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For the cubism lesson, I expect my H.S. students to first listen to my
slide lecture on cubism.
Next, for the project, I give the kids scissors, black and white
construction paper( 18" x24"), charcoal, chalk and markers. I then ask them
to try to cut, paste and draw a collage composition using as many of the
cubists decorative devices as they can put in their compositions. After the
lecture and slides, I post a list of the devices on the chalk board so that
they can refer back to them and talk to one another about them as they try
to get as many of the visual things going on in the space as possible. I
also have some simple drawing of the devices which I use as handouts to help
them look at the visual images as they struggle with the concepts. They can
not copy the exact subject on the handouts but they are quick to adapt and
invent from the examples. The kids begin the project frustrated and flying
by the seat of their pants and end up with some very interesting
compositions. There is usually a bit of learning along the way.
I grade the works by 30% possible craftspersonship points, 30% possible
innovation points and 30% counting the number of devices that they can
point to and name from their own finished works. Here are some details of
the lesson lecture/project:
I show some slides which deal with the "seeds for the Ideas which helped to
bring about Cubism". These assorted glimpses show up in Early Renaissance
Painting, in work by Degas, Seurat, Corot, Cezanne, Matisse, and in
African sculpture, to mention a few places where you can see the
simplification of form and an inventive freedom with natural volumes.
I think it is important to talk briefly about the changes which were
underway as Picasso and Braque were learning their craft. There were
contributions of assorted Post Impressionists
and Impressionist artists brought about by the influences of flat and
woodcut prints, stylized African ritual objects such as masks and fetishes.
Also, one must mention the invention of the camera, its new ways of
presenting a point of view and the impact that it had upon the traditional
role of realism in the visual art of the Western World. In other words, I
try to explain some of the forces which were at work to cause artists like
Picasso and Braque to reject Western tradition and the Academy in favor of
their particular flirtation with abstraction.
At this point, I show a few slides by other abstractionists who went in
other directions but were responding to many of the same urges for change
and frustrations with tradition shared by Picasso and Braque. In other
words, cubism was only one of several movements which were to take us into
the experiments of abstraction in the early part of this Century. Useful
examples of other directions toward abstraction in the same span of years
can be found in work by Mondrian, the Kupkas, Kandinsky, Klee, Malevich
Delaunay, Feininger and Modiglianni, to name a few. I try to point out that
these folks were not cubists but were interested in abstraction. The next
logical question is.....If they are not Cubists, what is Cubism.
At this point, it is time to look at several examples of cubism to discover
some of the design devices which were used in the construction of their
paintings and collages.
Although I listed some of these devices in an earlier conversation on this
list, I will list them again because I use them as part of the lesson with
my high school students and I try to use Cubist paintings and collages to
expose the kids to at least one example of each device before they are
expected to start their studio project on cubism.
The design devices of cubism which I try to show the kids involve.........
1. "multiple points of view" in the same picture plane.
2. "shared edges" where the outside line of one shape also defines a second
shape, sometimes inverted, so that negative and positive spaces are
determined by your choice of dominant shape. (Related to figure/ground reversal)
3. "part for whole" where only parts of objects are defined and your mind
fills in the rest of the object so it exists as a force or presence in the
composition without being presented as complete.
4. "continuity of line" where a line may be used to define the edge of a
dominant shape but then it is extend on out beyond the edge of that shape to
lock in and suggest the separation of the adjoining negative area into
other parts. This has the effect of creating a unity between the positive
and negative areas of the composition.
5. "transparent planes" where one object can be seen through or drawn into
another object. This device also adds to the unity of the formal composition.
6. a restricted, flat, "closet like" space which forces our attention to the
surface of the composition.
7. limited or "restricted color" (especially during the analytical phase)
which again forced attention to the surfaces of the composition where
line, value and shape carried the composition..
8. Traditional spatial devices to aid in a sense of realism were rejected by
the cubists......[ such as a perspective of color (warm expands while cool
recedes ) , relative size, linear perspective, and atmospheric (areal
perspective) ] Although they rejected many of the traditional spacial
devices of the our traditional painting in the Western World, the Cubists
chose overlap and the use of vertical placement (things placed higher in
the picture plane are represented as being deeper in space) to suggest a
very limited sense of depth in most of their work.
9. volumetric concerns are expressed using "simplified shapes" ( the
cone, the cylinder, the cube) first suggested by Early Renaissance painters
and later by Cezanne and African ritual objects ( being imported and shown
in Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s.)
10. Picasso and Braque used distortion freely.
11. Later they began to introduced collage materials into painting
and sometimes introduced the use of letters, words, and phrases into
The lecture portion of the lesson can not be complete without
mentioning that cubism was not static. It changed in many
ways while it was developing and it was to have a variety of
effects upon other artists and styles.
For example, after the earliest work, the Cubists seemed to
focus their interest on formal concerns and inventions rather
then depend upon subjects which could present powerful symbols
full of associative content. Subject matter became so fractured and
removed from nature that mystery hangs in place of the earlier
symbolism. Toward the end of the later "synthetic" period, the
artist do an about face and seem to revert back to the
reintroduction of subject, personality in the figures and mood in
Of course, a second way that cubism changed involved its early
"Analytical" phase ( three years of analyzing, breaking down and
destroying tradition in favor of the creation of new concepts of
reality, of space and of structure). The second phase, introduced
with the invention of the collage, came about around 1911-1912
and was called "synthetic cubism". This was a much longer period
of development where visual and sculptural forms were constructed
or built up using all kinds of experimental methods and processes.
As this second stage continued, other artists like Gleizes, Gris and
Leger joined the group. The images took on more enrichment of
space, color, linear movement and texture. Some scholars speak of
the later phases of the movement as an eclectic style and the artist's
desertion of their earlier structural purity.
Hope this helps....
Here are some links with a bit of info on the history of cubism.