I had the fortune to visit the Museé National Picasso in Paris years ago and perhaps aside from the Museé D’Orsay, it was by far my favorite museum. For a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was in a house and very intimate compared to the immense Louvre or Pompidou, and secondly, because it contained works from his own collection that he never sold, works that were personal to him. Also, these works spanned all the different periods this one artist had. Without a doubt, he was an innovator.
Well, as the museum in Paris undergoes some construction, Seattle, is one of the few cities that is showcasing this work and we are fortunate to take our kids to the exhibit in January. The SAM is an excellent resource for educators and they have put together a great website full of great resources including audio guides as well.
Today, there was a workshop for educators which included several activities, a tour of the exhibit, and learning how to integrate art into your curriculum. The Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, Chiyo Ishikawa provided a lecture on the man’s life and periods as well. I like hearing her speak about art at anytime.
I have to say that the education department at the Seattle Art Museum is excellent, as I didn’t just learn about the art and artist, but they also teach it using different strategies that one can bring back into the classroom easily.
It was a very different experience seeing the same work on large white walls, but I still was in awe of his constant pursuit of something new. When asked, how does this relate to your curriculum? The evidence was everywhere.
Relationships – besides his many female companions and muses, Picasso entered his blue period in part because of the suicide of a very close friend. This plays directly into our social and emotional curriculum. One teacher from another school, told my colleague, “You teach Second Step? – well use some of his images to elicit empathy from your kids.”
Identity and expressing oneself – we ask kids each day to look at themsleves and look at the differences that make them unique. What are their strengths? What are things they need/want to work on? An artist, writer, musician, or dancer, etc. often puts a lot of his or her emotions into their work and then displays it for all to see. Picasso was also moved to make political statements and his response to the German and Italian bombings of Guernica, his piece of the same name (not in this exhibit, but in Madrid), is a fine example of political and expressive art.
Growth mindsets – although Picasso was an art prodigy, he resisted the status quo and pushed himself to pursue what he believed in. He pursued excellence and worked hard. While he died a very rich man, he was not always so, and as studies suggest, effort more than ability, is what matters – and kids need to be praised for their efforts.
Innovation – This one is obvious. But innovators often go against the status quo, and it did not deter him from trying new things.
Those are just the big ideas, but the there were plenty of day to day curricular extensions. Social Studies, Science, Math and Language arts were the focus. I was with a group of lower elementary teachers whose task it was to create a math activity using one of his works. Geometry was an easy choice, but we picked a piece called Sacre Couer (which you can view here – due to strict copyright laws, they asked us to save certain images for class use and then view it online otherwise). We were given this lesson plan from the museum as a guide. We focused on the main objective being that kids would learn about 2D and 3D plane and solid shapes and how to do that on a flat surface. What struck me is that as some of use talked about using other global landmarks, or their own community landmarks to deconstruct, and started to think about some of the bigger ideas and concepts of critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, how to get kids working collaboratively, etc. a few teachers were very emphatic that those things didn’t get tested and therefore were not important. Their school would either be rewarded or punished if their kids did not perform well on a test. This sent shivers down my spine as I feel very strongly that skills beyond the basic recall of information, but that is the reality that some schools face. The museum even included a copy of the Global Competence Matrix in our package. You should check it out. It’s well worth it.
Anyway, the results from all the different groups produced some good lessons that were all adaptable and covered a wide range. One group who were high school teachers took a quote from Picasso, “Art is not made to decorate rooms. It is an offensive weapon in the defense against the enemy,” and used it as a way for kids to use art to make a statement. That same kind of thing could be done with younger kids and how it relates to bullying, for example.
My favorite quote was, “Painting is stronger than me. It makes me do what it wants.” I’d turn that around and ask can teaching be stronger than you? For me, the answer is yes. There are some days where the best laid plans go out the window and you try something new because your students are craving it and they couldn’t care less what was in your plan.
The theme of the day was multiple perspectives. Whether that is what you think of when you think of Picasso’s work, look at art in a mathematical way, or have personal and cultural perspectives of individuals influence a collaborative effort, Picasso can teach us and our students a lot. I have never seen the museum so busy before and am glad that this exhibit is a great success.
I’m looking forward to our field trip there in January.