Writings from a Room with No View

Lesson Plan

Lesson

After a careful examination of the painting Poppies, students will use it as a backdrop for a creative writing activity.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • describe how an artist’s subject matter and design choices affect viewers’ experiences with a work of art;
  • use a work of art to inform and inspire their imaginations; and
  • use peer editing to improve their own writing and the writing of fellow students.

Lesson

  1. Warm-up: Show various still-life images. Discuss how artists make choices visually. Ask students to look at all the details around them and see if they can choose a handful that are the most important to them and their setting.
  2. Show students the painting Poppies. Lead a discussion on the subject matter, design, and overall feel of the painting. What did the artist attend to? How does that affect the overall feel? If certain elements were changed, (e.g. color, perspective, angles) how would the painting feel different?
  3. Tell them that this painting is the setting for a short story they are going to write. In this story they have to explain how they came to be in the room, what is going on while they are there, and what will happen to them if, and when, they leave. They need to include descriptive words that portray what they see and how they feel in the room. The story should be from a definite voice, either a narrator or first-person perspective. They may be human, alien, ethereal, etc. Remind them that people pay attention to things that are interesting and to keep that in mind as they write.
  4. Students will share and peer edit stories, attending to voice, verb usage, description, clarity, and overall quality of the story. If you can have two peer editing sessions, student learning would benefit. The emphasis is on the fact that the words won’t be just right the first, or perhaps even the second, time. Encourage students to take risks and write differently than they might have in the past.

Materials

  • One pencil or pen for each student
  • Lined paper
  • About the Art section on Poppies
  • One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
  • Varios still-life images

Standards

CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Poppies

Poppies

1931

Andrew Dasburg, United States

Who Made It?

At age five, Andrew Dasburg traveled with his widowed mother from his birthplace of Paris to New York. A fall into an excavation site at age seven sent Dasburg to a home for children with disabilities, where his artistic talent was first encouraged. He enrolled in art school at the Art Students League at age 16, and at 19 he was awarded a scholarship to the League’s summer program in Woodstock, New York. In 1909 Dasburg traveled to Paris, where he was profoundly moved by seeing Paul Cézanne’s paintings for the first time. (Cézanne is a renowned French painter who has been called a forerunner of modern painting.) An art collector loaned Dasburg a small Cezanne still-life of apples so he could copy the painting over and over again to better understand and emulate Cézanne’s style. Back in New York, Dasburg continued to immerse himself in the art world, experimenting with color theory and abstraction (not depicting an object exactly how it looks but simplifying, distorting, or rearranging it to reflect an emotion or sensation).

Dasburg moved to Taos, New Mexico, around 1930, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Addison’s disease—and the fatigue and depression that came with it—kept him from working for nearly a decade, but he started painting again at age 60. After his diagnosis, Dasburg moved away from oil paint and watercolors and began using ink, pencil, and pastels. He also made lithographs, or stone prints. He died at age 93, with the distinction of being the oldest surviving participant from the 1913 Armory Show, the first International Exhibition of Modern Art in America.

What Inspired It?

Increasingly influenced by the landscape of New Mexico, Dasburg resolved to give up pure abstraction, realizing he gained more satisfaction in reacting to shapes and forms he observed in nature rather than working from pure invention. He simplified and transformed the objects he observed, using angular lines and geometric shapes to represent them without destroying their identity as objects.

Dasburg’s real interest was not in studying flowers or their symbolism, but in simply creating a good picture. The poppies were only a starting point for a study in color, shape, balance, and rhythm. Dasburg made sure each individual shape that he used contributed to the picture as a whole. Rhythm was particularly important to him; he said that “the force of gravity” and the “upward impulse in living things” were fundamental factors in considering rhythm. Looking at the poppies, it’s easy to see both the force of gravity as the blossoms droop and petals fall, and the “impulse in living things” in their natural upward growth.

Details

Warm and Cool Colors
Warm and Cool Colors

Dasburg was interested in color theory and made use of the principle that warm colors seem to come forward in space and cool colors recede. The bright, warm color of the poppies forces the flowers to the front of the picture. In contrast, the walls, which are made up of purples and blues, seem to move back into space.

Straight and Curved Lines
Straight and Curved Lines

The square shape of the doorframe and table and the short, straight brushstrokes create a sense of angularity that contrasts with the arcs of the vase, the rounded poppy petals, and the curved stems.

Vibrating Color
Vibrating Color

In most of the painting, Dasburg applied color in patches and separate brushstrokes, interspersing warm and cool colors for a lively, almost vibrating effect. The bold red and green colors in the center intensify each other. The bright background creates a halo around the vase and flowers, emphasizing the vibrancy of the vase and poppies.

Arc of Blossoms
Arc of Blossoms

Dasburg placed the flowers along a diagonal line, beginning at the upper left and cascading down to the lower right. Follow the arc from the longstemmed flower that curves upward, to one that sits lower in the vase but still faces upward, to its neighbor that faces downward, and finally to the poppy whose stem curves completely down toward the table.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.