If you'd called Georges Seurat a pointillist when he first developed the technique in 1886, he probably would have been insulted. The term began as a derisive label applied by critics, but the works have outlasted the ridicule they received at the time. Today's appreciation of pointillism places it in the context of the Impressionism from which it was born and appreciates its technical ingenuity as well as its subject matter. Helping students experience the technique is a great way to broaden their understanding of it.
An Experiment with Cookie Cutters
Showing students how pointillism works and engaging them in the activity at the same time can be easy with a handful of circular cookie cutters and some rolled-out sheets of coloured clay dough. The students can cut out circles and stick them onto a whiteboard, following a guide drawing you prepare in advance to yield a simple shape once they position the dough dots. As they step farther and farther away from the board, the shape becomes easier and easier to identify.
Pixels and Pointillism
If Seurat had been able to look at images on a computer monitor, he might have been captivated by the technology's ability to mimic his signature technique, especially when he viewed the images at close range. Ironically, today's students may be more familiar with pixels than with pointillism. One way to explain how the pointillist technique works is to contrast an extreme closeup of a digitally captured image with a zoomed-out view that shows the entire picture.
Lots of Dots
Who says painting requires a paintbrush? Just as pointillism expanded the way painters thought about colour, its techniques offer an ideal opportunity to encourage students to broaden their ideas about painting. If you give your students paints but not paintbrushes, then hand out cotton swabs and encourage them to experiment with pointillism using spots of paint, you can open their imaginations to the way discrete dots of unmixed colour can combine nonetheless to produce shading and texture.
Students of every age enjoy getting their hands dirty with fingerpaint. Once they understand the concept of pointillist technique, it's a simple matter for them to use fingertips rather than paintbrushes to make dots on paper. This exercise works whether students create individual works in pointillist style or collaborate on a much larger piece of paper attached to a blackboard. Young students may need a guide drawing to fill in. To keep everyone's mind focused on a group drawing, taking "step-back" breaks helps keep the overall design clear. It's especially important for youngsters to have fun experimenting with art so self expression and creativity don't get lost in the details of technique and art history.
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- "Yale National Initiative: Celebrated Impressions from the Painters of Paris"; Debra Migden, 2006
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