April 4, 2011

Middle Ages and Asian Art

We wrapped up our year long study of the Middle Ages from bed during our run of illness, but I didn't check off the art lessons because I really wanted the kids to be able to get up and make some of the art before we called it quits on that time period.  There's so much art to look at from that time period that is distinctly Asian, and recognizing the subtleties that separate Chinese from Japanese is an interesting and important element of cultural sensitivity.

It all reminds me of when my dad and his wife Yumiko came to visit us in Oregon and we planned a trip to go to the Japanese Gardens in Portland.  I was so proud that I knew right where they were and couldn't wait to go there with Yumiko, but embarrassingly, it was the Chinese Gardens that I took them to.  Such a miserable faux pas.  But Yumiko, ever gracious as she is, happily walked through with us anyway, pointing out the features that made it distinctly Chinese before locating the Japanese Gardens and taking us all there.  The end of our day came complete with a quiz on the different defining characteristics of each garden to ensure that I would never make the same mistake.  What could have been devastatingly awkward was made fun and educational by Yumiko's ever delightful personality and easy going ability to make the best of every situation.  And with all that in mind, I approached  these two cultures' art with that same eye.  Looking for the obvious similarities, but more so looking for the distinct features that set them apart.

We started with landscape painting.  We learned that Chinese would often paint on silk scrolls to make their artwork easier to transport, while the Japanese already embraced the canvas, making their works more difficult to transport, but thereby somewhat more valuable by virtue of how difficult they were to get a hold of.

Both Japanese and Chinese artists of the Middle Ages focused more on nature than on people, and if people were present in their landscapes, they were barely visible specks, tiny within nature rather than being the focal point.

Finally, Chinese painters used only black ink, believing that the detail used to make something beautiful from only one color would be more valuable than almost cheaply exploiting color and therefore making their work easier.  I thought that was such an interesting perspective.  Like using color is almost lazy and anyone can do it.  But making something beautiful from just black on white requires patience and skill.


So the kids painted a nature scape on fabric.  Sure, it wasn't silk, but it was off white, which I'm going to say counts for something!  It's what I had lying around and it worked.  Hannah Jane noted how much more difficult it is painting on something that has a little give in it and really seemed to have an appreciation for anyone who could do this with a degree of skill. 
Here are Hannah Jane and Haven's final landscape scrolls side by side.  Haven obsessed over bushes and Hannah Jane added amazing fine detail around the water, but it doesn't really come across here.  I was happy to see she'd gotten the point about human kind being an mere element in the greater scheme of things when she pointed out a person on a boat that is just a wee speck in the river tide.

Next it was wood block prints.  For this we carved into the bottom of Styrofoam plates, brushed them with black paint, and printed our paper.  This was tricky because the coating on the plate made the paint bead up and not spread evenly AND if you glob too much over the lines, the carving fills in and doesn't show up.  Too little over the lines and you get a bunch of nothing.  So this really required a few tries to get it just right.

 This really turned out to be Haven's bread and butter.  He made a bazillion of these, ripping at the plate like nobody's business!  Every step, he carried out with intense focus and when he was done he would back up, critically analyze, and ask for another plate.  It was so funny!  I couldn't imagine how long he could go on like this, and I was ready to move on to the next thing, thinking that certainly 10 prints would be enough to make anyone happy.  But no.  He wanted more!  And so I let him go on until his little print making heart was content, which ended up being exactly 13 prints!

I kept it simple with  flower print, but Hannah Jane wanted to write "I <3 Daddy" on hers.  I didn't even think about the fact that with print making, your original design has to be backwards if handedness matters at all, which it does with words.  She made the first one and her printed words were all backwards and she freaked!  So she made another, simpler one with the word love in the middle of a heart and took the time to carve the letters backwards.  The result was fantastic!  Totally worth framing.

So next we made origami inspired frames!  Hannah Jane carefully traced edges, cut and glued and overlapping sequence of paper patterns on her frame and carefully trimmed the edges.  I love seeing her pay so much attention to details!

She even cut the pieces for Haven's.  I was shocked at how meticulously Haven glued the paper to his frame.  Totally unlike him.  He framed up one of his prints (how he decided which, I'll never know!) and declared that Daddy could have all the other prints, but this one was his!  Hannah Jane was so annoyed that he would keep the best for himself and explained that he should give Daddy the framed print to more accurately reflect his love, to which Haven replied, "Daddy loves me and always gives me the best, so I know he'd want me to have it!"  Can't argue with that logic from a 3 year old!  Haha!

We made a koi wind sock and designed our own silk kimono patterns along with a symmetrical rug, but the kids weren't too wild about those after the more novel activities like print making and fabric painting.

There's no learning quite like doing.  Hannah Jane, during a documentary on the Shogun, actually pointed out how you could tell they were in Japan based on a piece of art in the background, which made Momma happy!  And Haven, bless his heart, found a new passion.  I'm just hoping this doesn't translate into him carving on everything now!  He's in enough trouble for using a crayon on his bed and wall!  I can't imagine the fit I'd throw if he carved into it!

Up next?  The Renaissance, so more flute practice than usual, some Shakespeare, poetry, and a look a about a bazillion invasions of Italy by just about every country that existed!  Should be fun!

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