Monday, November 4, 2013


The Artist's Garden at Giverny (1900), oil on canvas
Claude Monet.
Located in the Yale University Art Gallery.
Image in the public domain-copyright expired
 I love going to our local art gallery.
 I love going by myself and just hanging out.
The creativity of others always amazes and inspires me.

How many ways can you portray an object, a person, or an idea?

The  images and installations I see each time I go spark my own desire to create.
But I can't paint or draw or sculpt beyond the just- for-fun-elementary level.
So I write-- in response to, because of,  beside, and before the works displayed.

Going to the art gallery was also one of my favorite field trips with my students.
Some of my students were talented illustrators, painters and artists.  But many, like me, were not.
Even though we could not paint or draw or even understand some of the pieces before which we stood, we could all view the work with pleasure or displeasure or bewilderment or amazement.

Before each trip to the Columbus Museum of Art, we would receive resources to introduce our students to the process of observing and appreciating art-- including a PowerPoint that taught us how practice "artful reading" which included observing, describing, interpreting and supporting our interpretation with details or elements from the painting or work to proving what we think.  We would also receive a CD of 12 paintings on which we could practice our new "reading" skill.
Click here to access these 12 paintings in pdf format. 
Click here to access information and lessons related to the 12  paintings. 

My students could not help but notice  similarities in artful reading to the process of using evidence to prove and inference or conclusion when reading a  written text.

In addition,  a docent would come to our classes and share works that were currently on exhibit that we would be seeing, and also provide additional practice in observing and "reading" art.

"Writing to art" quickly became  a favorite expression of creativity in my classroom.

The above 12 paintings were always available on one of our computers so that students could "read the art" and then write.

The students also quickly located other online sources for additional  paintings and pieces of art.

Books featuring art quickly became the books of choice in my room-- to pore over at recess time, to "borrow without my knowledge" for an evening of art at home, to keep in one's desk for a rare moment of free time, to share with a friend.

Several excellent books of art and accompanying ekphrastic poetry (poetry inspired by art) are available. Here are three of my favorites.

 In Heart to Heart : New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, Jan Greenburg, editor (or curator), has selected amazing 20th century works of art by some of best-loved American artist-paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs-- and commissioned original poetry to pair with the art by some of our best-loved  20th century American poets. Biographical information for both artists and poets is included in the back matter.

My students' favorite pairings included Ringside by Ron Koertge written to George Bellows's Stag at Sharkey's

My personal favorite--although I could think of a reason for identifying each pairing as my favorite --is America Talks by Peter F. Neumeyer written to Barber Shop by Jacob Lawrence.

What Heart to Heart does for 20th century American artists and poets, Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World does for  international artists and poets. Again Jan Greenberg has paired through-provoking and amazing art with poems written to or inspired by each work.

A painting that has always fascinated me, The Scream by  Edvard Munch is included in this volume, along with a poem by Gunter Kunert ( translated from the German by Gerald Chapple).  Through this poem I was made aware of two figures that I had never noticed in the margin of the painting. (See related post The Margins of Our Lives.)

In each of these companion volumes Greenberg has organized the pairings into four categories or types of interpretations which suggest to us types of writing we might also do in response to art.

  • Stories in which the poet looks at an artwork and imagines a story.
  • Voices in which the poet enters the work and speaks in the voice of the subject depicted there.
  • Expressions in which the poet focuses on the transaction between the art and the viewer.
  • Impressions in which the poet identifies and describes what she sees in the elements--line, shape, color, texture.

Long before I was aware of the term ekphrasis or ekphrastic poetry, I loved Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art edited by Belinda Rochelle and  shared these unique pairings  with my students.

My favorite in this compilation is Women by Alice Walker written to William H. Johnson's Harriet Tubman, which blesses the cover of this book.  These works of art and poems explore many themes and aspects of African American history, culture, and life- family love, slavery, racism, pride, education and more.

Which piece of art speaks to you?
Which work of art is begging you to write?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Select a piece of art--a  painting, sculpture, photograph or other form.
You may locate your piece in one of the texts above, online, or you may visit you local art museum

Check your local art museum website or these resources for more art selections:
 As you observe a piece of art you may want to follow the "artful reading" steps that my students learned from the resources at the Columbus Museum of Art.

  • Observe the art.
            What do you see? What do you notice?
  • Identify specific features, elements,  and subjects.
           What do you notice as you look closer?
  • Interpret what you see.
          How do you interpret the art? What does this piece mean? Why did the artist make particular                       choices?
  • Support your interpretation with evidence.
        What details or elements of the work support your interpretation?

Use one of Jan Greenberg's  four categories for ideas about how to approach your poem or writing:
  • Stories--looks at an artwork and imagine a story.
  • Voices-- enter the work and speak in the voice of the subject depicted in your piece of art.
  • Expressions-focus on the transaction between the art itself and you ( or someone else) as the viewer.
  • Impressions - identify and describe what you see in the elements--line, shape, color, texture.

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