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Thinking Deeply About Art

October 6, 2020 | Clara Buckley

We started this term by looking closely at a piece of art using a SPARK thinking routine, See, Perceive, Ask & Answer, Reflect, Knowledge. I invite you to join us in this routine.

We start with an individual analysis of the artwork. Each section has questions to encourage the student to look closer and think deeper about the painting. I’ve included a couple of the prompts here and student responses (with their permission).

SEE – How would you describe this artwork?

It looks like an illusion.

I see a Chinese dragon face.

It looks like an ape or monkey, and it’s like we are looking at it from the inside.

The mouth is like a walkway for people to go through.

PERCEIVE –  What emotions do you feel when looking at this artwork?

It feels very lonely and odd how something so bright and beautiful would be in such a dark place.

I think that the artist was trying to portray the feeling of insignificance that sometimes comes when you stare at something as glorious and awesome as the night sky. 

This artwork gives me a vibe of pain when I look at what looks like teeth, so maybe the artist is showing pain through art.

I saw that where the eyes would be have stars in them, so I think that the picture says that life can be overwhelming, but is always beautiful. 

It’s like a fever dream. 

ASK & ANSWER – What is this artwork about? What questions would you ask the artist of this artwork?

The feeling this artwork symbolizes is one of feeling like you are nothing, and wondering if you will ever be something.

He must have faced a bunch of challenges and the doorway represents him accomplishing his goals. 

Maybe it’s supposed to represent the shell of a person.

Are you reflecting on your own life or another person’s life? 

Is this artwork about war? Why is the person in the picture missing teeth? 

After this first look at the painting, the class shares their ideas in person or over Zoom, and we analyze the painting as a group. Students learn more about the artist and artwork before answering the final two sections. 

Marcos Raya was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and moved to Chicago when he was 16. Raya became known in the neighborhood of Pilsen, Chicago for his street murals. Being in Chicago during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, allowed Raya to express his political views through his artwork. His work explores the sociological impact of technological changes through a variety of media and his personal battle with alcoholism. Raya painted several versions of this piece, each with a different view through the eyes. Raya titled this piece, The Anguish of Being and the Nothingness of the Universe.

With this new information and sharing of ideas, students look again at the art piece.

REFLECT – How can you relate your own life and experiences to this artwork? 

Sometimes it is hard to hold yourself together. Sometimes you just want to melt into nothingness. But the stitches of life hold you back. 

I can relate to this artwork because I also have lots of emotions and I feel like I am also complex and have lots of little details that make up my character. 

I have had times where people assume things about me. It would have been nice to see things in their point of view and not mine. 

Everyone has something going against them although it may seem when things aren’t going right that it’s just you that’s having a rough time. 

I might notice that on the inside I can be nervous, excited, and crazy,  and then I look out and realize that how I feel is my own, and it feels strange to think that everyone else can be completely calm.

KNOWLEDGE – What do we know about the person who created this artwork based on what we see? 

Marcos may have been trying to say that he feels like technology has some control over us with the strings in the painting. 

He may have felt lonely when he painted this and he made it so people could see what he saw during that time in his life. 

The art conveys the feeling of “there’s nothing I can do to fix this”.  

This artist had been battered and he went through things that opened his eyes to anguish and nothingness. 

I mentioned that the skull looks like an ancient Aztec or Mayan mask…the face looks similar to a Mexican wrestling mask, rather than what I thought it was. It still supports the idea that the artist wished to make a connection to his heritage. The mask may symbolize how he wishes to hide his identity, or how he is fighting for a cause- just like those Mexican wrestlers. 

Responses by: 6th Grade – Baxter, Carter, James, Kalina, Kaylee, Kyle, Matilda. 7th Grade – Ally, Bella, Giulio, Kate, Sandy, Xavier, Zane. 8th Grade – Annie, Caroline, Julia, Lily, Mariacarla, Sean.

Clara Buckley

Teacher, Rivers Class; Middle School Art

Clara Buckley’s teaching spans the ages of Mustard Seed School, from the youngest students in the preschool to students in the graduating class. She’s found many similarities between teaching three-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds!

As an art teacher who never enjoyed drawing, Ms Buckley’s hope is that each child she teaches discovers a way to create art that they enjoy, whether it be sculpture, printing, textiles, architectural drawing, or collage.

Ms. Buckley loves living in Jersey City, a place whose diversity and welcome for immigrants reflects her own family experience. When planning future travel destinations, art, food, and time with family are featured items on her list.

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