1st Grade – Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square

1st Grade – Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square

Description of the Unit – Students will explore Josef Albers’ series Homage to the Square, using his artwork and our discussion as a guide to creating their own series of squares, concentrating on contrast and depth.

>Josef Albers with one of his paintings from the series Homage to the Square
Josef Albers with one of his paintings from the series Homage to the Square

Activity statement – Josef Albers’ 25 year-long series Homage to the Square, begun in 1950, explores the optical effects created by superimposing colored squares over one another. The paintings are deceptively simple compositions of straight-from-the-tube oil paint applied with a palette knife on primed white Masonite panels (so cool!). According to the Guggenheim’s website, “the optical effects Albers created—shimmering color contrasts and the illusion of receding and advancing planes—were meant not so much to deceive the eye as to challenge the viewer’s faculties of visual reception. This shift in emphasis from perception willed by the artist to reception engineered by the viewer is the philosophical root of the Homage to the Square series. Albers tried to teach the mechanics of vision and show even the uninformed viewer how to see,” (Guggenheim).

"Apparition" - 1959, from Albers' Homage to the Square series
“Apparition” – 1959, from Albers’ Homage to the Square series
Study for Homage to the square 1956, Josef Albers
Study for Homage to the square, 1956
"With Rays" - 1959, from Albers' Homage to the Square series
“With Rays” – 1959, from Albers’ Homage to the Square series

Students eagerly respond to this visual challenge. As simple as the images may seem, right away students pick up on the use of color to create the illusion of these advancing and receding planes. Students considered which colors created the most contrast and depth (analogous or complimentary?) and contemplated how placement of the squares, as well as their diminishing size, enhances the illusion of three dimensions. As one student noted, the squares “were like an echo, but with color.”

Besides thoughtfully arranging their own squares, this project is a wonderful way for students to develop their fine motor skills, as cutting straight lines into a square is not the easiest on little 1st grade hands. Some students request to use rulers, which is fine, as they still have to cut that line they drew, but it’s not required of they don’t want to.

Goals – Students should…

Understand:

  • Complimentary (contrasting) colors on the color wheel
  • Understand analogous colors on the color wheel
  • How color can contribute to optical illusions, such as the illusion of depth
  • How placement and size of squares contributes to the illusion of depth?

Know:

  • What is meant by an optical illusion
  • What is meant by advancing/receding planes

Be able to:

  • Use complimentary and analogous colors in a thoughtful arrangement of squares

Resources and materials –

  • Examples of Albers’ paintings from Homage to the Square
  • Multicolored construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • Glue

Questions –

  • What do you notice about (chosen Albers’ example) painting?
  • What can you tell me about the colors in (chosen Albers’ example) painting? Are these analogous colors or complimentary? Which ones are analogous? Which ones are complimentary?
  • What does it feel like to you to look at the squares? Are the squares moving away from you, or towards you?
  • Are the squares in the center of the painting?
  • How do you think Albers created this painting?

Evaluation – Did students:

  • Understand the meaning of analogous colors and complimentary colors?
  • Understand how color arrangement can create a three-dimensional illusion?
  • Understand how the placement and size of squares creates the illusion of depth?
  • Thoughtfully choose colors and arrange their own squares to attempt the sense of depth?

Informal:

  • Group discussions
  • Oral and responses to essential questions
  • At least one finished piece

1st grade student examples:

1st grade student work - Homage to the Square, cut out colored construction paper
1st grade student work – Homage to the Square
1st grade student work - Homage to the Square, cut out colored construction paper
1st grade student work – Homage to the Square
1st grade student work - Homage to the Square, cut out colored construction paper
1st grade student work – Homage to the Square
1st grade student work - Homage to the Square, cut out colored construction paper
1st grade student work – Homage to the Square
1st grade student work - Homage to the Square, cut out colored construction paper
1st grade student work – Homage to the Square

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