Thursday, July 1, 2010

stART: Mary Cassatt, Artist

For this week's stART project, we learned about a new artist: Mary Cassatt.

We read these books:

Mary Cassatt by Blake A. Hoena

Mary Cassat was born in Pennsylvania. Her family moved to Europe for a few years to allow their children to be surrounded in art and culture. They returned to Pennsylvania, where Mary would later attend art school. Her father was against her attending art school, at first, but finally agreed. This would not be the first barrier that Mary encountered in the world of art.

It was hard for a woman to be accepted into this field, especially an American woman. She pushed forward, though. She found some success, with her work being shown for years at the prestigous Paris Salon. She gradually began receiving criticism again; she started using bolder colors, etc., going against what was in style or considered acceptable at the time. Soon she became friends with the artist, Edgar Degas. She was inspired and educated by him, finding her way into Impressionism.
Portraits of Women Artists for Children: Mary Cassatt by Robyn Montana Turner

We didn't actually read this second book; we just looked through the pictures of her work. I wasn't familiar with Cassatt's name, but I was familiar with a lot of her work such as these:

The Bath

Children Playing on the Beach
Generally, our library will have a more kid-friendly version on an artist (such as this one), but there weren't any when we were there. My kids really like the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artist Series books. They are biographies of artists from history, told in a way that is interesting for kids. (They also have these for composers, presidents, and inventors/scientists.)

The kids LOVE the dvd versions, as well.(We watched this volume today after we read our book.) They will sit and watch one of these, just as well as they'll watch Curious George or whatever. I really like them, too. (I pick up more from these dvd's than I would in an adult documentary.) They're narrated animation, and they go through the whole life of the artist in a light-hearted, humorous way. At the end of the story, they stream images of the artist's paintings (plus the title and where the work is currently located) across the screen.


I got the idea for this project here. I gave the kids a piece of colored paper, colored chalk, and kid-safe pastels. (Cassatt generally used pastels.) I asked them to remember what kind of subjects Cassatt generally drew. They remembered: people, specifically the mother/child theme. She liked to draw women embracing motherhood, and she also liked capturing women as intelligent beings (such as a woman reading a book). She mostly just liked to portray everyday activities as being important.

I told the kids they had to use realistic colors for their pictures. (This is really hard for Tornado; he was constantly picking up blue to make lips or green to make skin. I reminded him that drawing pictures of people was important to Cassatt, and she wanted to portray them with honesty. I know normally you want to let your kids use their imagination and not stifle their creativity. I was trying to show through this project that artists learn from other artists, and they even learn from practicing copying others' work.

Sissy's Girl Picking Flowers for her Grandma

(We talked about how the paintings have names; they named their pictures, too.)

I tried to go step-by-step with the kids as they drew. I told them instead of using sticks as arms and legs, let's think about how they really look. And I'd draw an example of two parallel lines. I challenged them to not forget details about a person, including a neck and eyeballs. A few times, Sissy said, "I can't draw that!" I would draw an example on my paper, then she would try to replicate it. This was her best drawing she's ever done. She really got into adding the flowers.

Baby's Bath

That's a mother, holding her baby. (Yes, that's a little hiney you see.) She's getting ready to give him a bath (bathtub to the left...with a picture above on the wall). That's the sink, mirror, and rug to the right.

For the older boys, I talked about how an aspect of Impressionism was using broken brush strokes, instead of blending colors. (We let our eyes do the blending instead.) At first glance, the picture looks one color, but if you look closely you can see how it looks splotchy. They enjoyed finding examples of this in her paintings. Tornado tried doing this, especially while drawing his bathtub and the painting on the wall. Dash tried this by using two different colors for his clouds and water.

Wavy Water

Dash drew a boy in a boat, with a dolphin swimming next to him.

When working with chalk, I had to remind them to watch their arms resting on their paper. And if chalk dust built up, softly blow it away, instead of trying to wipe it off.

Here are a few of our other artist studies and projects:

To get more ideas for fun story + art projects,

visit the link-up at A Mommy's Adventure.


Raising a Happy Child said...

I am so very impressed with how your children got into this project and with their drawings! I tried to introduce artists to my daughter a couple of times, but she was not in the least interested. Maybe having a movie would help - I'll look to see if our library has them, thanks for the hint!

suzy said...

I love your kids drawings they are just wonderful!
Great project, thank you for sharing it.
I especially like how you explained how you helped encourage the children in different areas of their work, by drawing examples yourself.
I often find that drawing or painting alongside my kids is great fun. My youngest doesn't like me to stifle her creativity at all (she's blue hair and purple noses all the way:) so by watching me she can pick up on different ways of approaching a subject.

Cary said...

Have they done Klee? I would love to share my books.

Pathfinder Mom said...

What a wonderful lesson. I love their works. I picked up a book on the Impressionists at a Scholastic sale super cheap. I'm hoping to use it for lessons like this in the future.

Jenny said...

Cary, we have not done Klee, but we surely will, in honor of you. We don't have that one in all of our greatest artist series books. Be thinking of a good project for him.

littlewondersdays said...

What beautiful art they made! We've occasionally borrowed books from the library to "just look" at the pictures too, but haven't attempted to incorporate artwork. Nice job!