meanings of color (green with envy, yellow mean coward, etc.) & PSYCOLOGICAL effects of color (some color schemes are depressing and others are exciting---a warm painted room can allow lower thermostat settings in winter--saving energy, but a dentist office should probably be painted in a cool color).

Black, white, and greys are considered NEUTRALS, but brown is an orange (secondary color) with a small amount of neutral (black) added. A dark brown is a SHADE of orange. Pink is a TINT of red and maroon is a SHADE of red.

All pigments are quite variable and can each be described in terms of HUE (name of color), SATURATION (intensity), TEMPERATURE warm or cool), and VALUE (tone). Some are PRIMARY, but others are just as important. Primaries in light are not the same as in pigments.

Color experiments and assignments are often related to studies in the illusion of depth (warm, intense, and lighter colors generally come forward, but this effect can be canceled in certain situations).

Some very interesting experiments and assignments can be assigned by asking students to make simultaneous similarities and opposites together. For example green and red may be adjusted until they are identical in value, but much different in temperature, saturation, and hue.

There are many ways to teach and many ways to learn, but as Albers said, "In the end all education is self-education."

Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art Emeritus
Goshen College, 1700 South Main, Goshen IN 46526
studio phone: 574-533-0171
"You can't never know how to do it before you never did it before." ... a kindergarten boy working with clay for the first time.

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