INTRODUCTION TO EXPRESSIONISM
Introduce or review expressionist styles of working. Explain that
expressionism is not so much a single artistic period, but a recurring
attitude and style of artmaking. Show work by Van Gogh. Discuss
how the texture of the painting creates a sense of agitation in
skies, landscape, and rooms. This is a good time to break
the grip of realism as the dominant criteria of quality in
art. Ask students to consider what Van Gogh gained when he eschewed
Continue the slide show with examples of artists from other times
and places who have worked in expressionist styles. Laying a firm
ground of understanding of the expressionistic methods of various
artists greatly improves the students engagement with this
project. Despite the myths of expressionism itself, expressionist
strategies are not acultural, natural approaches to
artmaking. Students can learn to understand and
authentically enact expressionist strategies of artmaking.
BUILD KNOWLEDGE OF EXPRESSIONISM
Throughout this project, take time off to introduce new artists.
Continue to build students awareness of various expressionist
strategies and conventions
Explore the subject matter choice, brushwork, compositional strategies,
and color of James Ensor, Edvard Munch, Ernst Kirshner, Emile Nolde,
Oskar Kokoscka, Kathe Kollwitz, or Gabrielle Munter.
Teaching Abstract Expressionism is a necessary, but often frustrating
task for art teachers. It is much easier to get students to tolerate
and, perhaps even appreciate, works by such artists as Jackson Pollack,
Lee Krasner, and Willem or Elaine de Kooning when students have
already become aware of how abstract markmaking contributes to the
meaning of expressionistic figurative works.
It always creates interesting classroom discussion to present students
with work from the career of Philip Guston. Review his early, highly
polished, realistic work; his transition to abstract action painting;
and his eventual return to figuration in the form of blocky, humorous,
and grotesque hooded figures and bodies represented by the soles
of cartoon-like shoes.
Other artists who might be introduced include Cobra artistsAsger
Jorn, Karen Appel, and Pierre Alechinsky. Include a discussion of
artists of the late 20th century who work in an Expressionist manner
such as Italian Neo-ExpressionistsFrancesco Clemente, Enzo
Cucchi, and Mimo Paladino; German artistsJorg Immendorf, Georg
Baselitz, A.R. Penck, and Anselm Kiefer; and American Neo-Expressionists
Julian Schnabel, Robert Longo, Alice Neel, Robert Colescott,
and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Obviously, one cant meaningfully introduce the students to
all the artists listed here. (And, of course, there are many other
artists who might also be listed.) However, be sure to include artists
from various periods and places so that students are aware of expressionism
as a vital strategynot as a mere historical artifact.
A possible curriculum sequence would be to introduce early expressionist
works in the context of an expressionistically painted self-portrait
project and to later build on this knowledge and skill by introducing
expressionists who are more contemporary, as a prelude to the Newspaper
PREPARE NEWSPAPER GROUND
Working with the entire class, choose double page spreads of the
front pages of newspapers. Be choosy, but not too choosy. In other
words, the teacher or the students might be somewhat conscious of
choosing a page with a dramatic, odd, or ambiguous picture or headline,
but recognize that there is an important element of surrender to
chance in beginning of this artmaking process.
Carefully turn the page over and gesso the back of the page. Apply
the first coat very delicately as the paper has a tendency to tear.
On ensuing days or class periods, add one or two additional coats
of white paint to the back of the newspaper pages.
Alternatives for preparing the pages to make them less delicate
include: using the gesso to glue the pages to another sheet of paper
or, after the first coat of gesso, covering the entire back of the
newspaper page with inexpensive (buy at a Dollar Store) wide, clear,
Apply one coat of acrylic matte or semi-gloss medium to the front
of the newspaper page. Allowing a texture or grain from the brushstroke
to remain creates an interesting tooth to the surface. If desired,
apply a second coat of medium in a perpendicular direction to the
If the pages are wrinkledstack, lay flat, and press with a
heavy books or iron between clean sheets of white paper.
Create 20% more pages than students who will be doing the project.
PREPARE STUDENTS TO MARK ON THE GROUND
The Headline Poetry project makes a good one or two-day introduction
to the Newspaper Ground project because it familiarizes students
with using recycled materials from commercial culture as the basis
for their own artmaking.
Prepare students for the idea of developing an artwork on a newspaper
ground by introducing them to works by artists who have used printed
materials as a base for or element in their work. In the 1950s,
Franz Kline created hundreds of drawings, utilizing bold black marks
on pages taken from telephone directories. In the 1980s, Adrian
Piper created a dramatic series called Vanilla
Nightmares in which pages from the New
York Times were re-contextualized with interwoven charcoal
drawings of African Americans. Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (Kids of Survival)
are well known for their many stylish works in which various symbols
are drawn and painted onto the pages of classic novels. The South
African artist, draughtsman and animator William Kentridge, sometimes
chooses newspaper pages as the base on which to develop the drawings
for his animations.
Tape or pin newspaper pages to the wall. Have students circulate
while looking at the pages. When a page calls out (makes
an emotional impression in some way) to a student, tell the student
to select that page, even if he or she does not consciously like
the page or have a plan as to how to proceed.
Give students black oil pastel or black pastel. Have them begin
work on the project by obliterating and marking out some of the
imagery and text. It is important that this work be done with smudgy
materials so that some of the marking out can be bold and direct,
other areas muted and subdued.
Surprisingly, this is usually the most difficult stage for students.
They have often not learned to surrender themselves to a process
and are reluctant to make interventions on a page.
At this stage, it often helps to pin up all the works and to consider
which pages have enough marks that the page is beginning to be transformed.
Take the time to discuss interesting emerging imagery such as the
blurring of images into text or the dramatic re-interpretation of
a photograph based on drawn additions or deletions.
Give students new media for mutingnow including white oil
pastels, black and white chalk, and black and white tempera paint.
Encourage students to be experimental in their use of materials.
Blot or sponge paint onto surfaces. Use the side of chalks or pastels.
Smudge oil pastels onto the surface with fingers or q-tips.
At this stage, dont use markers, pencils, or permanent paint.
The project is now in a push stage, muting and subduing
imagery and text to the overall composition. Later the project will
move to a pull stage. Then students may want to remove
portions of the materials.
LOOK FOR MEANING
This is perhaps, the most difficult and most important aspect of
the project. Through personal response paragraphs, partner analysis,
small group discussion, teacher/student conferences, and whole class
in- process critiques have students identify the meaning and style
that they are beginning to see in their artworks. Discuss ways in
which the emerging meaning can be enhanced or contradicted.
Most people who have not had sufficient art training assume that
artists have an idea clearly in their heads and that artmaking is
the process of illustrating ideas. This misconception keeps students
from surrendering to the experience of makingletting the final
form become apparent through the process.
Having successfully created a direction for the artwork through
muting, the student artists can now begin to pull significant
imagery and text into greater prominence. At this point, using finer
brusher, pencils, and markers, can aid students in creating points
of emphasis. Another, often very beautiful strategy, is to use the
back of brush handle to scrape away oil pastelallowing parts
of a photograph or text to re-emerge. Similarly, a damp cloth can
be used to wipe away or make more transparent areas of tempera paint.
Students may wish to add imagery or text to the piece. There are
a number of strategies for achieving this, including: hand drawing
onto the work and collaging images and words from other sources
onto the ground.
LAYERING & PROJECTING
Though not a necessary step, this can add new levels of interest
and meaning to the piece. Use a computer to type up words in an
appropriate font. Scan line drawings.
Print out or xerox letters and images onto an overhead transparency.
Project the image onto the piece using an overhead projector. Experiment
with scale and placement. Draw the projection onto the piece using
oil pastel, marker, colored pencil, or paint.
The advantage of projecting is that the students are likely to come
up with interesting juxtapositions that they would not be likely
to discover if they were composing their drawing or text on the
PUSH AND PULL
Encourage students to continue the process of pushing and
pulling. Emphasize and mute. Add and subtract. The advantage
of working in an expressionist mode is it gives students the freedom
to sensuously explore and let content emerge spontaneously from
Toward the end of the project, allow students to use very small
amounts of color to emphasize some aspects of the piece. Caution
students against loosing the muted tones of the project. Point out
that in a piece with subdued colors even a hint of low chroma hue
can be dramatic.
Many teachers organize one or two sessions of class critique time
at the end of a major project. An interesting variation is to host
a class critique one or two days before the end of the project.
The emphasis of the critique should not be on telling students how
to fix their work. Instead, make sure that each work
is noticed and described by the group. Sometimes it helps to begin
the critique by assigning each work an observer who
writes a statement describing the work and the ideas and feelings
the work generates. Begin the analysis of each piece with a report
from the assigned observer.
Students, excited because people are responding to the meaning and
emotion inherent in their artworks, are inspired to return to work
for a day or two, emphasizing the communicative qualities or style
of the artwork.
Each student writes an Artist Statement in which he or she describes
the artistic and thought processes out of which the artwork emerged.
These should be typed up and displayed with the artworks.
Click here to
print out process plans for the Newspaper Ground project.