5th Grade – Franz Marc and his Kaleidoscopic Animal Paintings

5th Grade – Franz Marc and his Kaleidoscopic Animal Paintings

Description of the Unit – Students will explore the kaleidoscopic, expressionistic animal-centered paintings of Modern artist Franz Marc, applying the same concepts to their own compositions in oil pastel.

Deer in a Monastery Garden, 1912, Franz Marc. A very abstracted painting of a deer surrounded by a garden
Deer in a Monastery Garden, 1912, Franz Marc

Activity statement – Franz Marc (1880-1916) was a sensitive, humble, and quietly innovative German artist who is not as widely studied as his contemporaries. According to the Art Story, “(Marc) is most famous for his images of brightly colored, (geometrically abstracted) animals, especially horses, which he used to convey profound messages about humanity, the natural world, and the fate of mankind. In association with Russian painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky, Marc founded the group Der Blaue Reiter, which emphasized the use of abstracted forms and bold colors. Their goal was to use form and symbolism as tools to overcome what they saw as the toxic state of the modern world”, (https://www.theartstory.org/artist/marc-franz/). Not only did Marc use images symbolically, but colors as well. His work is most often categorized as expressionistic. Sadly, Marc was not long for this world, as he was killed in action during World War I. I often wonder at what this expressive artist would have created had he been given more time in the world.

A black and white photograph of Franz Marc
Franz Marc

The subjects and approach Marc used in his paintings make them both relatable and stunning to students at the fifth-grade level. The students enjoy seeing the vividly colored animals, while also being challenged by their abstraction. Students compare this abstraction to looking at the animals in Marc’s paintings as if through shattered glass or a kaleidoscope. Students therefore discuss ways in which they too can use color and shape to express a similar type of abstraction. They note the layering and burnishing Marc uses in the individual fragments of his paintings (as opposed to the whole) in contributing to the abstraction.

The First Animals, Franz Marc, 1913. An abstracted, kaleidoscopic painting of two red foxes.
The Foxes, Franz Marc, 1913. I love this painting.
The First Animals, Franz Marc, 1913. A refracted, abstracted painting of four horses, two large, two small. The two large are gray and blue, the two small are red.
The First Animals, Franz Marc, 1913
Tiger, Franz Marc, 1912. Painting of a tiger with an abstracted, multicolored background
Tiger, Franz Marc, 1912
Deer in the Forest II, Franz Marc, 1914. A refracted, abstracted painting of three deer (one red, one blue, one yellow)
Deer in the Forest II, Franz Marc, 1914
Three Cats, Franz Marc, 1913. A painting of dancing cats, one yellow, one red and one black & white.
Three Cats, Franz Marc, 1913. Along with The Foxes, this is one of my favorite Marc paintings.

Students also discuss symbolism in relation to Marc’s paintings. What might the animals symbolize? What about the size they are depicted as? Can the colors used also be considered symbols? Of what?

Rather than using paint, students undertake this project using oil pastels. The reason for using oil pastels is to simplify the use of burnishing and layering, a key component of this unit. Their goal will be to complete at least one animal composition that is refracted in a style similar to Marc’s paintings and include thoughtful use of color, burnishing and layering.

Goals – Students should…

Understand:

  • The difference between abstraction versus abstract
  • How color can represent an idea, feeling or concept

Know:

  • What layering and burnishing mean
  • What symbolism means

Be able to:

  • Identify abstraction
  • Use refraction—abstraction—in their composition
  • Use layering and burnishing to express three-dimensional qualities

Objectives – Students will:

Create a similarly abstracted animal composition in oil pastel, paying special attention to what certain colors might symbolize for them.

Resources and materials –

  • Examples of Franz Marc’s paintings
  • Construction paper in a variety of colors
  • Pencils
  • Rulers
  • Oil pastels

Questions – (While observing Marc’s art)—

  • What is this a painting of?
  • What do you notice?
  • Is this realistic? Why or why not?
  • What do you notice about the colors Marc uses? Describe.
  • What does Marc do to show light, shadow and three-dimensions?
  • What effect does it have to divide the animals into geometric shapes?
  • When you think of certain feelings, do you associate certain colors with them? Which ones?
  • What other things or ideas could colors stand for? Is this objective or subjective?

Evaluation – Did students:

  • Understand the difference between abstraction and fully abstract?
  • Understand how color can symbolize a thing or idea?
  • Effectively use layering and burnishing to express a refracted, kaleidoscopic quality to their composition?

Informal:

  • Student questions
  • Group discussions
  • Oral responses to essential questions
  • At least one finished piece
  • Elaboration and risk-taking
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. This student used layering much in the same way Franz Marc does in Foxes.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. This student used layering much in the same way Franz Marc does in Foxes.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. I like how this student uses triangle shapes to suggest a canopy of leaves, and the textured feathers of the owl.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. I like how this student uses triangle shapes to suggest a canopy of leaves, and the textured feathers of the owl.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. This student went with bold colors the way Marc sometimes does, as well as using similar burnishing effects.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. This student went with bold colors the way Marc sometimes does, as well as using similar burnishing effects.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. I like the captured motion of the fox--the student mentioned this is the pose of foxes hunting animals that live underground. Reminds of the movement expressed by Marc's Three Cats.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. I like the captured motion of the fox–the student mentioned this is the pose of foxes hunting animals that live underground. Reminds of the movement expressed by Marc’s Three Cats.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. I like the way this student used layering and burnishing.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. I like the way this student used layering and burnishing.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. Love all of the colors here.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. Love all of the colors here.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. This student spent a long time on the background layering, and I really like the texture that created.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. This student spent a long time on the background layering, and I really like the texture that created.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. The layering and burnishing of the frog give it a glowing, luminous quality.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. The layering and burnishing of the frog give it a glowing, luminous quality.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. Great use of movement and texture here.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. Great use of movement and texture here.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. The layering and burnishing here reminds me of Deer in a Monastery Garden.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. The layering and burnishing here reminds me of Deer in a Monastery Garden.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. The student artist wanted the fox to be partially integrated with the background, as if an optical illusion.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. The student artist wanted the fox to be partially integrated with the background, as if an optical illusion.
5th grade student's Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. Great use of layering and burnishing, and really appreciate the kaleidoscope effect.
5th grade student’s Franz Marc-inspired animal composition. Great use of layering and burnishing, and really appreciate the kaleidoscope effect.

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