Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Degenerate Art: Hitler's War on the Modern Imagination

Adolf Hitler believed that the only true art was the art that tried to imitate nature as realistically as possible. He only liked art that was pretty, that glorified German culture and that represented idealized classical beauty. He believed art's purpose was to promote patriotism and national pride. 

If the subject of a painting was war, he believed it should show glorified, handsome, blonde haired blue eyed German soldiers bravely marching in formation. He despised any artwork that portrayed the horrors and suffering of war. Art that showed ugly or strange looking people, art that was abstract or expressive and pictures painted with visible brush strokes instead of a smooth surface were offensive to Hitler. He made it his mission to confiscate, ridicule and destroy such art and to ruin the lives of the artists who created it.

To learn more about the Nazi's attack on the modern human imagination, watch the movie below.
Adults should preview this film before showing it to students to determine if it is age appropriate.  

Styles of art that Hitler 
considered Degenerate:

Fish Magic by Paul Klee 1925 is a Bauhaus style painting
The Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso, 1921, is a Cubist style painting

Marcel Duchamp’s Sixteen Miles of String installation at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in New York.is an example of Dada art

The Reader by Henri Matisse, 1906 is a Fauvist painting
Hitler hated Fauvist paintings because they often used unnatural and unrealistic colors. He claimed these paintings were the product of sick minds and that Fauvist artists should be forbidden from ever painting again.
He said "Anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue should be sterilized."

Flower Garden Marigolds by Emil Nolde,1919 is an example of expressionist art
Sunflowers 1917 By Emil Nolde is an example of Expressionist Art

Asters,1880 by Claude Monet is an example of Impressionist art
Waterlilies and Japanese Foot Bridge, 1899 by Claude Monet is another example of Impressionist Art
It is hard to imagine today that anyone could be offended by an Impressionist painting like Monet's or an Expressionist painting like Nolde's. It angered Hitler that Impressionist paintings did not portray a smooth, idealized, perfect realism. He hated the way the Impressionists left their brush strokes showing. He considered their artwork to be sloppy and claimed their must be something wrong with their eyes and their minds to paint that way. It angered him that such artists should be allowed to teach at Germany's universities. He felt that they were corrupting the minds of the next generation of artists.

    Storm Troopers Advancing Under Gas by Otto Dix, 1924 is an example of  art from the New Objectivity Movement

      Otto Dix was a veteran of World War One and a member of the New Objectivity movement. He created art that depicted the horrors of war. The Nazi party only approved of art that glorified war and promoted patriotism.

        The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali 1931 is an example of  Surrealist painting

        The Spanish artist Salvador Dali called his paintings 'Photographs of Dreams'. He painted things that would be impossible in real life, like watches melting. Hitler wanted to control the dreams and imaginations of the German people so he considered such expressions of individuality to be dangerous. He wanted to form a cohesive society and felt that all artistic expressions of individuality,in books, music or art, was unpatriotic. 

        Hitler's war on modern expressionism extended to modern music. Any music that wasn't traditional and classical was labeled 'degenerate' along with the art that it influenced. He particularly detested the popular jazz and boogie-woogie rhythms that had become popular in Berlin night clubs. 

        Hitler was obsessed with the idea of 'racial purity' and a 'master race' of white Germanic people. He did not want Germans dancing to music inspired by African rhythms.
        Many modern painting styles were influenced by African American jazz. In his eyes jazz was a corrupting influence and a threat to the ideal of racial purity.


        To understand how modern music influenced this artist's work, watch the video below:

        Hitler's assault on the music of the modern imagination extended far beyond black influenced Jazz, Ragtime and Boogie-Woogie.

        Schoenberg was an expressionist painter as well as a musician. Here are some of his paintings:

        Schoenberg's music had a profound influence on the painter  Wassily Kandinsky, the father of abstract modern art. He painted compositions, like the one below, after being inspired by listening to music. As a matter of fact he often named his abstract images 'composition' or 'arrangement' as if they were pieces of music.
        Composition VIII 1923
        To learn more about Kandinsky and how listening to music inspired him to develop modern abstract art, click here.

        It is no wonder that Kandinsky's art was labeled degenerate by Hitler. It represented everything Hitler hated about modernism. To learn more about Kandinsky's art, 
        watch the video below:

        Ironically, while Hitler was so busy promoting pretty, idealized paintings showing glorified, romantic happy German people he was, at the same time causing his people great suffering as he dragged them into the Second World War. While he condemned any images that showed the suffering of war, he  simultaneously was ordering the torture, starvation and extermination of millions of people. While he condemned artists, writers and musicians for daring to paint the truth of human suffering, he himself was creating suffering for millions of people throughout the world. By blaming artists and pointing fingers he hoped to distract the German people from noticing the atrocities being committed by the Nazi government under their very noses.

        What can we, as modern, twenty-first Century artists do to honor the memory of those painters and sculptors whose lives were destroyed merely because they had ideas that were original or different? 

        As free people, we can exercise our right to create art that is authentic, personal and based on our own experiences without fear of being arrested. We can create art that is meaningful without necessarily being 'pretty'. Through our art, we can create colors that are not found in nature and ideas that may be complex or difficult to talk about.
        We can freely express, through our creations, what we feel, even if it is not what we see. 

        Hitler sought to control the thoughts and feelings of his citizens through art and propaganda. Any artist who expressed an individual idea,one that did not agree with the political beliefs of the state, was a threat to him. By labeling artwork as 'degenerate' and 'ugly', he tried to get Germans to dismiss it as garbage. He didn't want his citizens to explore the ideas and feelings behind these pictures because doing so might cause them to question his authority. Every time we take a close look at a piece of art and see beyond it's beauty to investigate it's meaning, we are honoring those artists who sacrificed  so much in order to express their ideas,thoughts and feelings. 

        The development of modern abstract painting, starting with the Impressionists, directly stemmed from the birth of photography. Once a realistic image could be captured with the click of a camera shutter, artists were free to look beyond how the world merely looked on the surface. They could explore the idea of using color and brush strokes to evoke thoughts, feelings or sounds. They experimented in ways they had once never dreamed possible. 

        As shipping goods from over seas became faster and cheaper, people started to enjoy art from exotic cultures all over the world. Painters like Van Gogh and Picasso were able to learn about art from distant places the previous generations of artists had never dreamed of. Picasso was inspired by African masks. Van Gogh was inspired by Japanese prints. 

          Hitler completely ignored the influence of photography and dismissed the value of artwork from foreign cultures. He blamed the developments of modern abstraction on  artists who were degenerate, anti-social,out to destroy the beauty of society and suffering from defective eyesight and deranged minds. 

        The experimentation and innovation of artists like Picasso, Kandinsky and Van Gogh, inspired by foreign, exotic and seemingly primitive art, were incompatible with Hitler's vision of ideal, racially pure, German art. Ironically, the art Hitler favored owed it's style, not to a glorious, mythical Germany of yore  but to the the classical Greeks and Romans. The 'glorious German past' that Hitler so idealized had, in fact, never existed outside of his mind. 

        Why is it important today to learn about Hitler's war on modernism? Abstract art is appreciated and enjoyed today by many people. Most of us today understand that a picture need not be 'pretty' to be 'good'. Most people appreciate the idea that 'beauty is truth' and that truth, like an Otto Dix picture, is sometimes disturbing. 

        Now that you have studied the subject and have learned about modern art, watch the video below. Do you agree with the narrator? Why or why not? Do you feel his arguments are logical and well reasoned? Is his information accurate? Does he allow us, the viewers, to make up our own minds based on information or does he tell us what we should think? Would your opinion of the video have been different if you had watched it before learning about the Hitler's war on modernism?

        Sometimes when a writer wants to persuade you to agree with him he starts out by showing you the most extreme example, one that you cannot possibly question. In this case, the narrator compares the Mona Lisa to a rock.  In selecting work for the Degenerate Art show, Hitler deliberately chose works that were shocking or ugly. Once he had the attention of the audience, he slowly built his arguments, which were designed to outrage the public and manipulate people into agreeing with him. This only worked because the average German citizen knew very little about modern art. Click here to learn more about how this type of argument is often used to mislead people.

        Sunday, November 23, 2014

        Studying self portraits and using iPads in the art room to create personal student portfolios

        Self-Portrait by Tamara de Lemipicka 

        For the link to the Drop box folder,
         referenced in the video click here.
        The directions for this art lesson are included in this article however the Dropbox folder contains additional resources and reference material that you may find useful.

        Integrating art history, technology and studio art production

        Self-portrait lesson
        Step 1
        You need to find a self-portrait painting of a famous artist.
        You will be working with this portrait for a while so find one that is interesting to you. Select a portrait that you want to know more about.
        You may select one of the portraits below or you may click on one of the links below to search for one yourself. As soon as you have made your selection, download the picture to your camera roll and write down the name of the artist who created it, the title of the painting and the year it was made. 

        Some famous self portraits for you to consider:

        Next, upload the painting to your personal Drop box folder. If you have not yet created a personal Drop box folder on your iPad please follow the directions below:

         Look at the paintings that other students at your table have selected and, as a group, discuss the questions below on the next page.

        What do you think a self-portrait can show? (- What the artist looks like ? - How they feel? - What type of artwork they produce?)
        What does the portrait reveal about the time in which the artist lived?
        Some people think that the self-portrait is the most interesting kind of portrait. Why do you think this is the case and, do you disagree or agree? 

        As you consider each work, think of these questions:
        What is it made of? 
        How old is the work?

        How long do you think it took the artist to make?

        What scale is it?
        How much of the artist can we see?
        What (if anything) is in the work in addition to the portrait?
Have any particular props or symbols been used in order to assist the viewer to understand the work? 
        What type of clothing is he or she wearing?
        How is the figure lit?
What type of colors has the artist used?
        Is the artist posing in any particular way?
        Is he or she trying to tell us anything through the pose or gesture?

        Do you think that an artist would make more than one self-portrait?

        Do you think that the self-portrait is like an advertisement for the type of work that an artist can make?

        The questions for discussion above are from a lesson on self-portraits by the National Portrait Gallery in London. To see the complete lesson click here.

        Once you have finished selecting and saving the portrait, click on the link below to visit Biography.com. Type the artist’s name into the search and find out everything you can about them. If you cannot find any information about them on Biography.com, go to Google and type in the artists name and the word ‘biography’. Make sure you are spelling the name correctly.
        Find out the following information and write it on a piece of lined paper:
        Artist’s full name
        Year of birth
        Year of death
        Was the artist associated with any famous artistic movement, artistic style or group? What was the name of their style or group?
        What is the mood of the painting (Happy, sad, lonely, angry etc)?  Did the artist use brush strokes, color or facial expression to help convey that mood?
        What was going on in the artist’s life that might have influenced the look of the painting?
        Name one other interesting fact about this artist’s life
        Name one aspect of this artist’s work that you would like to emulate in your own artwork.

        Part 2: ChatterPix, bringing the painting to life
        You need to prepare a short, 30-second, speech about this painting Using the facts that you have written on your notebook paper. Practice presenting your speech to the other students at your table, remembering to speak clearly.

        Once you are ready, upload the portrait into the ChatterPix app and follow the directions. After drawing the mouth, record your speech. Play it back for yourself to make certain that it sounds clear. Save your project to the camera roll and then upload it into your personal Drop Box folder.

        Part 3: Reflection
        As a class, we will watch each other’s Chatter Pix presentations on the big screen in the classroom so that we can learn about each other’s chosen artist.
        Here are the Chatter Pix movies that some of my fifth grade students produced:

        Part 4: Choice project, #Selfie
        Putting it all together

        Now it is your turn to create your own self-portraits. 
        The first self-portrait will be drawn with pencil on paper and then shaded. I will then photograph your picture on my phone, using the app Turboscan, and put it into your personal Dropbox folder for you. You will then use your drawing to create a digital self-portrait on an iPad, using the apps PS Touch and Sketchbook Pro.
        It is up to you to decide whether you are going to include just your head, neck and shoulders or include your entire body. It is up to you to decide if you want your self-portrait to be sitting or standing still or in an action pose. 
        When drawing on paper, you may use the camera on the iPad to take a picture of yourself to use as reference or you may use the camera of the iPad as a mirror. 

        You may use any of the reference worksheets on drawing faces and people to help you. If you are not familiar with the proportions of the human face or how to shade a face please review these previous art lessons:





        Student Art Gallery