Units of Work

Abstract painting


Meager, abstract, abstraction, paint, painting, expression, mood, character, personality, colour, color, colour mixing, color mixing

The intention of this unit is to introduce children to the idea of abstraction in the history of art, and the possibility of making such paintings themselves. It sets out an approach to the work exploring mark making, colour and language as a stimulus for abstract imagery. Finally, it suggests returning to looking at the work of relevant twentieth century artists in the context of the children's own painting.

Abstraction provided a paradigm leap for art in the twentieth century. Although a number of artists, notably Cezanne, had begun the process of abstracting from visual reality, it was the Russian painter, Kandinsky, who is often credited with making the first abstract paintings. The story goes that Kandinsky was dissatisfied with one of his brightly coloured semi figurative paintings and turned it upside down. The resulting composition of colour, shape and space pleased him. Although it was impossible to 'read' the painting in a literal way it still presented a powerful expressive and aesthetic content. Whether or not the that story is true, abstraction or the rejection of it, became the dominant feature in painting over the past 80 years.

Abstraction can be a very a powerful and liberating factor in helping young children with painting. Drawing and painting what can be seen from observation requires skill. This can be taught and all children can be helped to improve their representational abilities. However, the inability to draw or paint what something really looks like can be a powerful inhibiting factor that destroys confidence and prevents many children from enjoying and taking part in art. Here is just one example of an abstract painting project for the classroom:

Use some line and mark exercises as a way of warming children up. For example, look at the units 'drawing lines', 'making marks' and 'marks and textures' for more detailed ideas.

Revise a method for mixing colours with paint. For example look at the units 'colour mixing with paint' and 'colour mixing project'. Ask the children to experiment with a colour concept. For example, mixing contrasting or clashing colours side by side, mixing warm and cool colours, mixing pastel colours and mixing colours that blend and harmonise well together.

When the children are happy with their experiments ask them to cover a sheet of good quality paper in with different colours. Use one of the colour concepts explored above and combine this with many different lines and marks. It might be an idea for children to paint a simply coloured ground first. Let that dry before adding painting 'riot' of line and mark on top.

Encourage children to paint over areas they dislike to improve them. Talk about the importance of filling all the paper. Perhaps their paintings could have a theme. Try moods and emotions. For example, link ideas to personalities and character traits: 'moody', 'party time', 'wistful', 'over exited', 'confused', 'organised', 'careful and deliberate', 'happy and carefree'.

More experienced pupils may want some time to practice and plan how the marks and lines will be organised. Others will want to work more spontaneously. But at all times remind children that this must be thoughtful and deliberate in idea.

Finish the project by displaying the work, talking about the results and showing the children reproductions of abstract paintings.

  • This unit could be approached using any method of painting. However, younger and less experienced children benefit from using a clear and unambiguous technique that has been deliberately taught. Children's creativity is hugely enhanced when they work from a firm and secure practical foundation.

  • includes many other references to abstraction, search using the key word 'abstract' or 'abstraction'.

More ideas about art connections

  • Children will spend a lot of time and nervous energy in their art lessons trying to get their work to look like something, some place or someone. Have you thought of challenging this by asking them to make a painting or piece of sculpture which doesn't look like anything?

  • They might be convinced that work that doesn't look like anything really isn't very good art! They might believe that children who can't draw very well (especially figures, objects and places) will muddle through by making simple patterns or cartoons.

  • If you seem to encourage merely muddling through, they might become despondent. However, you might show them good examples of abstract art, in which the artists were trying to do something other than make accurate copies from real life!

  • Try showing pupils some of these: Jackson Pollock, 'Autumn Rhythm' (1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Max Ernst, 'Vox Angelica' (1943, Acquavella Galleries, New York); Piet Mondrian, 'Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue' (c.1937-42, Tate Gallery, London) and Wassily Kandinsky, 'With Black Arch' (1912, Museum of Modern Art, Paris). These are very serious and completely abstract works, therefore they may be quite difficult for children to comprehend. Why should anyone want to make something like that? You could, alternatively introduce almost any paintings as having been abstracted in which they have elements which are like real, everyday appearances, but they have been altered or simplified, made vague or confused.

  • If you are not clear yourself on abstraction in art, try reading Philip Yenawine, 'How to look at Modern Art' (1991, Chatto and Windus ISBN 0 07011 3861 0).

All the materials and equipment needed for mixing colours. See the colour mixing references above.