Creative Minds Art History Project – Vincent Van Gogh

Hello all! This is my first post I’ll be doing on my Creative Minds class projects I am leading with my program this semester. Each week we will be learning about a well known artist from the past or present, and completing a project based on their process and style. I work primarily with adults with disabilities or mental health issues, and though we will not only study artists with disabilities, mental health issues, addiction, or chronic illness, these individuals will be a special focus.

Today I’ll be walking you through an enjoyable and easy project inspired by the art of Vincent Van Gogh. Being the Coordinator as well as an instructor for an inclusive recreational arts program, there is always a wide range of abilities and experience levels in each class. I am excited to make art history accessible and fun for all ages and abilities. Vincent Van Gogh has always been one of my favorite historical artists, so of course he had to be the artist I chose for week 1. I know that he’s a lot of people’s favorite, but I have always felt a special kinship with him as we also happen to share the same birthday!

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His use of light, color, and movement through swirling, visible brushstrokes has become iconic and easily recognizable even to those with no knowledge of art. Also common knowledge are Van Gogh’s struggles with mental health throughout his life. He was blessed with a supportive and loving family member, his brother Theo, who financially supported him so that he could continue painting despite being unable to hold a job or make an income for himself. It seems his brother saw firsthand the transformative power of art, giving Van Gogh at least a few more days, months, years, or sometimes just moments of peace and joy than he would have experienced otherwise.

Oil paints are pricey, require copious amounts of time to complete a piece, need adequate ventilation that may not be available in all classrooms, and can be frustrating for beginning artists. So, we ditched the oil paints for oil pastels!

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The first step in our project was to make a simple outline in pencil first. Students were encouraged to be inspired by the provided images of Van Gogh’s most famous works, but not necessarily to copy. They could make a scene, a still life, a person or animal, or anything else that came to mind. They could then use the pastels to trace over their pencil outline, and add more lines in between to mimic Van Gogh’s iconic style. Students could fill their paper with as many swirls, stripes, or dashes as they wanted as long as they still left white space behind, because next the magic happens!

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After their pastel outline was completed, students could fill in their different areas with watercolor washes, and watch the oil pastel repel the water. Though not a requirement, this technique is especially amazing to watch when washing darker watercolors over bright or light pastel. One of the students even commented that it was “like magic”. This process is simple enough to be enjoyed by students of all abilities with minimal frustration, but also fun for more advanced students. Pro tip: make sure you have enough water in your paints! If your watercolors are brushed on too dry, they won’t repel as strongly. Also, be sure to use paint brushes with soft bristles. Stiff, scratchy brushes are harder on the oil pastel and will not give as neat of a result.

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There is a common narrative that Van Gogh suffered so much because while he was alive his art never became famous and people wouldn’t buy his paintings. I don’t know about that … I am a Doctor Who fan, and for those of you unfamiliar with the show it’s about time travel. Who would have thought, but this whimsical sci-fi TV show ended up moving me emotionally more than any work of cinema I’ve ever seen, and I watch a lot of movies! In my favorite episode, our adventurers go back in time to pay a visit to Vincent Van Gogh. They end up whisking him away to the future, where he can see all his paintings on display in a museum, and hear his fame being lauded. It is hoped that after seeing this, Van Gogh’s spirit will be renewed, and once he is returned to his own time he will not end his life as he did in history. They hope that when they visit that same museum again after their adventure, there will be walls of new Van Gogh paintings, having altered the past by showing Van Gogh his future. That does not end up being the case.

We put so much emphasis in our culture on fame, money, talent, and popularity that it is hard to accept that these things are not a magical panacea to fix all of our problems, and that sometimes these things are not enough to make us happy.

We need to keep reaching out to each other. As this episode concludes,

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

Make it your goal to add to the pile of good things for the people you encounter each day.

A student that had been reluctant about this project at first because they don’t draw or paint ended up having a blast, saying they felt like they were getting to play and be a kid again. A lot of times, that is exactly what art is about! As Van Gogh himself said,  If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. I hope some of you will decide to play and try this project yourself at home! Be sure to check back in the following weeks for more fun project inspiration.

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Artists To Know: ArtPrize 9 Edition!

Hello all! I visit ArtPrize in Grand Rapids every year, and always look forward to being able to share some of the favorite works I have seen. This year, I was involved as an artist as well, showing my series at Founder’s Brewing Co.

I enjoyed visiting my series with my significant other, drinking excellent beer, and even getting to pretend to drive a Tardis! Though we tried to stuff as much art inhalation into our day as possible, I was only up at ArtPrize for approximately 10 hours so only saw a cross section. However, I’d love to share with you my favorites from what I witnessed that day.

Empowered Women by Florencia Clement De Grandprey

This collection was hands down my favorite. Not only are the portraits themselves diverse, emotive, and detailed to perfection, but upcycled mixed media elements such as wallpaper and fabric samples were used along with the paint.  A woman after my own heart!

Companions by Deborah Rockman

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These digital drawings have an interesting style to them as the backgrounds are more photographic, but the images of people are more illustrative making them stand out. This is the image that particularly stopped me in my tracks. The entire series explores inequity in our world by placing side by side images of people that mirror similar situations visually, but reflect a glaring difference in circumstance.

Time Marches On by Sue Laage

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I love antique assemblages, and this collection was a little Alice In Wonderland which made me adore it all the more. Each piece has it’s own distinctive style, yet similar colors and forms unify them as one.

Be The Change For Human Rights by Hazel Park High School Ceramics Students

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First off, I am so jealous of these kids! Secondly, this is an amazing project. Each student picked a human right to represent on their tile. Assembling it into a mirror where the viewer can literally see themselves behind the well-known quote asking them to be the change really drives the impact home.

Kirsten by Carolyn Zinn

Portratiure is challenging enough when using pencils or paints, let alone joining together hexagons of printed fabric. The 3 dimensionality of the shading and highlights that is achieved is mindblowing, and the image completely transforms as you look at it closely and then far away. This was an ambitious, out-of-the-box, and very successful design that I kept wandering back to.

The Resistance of Hybrid Cacti by Salvador Jimenez Flores

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I love love love surrealism, and the fact that this piece wasn’t just a sculpture but almost a mini created universe was especially entrancing. It turns out, a new universe is just what the artist aimed to create. In Flores’s ArtPrize bio, he says that his inspiration comes from sci-fi and re-imagining what the future may look like as opposed to what is presented in mainstream media. He states that in most sci-fi content, the majority of the future’s inhabitants are depicted as white. He aims to resist labels and create a future where the protagonist can be a minority, understand his experience, and also be relateable to others.

Struggle by Kyle Orr

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What drew me into this sculpture was the strong sense of illusion that was created by the floating chains. This piece at first glance can seem very dark, but then you realize the walls aren’t really there … Orr’s concept statement reads, “Life can be a struggle. Sometimes life feels like it has you chained down in imaginary walls that keep you from achieving your inner most desires conquering the fear that causes you to hide your face in shame. We’ve all been here at one point or another in our lives. These are the moments in time that we make the decision to look at the chains as something to be broken or something to enslave us. The struggle is what grows courage and strength. Decide to thank the chains and imaginary walls, for they have grown strength and courage, but break them, indeed!”

Reflections of A Quilted Iso-Cube In Primary Colors by Diane Rabb and Julius Cassani

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I found this piece ridiculously calming to look at. I find geometric designs relaxing for my brain, which is probably why I am including them all over as I continue to renovate my new house. I also loved how modern this piece was as opposed to what traditionally comes to mind when people think of “quilting”.

We Are One by Melissa Machnee

For this piece, the title really says it all … Its impact is in its simplicity. Too often, works of art have these detailed, lofty concept statements hanging next to them that you have to actually read in their entirety to even understand the piece you are looking at. With this work of art, the meaning in the dynamic composition is clear immediately.

Suspension by Sarupa Sidaarth

Sidaarth states in her ArtPrize bio that she likes to use unique raw materials that are usually rejected in traditional paintings such as crystals and even GOOGLY EYES. Now, I’ve been known to throw some bling on my mixed media drawings and paintings more than once, and am all for using non-traditional materials. However, as an art educator, I have a very complicated relationship with googly eyes. At the art studio where I work, I oftentimes go so far as to hide them or fib that we don’t have any right now when students ask for those goofy little eyes, because I had always thought of them as a surefire way to ruin what was formerly a decent creation, making it look like a daycare craft project. These amazing paintings have completely changed my mind about googly eyes (and yes, they are in there!) – not an easy feat.

Atomic Reaction by Susan Supper

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Supper wrote in her artist statement for this piece that growing up in the age of television, cartoons and pop culture not only entertained but also provided a moral compass for children. She was particularly interested in Astroboy, who harnessed atomic powers for good rather than their traditional destructive nature. In this series, she depicts social issues and moral dilemmas through the lens of popular media. As a pop surrealism fanatic, I am in love. Her mix of familiar pop culture/advertising imagery with a Japanese aesthetic reminds me a lot of one of my favorite artists, Alex Gross.

It was hard to narrow everything down to just these pieces, as there were so many talented artists on display this year. Until 2018, goodbye ArtPrize! I’ll miss you!