Monday, April 9, 2012

The Style

De Stijl translates to The Style. This thought movement from the 20s aimed to get us thinking about line and color in furniture, graphic design, architecture, painting, poetry -- all to seek a universal language. In thinking about how to pursue an artist study with young children, why not start here?

In the style of Piet Mondrian. 
Chopsticks painted with black acrylic. 

Cardboard circle painted with acrylics and 

gold tempera. Mat board backing painted
with tempera.

I have a quick list of tips that I share with teachers, colleagues, and parents. To begin, I do believe that the conversation with art begins away from table and easel, through motion, through play, and through simply being out and about in the world. I also think that each project takes time, some a really long time in terms of school work which sometimes rolls out in tiny moments or blocks of time (the day is only so long, after all).

Another big tip is to use the highest quality materials possible. This does not necessarily mean the most expensive. I am also constantly on the hunt for beautiful stuff. I will go through trash to find things. Yes, I will. A big tip would be to talk about paint and to experiment with the paint you have. Color matters. Yet another big tip would be to never write on a child's work. Everything on the surface of that work should have been applied by the child. Names should be on the back. Titles should be written or typed on the mat background or base of the sculpture.

Then there is this other big tip that I am only now, because of discussions with friends and colleagues, beginning to shape into a language to share and it is about style. We are not imitating the artist, we are not hinting at the artist, we are evoking a style or consciousness. We are experimenting with materials using a language honed and shaped by another artist.

For instance, Jasper Johns is about LAYERS and secrets. He has a heavy hand. How would you get at that style? May I suggest newspaper, glue, and oil pastel? Layer upon layer upon layer. Johns' clear images of stripes and circles hide treasures. The American flag in the black and white of newspaper collage and the velvety smears of gray, black, and white oil pastels. Delicious!

Now, take a look at the Mondrian studies above. They seem to be breaking a big, big rule of the de Stijl -- curves! But, if you walk backwards to look at early works by Mondrian you will find curves and he painted trees early on. As time went on and he developed his vocabulary, the golden light seemed to shimmer away the tinier branches of the trees, leaving only the boldest horizontal and vertical lines. There were also golds and pastels! The children's work evokes that quiet shimmering away, sunlight captured on icy branches, or sunset glinting off rippling water (another source of inspiration).

Fast forward to city lights and jazz. We heard Mondrian's language of rushing traffic on streets and glowing lights and spoke it in our own voices as sculpture. The lines tower and soar in these Mondrian sculptures. We used scrap wood for the base along with left over chopsticks from the first project and bits and pieces of collected, art paper, mat, and foam board. We also had some packing material all painted silver.

We have traveled near and far and have picked up key words in the language of Mondrian and de Stijl and added our own phrases.


  1. What a great post for all of us wanting to start on a journey of introducing real artists to children. Thanks for all the great tips, especially the one about the names & writing - hadn't thought about that before. Kierna

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  3. My comment was removed for some reason. I was curious as how the sculptures stand. They are awesome. Are they simply glued to the wooden bases?

    1. Sorry about that. These were constructed with a combination of white glue and glue guns, but four dowels were drilled in to provide a grid to begin with. This allowed the children to position the panels and painted chopsticks in just the right way.