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Lesson Plans

Re:Japanese Art

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Sandra Hildreth (shildret)
Thu, 25 Sep 1997 23:12:15 -0400

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I hope people of Japanese and Chinese descent can forgive me, but I do a
very "generic" unit on non-Western art, in an effort to develop
appreciation and respect for those cultures. I have some poster examples
of oriental brush drawings to show, then I pass out bowls of black
tempera paint, large watercolor brushes, and I set an interesting plant
on each of the 4 large work tables of my room. My examples, as well as
the quick demonstration I do, are realistic and expressive, but focus on
just capturing the essence of the subject in as few lines as possible. I
insist my students stand up in order to really draw with the brush with
full, gestural arm movements - rather than trying to hold the brush and
draw like they usually write with a pencil. They moan and groan about
that, but it is different for them and sort of exciting, so they do it.
The 4 plants I put out are all different - like 1 a geranium, 1 a fern,
etc., and I tell them they must capture the unique qualities of each
plant, in just a few lines. We spend less than 10 minutes on the first
brush drawing, then they get a new piece of newsprint and I switch the
plants to different tables. They will do all 4 plants in one class and I
tell them their drawings need to be distinctive - we ought to be able to
recognize which plant each drawing is representing. I tack them all up
on all my available bulletin board space so the next class/day they see
everyones when they come in the room. The second day they choose their
favorite one and add color with transparent watercolors - same standing,
expressive, minimal brush technique. I show them how to wash in a little
background color too. They also get the chance now to work directly on
better watercolor paper, with watercolors - same plants, same
techniques. I have to add that this comes after seeing the video "Daimyo
Warriors of Japan", which has examples of an artist creating calligraphy
and a tea ceremony (among other things). For another class, I let them
look up animal, bird, and fish pictures in magazines and do oriental
style brush drawings of them . The final activity of the unit involves
Haiku poetry - they get to read a couple examples, then we make a list
of adjectives about "spring" on the chalkboard (I usually do this unit
in spring), I whip off a Haiku poem in about 30 seconds, and then have
them write 3 of their own, on any subject. I collect them and circle the
one I think would work best. The next couple of days they are to create
an illustrated Haiku poem in the oriental style (using the one I
suggested, or coming up with a better one). I even have them write out
the poem using paint and a watercolor brush - then add appropriate brush
drawing images to the page. They work on a long piece of paper in a
vertical composition, like an oriental scroll.

Most of these activities are short, 1 or 2 day projects, but it gives
them a taste of the non-western aesthetic beliefs, plus they seem to
enjoy learning something new and different.

Sandra Hildreth
C.L.A.S.S. (Cultural Literacy through Art & Social Studies)
Art 7-12, Madrid-Waddington Central School, Madrid, NY 13660
Art Methods, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY 13617

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