Non-Figurative Art: Lines, Movement and Feelings
Lesson Objective: Express emotions through non-figurative art
Grades 6-8 / Arts / Drawing

Thought starters

  1. How does Mr. Ritchie set up the introductory activities to prepare students for the final project?
  2. Notice how Mr. Ritchie blends experimentation and direct teaching. What effect does this have?
  3. How is music used to develop an understanding of non-figurative drawing?
This is a great resource. I enjoy how fluid the transitions are between each focus.
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Loved the connection of music with drawing. Good explanation of nonfigurative art ,Ideas I will use with my own students. Thanks!
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This is extremely inspirational. Thank you!
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I was wondering if there was going to be a video of music and how it inspires art and I am so glad this is on here!
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Awesome!!! My kiddos will be experiencing these activities next week!
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  • Transcript of
    Drawing to Music
    Teacher: Neil Ritchie

    Teacher: Listen to it first. Feel it. Don’t jump into it

    Transcript of
    Drawing to Music
    Teacher: Neil Ritchie

    Teacher: Listen to it first. Feel it. Don’t jump into it right away. You feel it … That’s it …

    Student: I think we can communicate through art. If you put down what you think on a piece of paper somebody else will have to feel it and so if you put an emotion down, every time you see it they’re going to have to think about it as well.

    Student: The music helped because I didn’t even know what we were going to do until he explained it to us and I found it really fun because you can just really scribble around like you’re in kindergarten and make an actual final piece of it that looks nice.

    Student: Mr. Ritchie is always telling us, he has this little poster up on the wall there. It says art is anything you can get away with.

    Teacher: Some people got into it, that was good.

    Teacher: Ok, give me an example of a thing, a thing that you would draw.

    Student: A person.

    Teacher: A person.

    Student: A tree.

    Teacher: A tree.

    Student: A cat.

    Teacher: A cat. So those are all examples of figures. If you put the word together now nonfigurative, what is non-figurative artwork then? Something that doesn’t have a figure in it; but give me an example of what that might look like.

    Student: If you had a scribble, so it wouldn’t be a figure.

    Teacher: A scribble, so something you can’t actually put a name towards. You put the name scribble but something you don’t look at in real life and go oh well look at that scribble growing out there in the forest.

    The overall idea for the unit, I wanted them to have the tools to create a non-figurative piece of artwork to communicate feelings and ideas.

    Teacher: What do we call those things, lines, shapes, colors, values?

    Student: The elements of design.

    Teacher: Elements of design. So the things behind me right here which we have drawn reference to in the past, we’ve talked about since grade 7, those are the things you’re going to use in your artwork here today.

    So by diving into feelings and experiences and ideas it catches them early on for something they can talk about that is relative to their own self.

    Teacher: I'm going to give you an emotion and in the emotion I want you to actually think of a time where you felt this way. Then once you feel it I want you to just start to do whatever you want on that paper, but it has to be, again, nonfigurative. First emotion. Think of a time when you felt calm. No test, no school, you’re away from school feeling very calm, waking up.

    How do you get them to start to imagine in a nonfigurative project. Well, you have to engage them and get their hands dirty, get their hands wet by creating these pieces.

    Teacher: I want you to think of a time when you were angry. Now don’t jump into this yet. When you’re doing this I want you to get angry. Get mad come on, get angry at that.

    You have to create this piece by talking about a mood or a feeling from your own personal life experience and be able to communicate the rhythm in that piece along with the rhythm, talking about how that movement is repeated, bringing other principles of design we’ve discussed in the past with balance and talking about how is the piece of balanced, why isn’t it balanced, is there a reason it’s not balanced, why didn’t you balance the piece. Maybe the balance is broken for a certain reason.

    Teacher: I want you to think of a time now where you were excited. Maybe it was when you were a little kid and you were excited about a special holiday coming the next day.

    For the imagining and generating process these students came into this unit of having no knowledge of what they’re doing is OK because it’s universal for us to when we’re feeling angry to have these sharp angry lines. But they don’t realize that it’s universal to the person beside them when they’re angry they do that as well. So by them gathering those tools to be used in a project later is really important.

    Teacher: Now, someone tell me about another box you think you see something similar to the person beside you. Look at the person’s paper beside you or the people around you…

    If I threw the student into that nonfigurative project early on and said here’s the project, let’s do it, I would have had a lot of students revolting and not wanting to do the project. They would have felt uncomfortable and unwilling to share those ideas that this is a calm line, this is a feeling of calm, this is a feeling of anger, this is a feeling of excitement. They don’t feel comfortable that that feeling of excitement is shared by their neighbor and it’s expressed the same way. But after they have that universal experience in the class that it’s OK for me to do this, to show the excitement, now they have the knowledge and I have the knowledge and I can use that knowledge in my project later.

    Student: In excitement I found that Sienna and I both have lines that are popping out and they’re exploding and it’s just showing a sign, like that’s really exciting and happy and really out there.

    Student: That helped me learn how to express the emotion not just for myself because I knew what the emotion was, but to show to others so that they can feel that emotion from what they saw.

    Teacher: So again you can look around the room, you can see a lot of people had similar language used and this is language where I didn’t tell you how to do this, I didn’t say create this type of line for calm.

    It’s important because those students need that knowledge base. If they don’t have that knowledge base early on to draw from, to share with their peers in a final project later, they can’t be expected to do that final project unless they’ve had the experience at the beginning by generating those ideas and imagining and using their imagination to get those ideas without being assessed.

    Teacher: What I want to discuss as a class is to start to learn a new concept and the concept that I want you to learn is movement. OK, we’re looking at the movement of your eye in a piece of work.

    So when we start to introduce movement and rhythm and what is movement and rhythm by showing them examples on the board, by going through which piece has more movement, A or B, and realize now they have a language to express those ideas amongst each other and amongst viewers that see their art piece, that they can actually start to describe that.

    Student: I think this one here is the slower movement but then the bigger part in the middle is faster because it goes up and down

    Student: I think this is more like the main movement, where your eye mainly follows because it’s all connected.

    When I design a unit I think about the creative process and how to engage the students at the beginning, how to get their minds on.

    Student: All the lines that radiate from the center, they’re all the same.

    So how I motivate students is to make the project relevant to them. Giving them choice and having a rubric that is set up ahead of time so the students can see the rubric and realize that the rubric doesn’t say that they have to draw this, this or this, so they have to create this. The rubric is just attached to the techniques that were taught, the principles of design that were taught in that lesson, but whatever their piece wanted to be it was ultimately up to them. They get to decide what the final outcome is going to be based on the principles of design within the rubric.

    Teacher: So on top of this, now watch I’ll put thick green and orange, or green and red shouldn’t mix. Orange has a little bit of red in it but I’m going to make it thick over the top.

    Now it’s time for me to take what they’ve explored and teach them the tools, to teach them how to use those oil pastels and how the technique so that they can be successful when they are assessed. They have explored, they’ve learned how to blend but now let’s teach them another way of blending, not necessarily the right way but a different way of blending. They’ve done the experimenting early on and it doesn’t always have to happen in the exact spot that it shows in the creative process, it’s a constant in and out. You can jump in and out of that cycle at any point during the creative process.

    Student: Having the choice to use whatever form of media we would like really helped me to personalize my artwork and enjoy it more while I was putting it together because art is a very personal thing.

    Teacher: You’ve picked up chalk pastels on the way in, you’ve picked up paper, but I’m going to play music for you today and the music pieces I’m going to play for you, I’m going to play roughly for about two minutes. First piece.

    Teacher: Listen to it for about 10 seconds. I see some people starting to feel it, dancing around, totally fine.

    So during the creative process I wanted to engage the students early on and for them to have that experience where they’re actually listening to the music, the music is being played and they’re experiencing the feeling and those feelings come out on the paper and that piece becomes theirs. In talking about the music that you experience, how the music made you feel, now use that and produce your own piece and so the viewer can experience that at the same time.

    Teacher: Here we go, new piece.

    Student: I did find that the music helped because as a dancer I’m always interpreting the music as an artist but I don’t ever create something on paper. So it has really helped me to change my way of thinking.

    Student: I found that very helpful, listening to the music and trying to get a feel for each different piece of music and then putting it on paper without drawing an actual picture, making it nonfigurative.

    Student: inaudible

    Teacher: So it’s the lines causing it to move?

    Student: Yeah and it’s causing your eyes to go across the picture with the claws

    For the reflection piece ultimately we want the students to be able to communicate how effectively they’ve communicated their ideas, whether it be in writing, a one on one conference with the teacher, and did they get their idea across. Was it angry? Well, tell me why? The piece may be evidence enough, for example if it was anger the piece may be evidence enough for me to look at it and see these angry jagged lines and they may be able to point out from the work we did preliminary with the boxes of anger, sad, happiness – that this piece shows it because this is angry and these are my angry lines, and bringing it up to my desk and pointing this out at my desk is totally fine. But ultimately as a visual arts teacher you need to decide what is the best way for that student, that individual, to get that message across and what’s the most beneficial for that student’s learning.

    When the final piece is on display the students can look at that piece and actually be able to identify what their peer was feeling by the excitement lines and the colors used and the pieces on display and it’s there to be shared for the community walking in and out those doors and for their peers and their teachers to see.

    Student: The mood that we chose is anger because we use dark and sad colors just to show that we were just frustrated and we had the lines going everywhere because the song was going ….going everywhere

    Student: With my piece of artwork there are many moods. Like up here it’s anger, then love, and mystery and calm, or as I consider it the undercurrent of both of these emotions.

    Student: So our emotion in this picture is confusion because we have the four corners exploding, kind of like excitement, but then in the middle it’s dark and kind of mysterious so it’s two in one, so it’s kind of confusing.

    ? end of transcript



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