No matter whether children are in an outdoor environment or an indoor setting, some form of art can be observed. From abstract, puffy white clouds to the angular wooden tables in a room, lines, an element of design, can be discovered and explored. These lines range from free-flowing lines to combinations of lines that begin to form shapes. Those same abstract and angular lines are also seen in the works of famous artists. By exposing young children to art masterpieces, they can begin to develop an appreciation for art and to discuss, learn, and explore the various art styles and techniques that were used by great artists.
Continuous, free-flowing lines are seen in the works of Jackson Pollock, an abstract expressionist artist. As Pollock painted, he threw and splattered paint on canvases that were placed on the floor of his art studio. By looking at a Pollock painting, e.g., Lavender Mist, the children can see and identify different types of lines such as thick, thin, squiggly, looped, and more.
To begin the children's exploration of lines, give them two-foot pieces of ribbon of varying widths. With this ribbon, have the children form different free-flowing lines. As they are creating these lines, have them describe what type of line was formed and what their lines look like. 'Pollock-like' lines can further be explored by giving the children colored construction paper, squeezable glue, and scraps of yarn in varying thicknesses and colors. Have the children squeeze free-flowing lines of glue on their paper. Then take scraps of yarn and place them on the glue. An abstract yarn design has been made. For the children to understand and appreciate Pollock's art technique, make a large class Pollock painting. Using a seven-foot sheet of mural paper placed on the newspaper-covered floor and various colors of tempera paint, have the children, one at a time, dip a paintbrush into a desired paint color and splatter this paint on this mural.
Using the works of the Post-Impressionist Vincent VanGogh, e.g., Starry Night, swirl-type lines can be observed. The children can view a realistic art style that was created by VanGogh's use of thick paints. Ask the children how they think VanGogh made his swirled lines.
To explore the ideas and work of VanGogh, pour some coarse salt in a box lid and have the children see how many different ways they can make swirl-type lines in the salt with their fingers. Proceed a step further by putting different colors of thick finger paint on large Styrofoam trays. Have the children swirl the finger paint on the Styrofoam tray to create a design using their fingers. After a design with swirl lines has been completed, place a piece of white construction paper on top of it and make a print of this creation. After the print has been made, the children can 'erase' that design and begin a new one if so desired. Have the children suggest tools that could be used in the finger paint to assist in creating swirl lines, e.g. plastic fork. Allow the children to experiment with these tools in the finger paint to create new swirled pictures.
An abstract artist, Piet Mondrian, used straight lines in his masterpieces, e.g., New York City. These straight, intersecting, and parallel lines were usually painted in the primary colors—red, yellow, or blue, or in black. Varying thicknesses of straight lines can also be observed. When the children are shown his work, have them describe the types of lines they see in his paintings and how they think he made his straight lines. Then give the children 6" or 12" rulers, depending on their developmental level. Discuss with the children what they think this tool will help them do and what type of line it will help them draw. Using rulers and colored pencils, have the children construct straight lines on white paper. Through the discovery process of using these rulers, they will learn how a ruler aids in drawing straight lines.
For another activity involving the concept of straight lines, give the children rolls of colored masking tape, scissors, and 12" x 12" pieces of white construction paper. Have the children take a piece of paper and select two or three colors of masking tape for their work. Assist the children in starting to pull the masking tape off its roll and cut the tape if necessary. Make sure they have a sufficient length of tape to extend from one edge of the paper to the other. Have them place and secure this length of tape to their paper. The ends of the tape will extend over the edges. Continue placing other lengths of tape to create a 'Mondrian-like' painting. When the children have completed their designs, have them turn the extra lengths of tape to the other side. Display their masterpieces.
Combinations of Lines
Pablo Picasso, an abstract artist, used a combination of lines in his brightly-colored paintings, e.g., Interior with a Girl Drawing. Picasso portrayed all views of objects and people in this style. Encourage the children to identify free-flowing, swirl, curved, and straight lines as they look at Picasso's work. As a follow up activity, take the children on a walk outside and have them look for things that have free-flowing, curved, swirl, and/or straight lines. Discuss where those lines are seen, such as in the clouds or on a building. To further enhance the children's knowledge of lines, have a variety of 'fantastic collectibles', e.g. seashells, forks, etc., for them to select to create a 'line' collage. After gluing these objects on a piece of cardboard, have the children describe the lines they found on these objects and dictate a story to you about this collage. Write their stories and display them with their collages.
As the children learn about lines, discover new materials, and create their 'masterpieces', have them discuss what they are doing and dictate stories to you about what they made. Place their stories with their artworks. Design and create your own classroom art gallery with the children's unique masterpieces. By exposing young children to art masterpieces, they can begin to develop an appreciation for art and to discuss, learn, and explore the various art styles so that they may become great artists themselves.
Sandra Fisher is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education and the Coordinator of the Early Learning Center at Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA. With over 25 years of early childhood teaching experience, she frequently presents at national, state and local conferences. Her book, Early Childhood Themes Using Art Masterpieces, is available from Teacher Created Materials. For more information, please call 800-662-4321 or visit www.teachercreated.com.