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.
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.
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.
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…
- The difference between abstraction versus abstract
- How color can represent an idea, feeling or concept
- 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
- 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?
- Student questions
- Group discussions
- Oral responses to essential questions
- At least one finished piece
- Elaboration and risk-taking