Antonio Ruiz, Mexican
Oil on canvas
13 1/8 x 17 inches (33.3 x 43.2cm)
Purchased with the Nebinger Fund, 1949
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Recent research has shown that we can build innovative thinkers by reinforcing a set of thinking tools, including such skills as observing, imagining, pattern recognition, modeling, and transforming. As these skills can be taught, it makes sense that we can help students become the creative thinkers that we will need in the twenty-first century. This lesson plan is the third in a series that is focused on using art to enrich instruction in these critical skills. The research on which this information is based can be found in many sources, perhaps best summarized in the book Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein.)
PA Academic Standards:Mathematics 2.4.E – Demonstrate mathematical solutions to problems Arts & Humanities 9.3.A – Critical Processes
NJ Academic Standards:Science 5.1.8.A.2 – Using observation to build conceptual-based models Visual & Performing Arts 1.4.8.B.2 – Building visual fluency
Grade Level:For grades 7–9, adaptable for elementary or for high school.
Art Images Required:Click on the titles below to view images on the Museum's website. Images that are available from ARTstor are indicated; typing this exact ID number or search phrase will direct you to the corresponding item in the ARTstor database.
- Bicycle Race by Antonio Ruiz
ARTstor search: 1949-24-1
- Jam Session by Claude Clark
(not available on ARTstor)
- Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) by Marcel Duchamp
ARTstor search: Duchamp 10304
- Hydrangeas Spring Song by Alma Thomas
(not available on ARTstor)
Background:The first in this series of lesson plans examined Observing, since creative thinking requires paying careful attention to what we see, hear, feel, etc. Our ability to observe needs to be trained and practiced—once we have observed, this sensory information can be used to imagine, the focus of the second lesson in this series. Imaging allows us to process our observations with our imagination, allowing us to create other possibilities. However, raw data (sensory input) can be staggering, so to think creatively, we need to be able to abstract key elements from the whole. This lesson will focus on developing the skill of Abstracting. We create and use abstractions all the time, and don’t think much about it; however, the process of abstracting can be mysterious. The German physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901–1976) described the process as, "singling out one feature [of an object] which is considered [by the viewer] to be particularly important." We use abstractions when we research articles in addition to when we look at a newspaper headline, watch a movie trailer, or scan a dinner menu. We even talk in abstractions. Tell someone about a book or television show you recently enjoyed and you will pull out the basic information, the things that stood out to you. You are abstracting.
Lesson Process: Part 1
- Examine the painting Bicycle Race by Antonio Ruiz. Have the class use their observing skills to see the details in the painting. Direct them to imagine possible sounds, smells, textures, and even a story that potentially surrounds the painting. Discuss these observations and imaginings.
- Now that the class is more familiar with the painting, have them write a one-sentence summary of Bicycle Race. Make a list of student responses, noting their differences. Point out that each of these is an abstract of the painting based on an individual focus.
- Examine the painting Jam Session by Claude Clark, and follow the same process.
- he next step is to examine a few famous artistic abstractions. Examine Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2). Discuss details of the painting so that students can identify the figure that is walking down the stairs. What can students see (stairs, feet, hips, head, etc.)? How is this an abstract, and can we see from the painting what the focus of the artist might have been?
- Examine Hydrangeas Spring Song by Alma Thomas. Ask the class if anyone is familiar with the hydrangea flowering shrub and have them describe the flowers. (If no one is familiar with the shrub, call up a few images from the computer.) How is Thomas's painting an abstraction and what is its focus?
Lesson Process: Part 2
- Look again at Jam Session. Have students sketch a simple outline of the two dancers by observing their apparent movements. Direct the class to imagine where the male dancer will be positioned in the next moment, and outline his "future figure." Repeat this step with the next imagined movement. There should now be three outlines of this male dancer on the same paper. Follow the same process for the female dancer. Have students discuss the focus of their abstract drawing, noting what needed to be observed and what needed to be ignored in creating the abstraction.
- Abstracting can also be achieved by simplifying. Have the class return to their first outline of the two dancers in Jam Session. Much of the painting has been eliminated but focus is still on the two dancers. What additional lines can be eliminated while maintaining the basic idea or focus of the painting? Direct students to keep simplifying the drawing until what is left is only what is absolutely necessary. This is also an example of an abstraction of the painting, focused instead on the dancers themselves rather than their movement.
- Ask students to find examples of abstractions in everyday life. What do they see, hear, etc., that is meant to represent the basic idea of something larger? Newspaper headlines, chapter summaries, reviews, even their notes are good written examples of abstractions. Many advertisements—especially one-page ads from magazines—are meant to represent a bigger idea (vacation excitement, femininity, security, etc.).
- Repeat any of the above steps with additional works of art.
- Instruct the class to write a paragraph that describes an event that was important to them. After they have finished writing, have them cut their words, eliminating words that are needed to form proper sentences, are redundant, or don’t add to the overall importance of the event. Have them continue to edit their paragraph, selecting new words that convey more depth of meaning than the ones they replace. Point out that poetry is a kind of abstraction.
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