Teaching Composition

Still life to teach composition

After School Snack

Usually I find with middle school students that they have never considered their art projects in terms of the whole piece of paper. Their focus is so much on the thing they want to represent that the paper is just a safe place to draw. After all, they have long since learned that mom or teacher get pretty upset if you draw on the wall or the desk. Other than that, the paper doesn’t have much significance.

I begin the process of getting them to rethink the paper as a whole composition by using the story of creation. A co-teacher of mine, coined the term “The Genesis Model of Creation” to describe how God did not just start making people and throwing them out into space. Instead, He prepared a place for people. He divided the light from the dark, created water from land and breathable air, brought forth the vegetation and other animals, and then added the people. This is a process of working from large to small.

Using this model in art, we plan our whole formatted area dividing it up into positive and negative space making sure that it is all interesting and the relationship between the parts are comfortable and satisfying.

I use the following visual aides to demonstrate this idea:
Image 30 copyIn the first drawing of the after school snack items each piece is treated as unrelated to the others. We are inherently uncomfortable with that drawing because, I believe, God created us for relationship and seeing even inanimate objects unrelated and isolated leaves us knowing that something is wrong.

Image 31 copy

In the second drawing the items are crowding into the same horizontal space and competing. I’m always reminded when I look at this sketch of my four children in the back seat many years ago complaining that each was overstepping their bounds. This drawing, too, leaves us uncomfortable because, we know that the “dignity” and significance of each item is being infringed up. Each item has to compete for visual significance.

Comparing these “wrong” drawings with the sketch that introduces this blog post, we see that the still life at the beginning has used the basic rules of depth to give the impression that some items are closer and some further away. Consequently, by using the illusion of depth, each item seems to have its own space without competing with the other items, but by over-lapping, we have a feeling of visual relatedness.

The spiritual message that comes through is that, just like a well designed composition, each person has value and importance, but that significance can only be realized in proper relationship with others.

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