Picasso took Keene Central School by storm last week and, doing so, fostered public speaking, inspired works of art, helped students enhance their ability to speak Spanish, and deepened their knowledge of art history.
Not bad for one of the most prolific artists in history who died 44 years ago.
When I was in middle school, my father took me to the Guggenheim Museum and introduced me to abstract arts and a building designed by his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. On display was a retrospective of the work of the early 20th century Expressionist Paul Klee. Up to that point, I was most familiar with the art of Avril Conwell, Bob Whitney, Jossey Bilan, Robert Plumb, Mimi Wikoff, and Rockwell Kent, another favorite talent of my dad. I hadn't seen any abstract art before, and I was convinced that to be a serious artist you had to make a tree look like a tree. My medium was watercolor.
Keene Central School sixth grade class
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)
Klee blew me away. His artwork was displayed in chronological order with the oldest at the top of the museum and the rest unfolding as one spiraled down. Klee could, of course, render the human form or anything else as well as the best of them. That was apparent in his early work. But watching his evolution and explorations unfold was a wonder. His work was a revelation and exciting to behold. The exhibition opened a window into another world for me. My dad bought me the catalog, 450 pages of sheer glory that remains with me to this day.
With that in mind, I was curious to see how the Keene Central sixth grade class would introduce Pablo Picasso to the student body, from kindergarteners to seniors. Their task was first to learn all they could about the Spanish artist and then, serving as docents, make presentations to other classes during the week.
Several large banners and tapestries featuring examples of Picasso's work, such as "Guernica," "The Dream," "Night Fishing at Antibes," and his collage "Guitar" were displayed in school's main hallway along with art works inspired by him and created by kids of all ages as part of their art classes.
Few artists have had an impact like Pablo Picasso, who co-created the discipline of collage, launched a new approach to sculpture where the artist assembles and joins elements to create an object in contrast to carving stone or wood or modelling clay, and used ceramics in a very sculptural and painterly way. Just his work in those three areas would have ranked him as one of the most innovative artists since Leonardo da Vinci, but it was through painting he had his biggest impact.
A co-founder of cubism, Picasso's work is often described in periods such as the Blue Period, Pink Period, African-influenced Period, analytic cubism, synthetic cubism, and so forth. His output was prodigious. It's estimated he created more than 50,000 works of art before he died at age 91, artworks that included paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, tapestries, rugs, ceramics, and collage, and set designs for theater and dance.
"This is the fourth time we've had sixth graders learn about a Spanish artist," said Keene Central Spanish teacher Peg Wilson. "What's different is this is the first time they took on the task of being docents. It was organized in collaboration with the art department and the high school level Spanish classes. The kids enjoyed the project. Some didn't like Picasso's art, but they loved seeing it and knowing that he existed. The younger kids asked the most questions. They are not embarrassed at all to ask questions. Such as, 'Why did he put the nose on the side of the head?' We all wonder about that. The students were also impressed by how much artwork he created."
No less impressive was the length of his name, which members of the sixth grade unfurled on a banner as the starting point of their presentation. Picasso was baptized Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Sant sima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, a name that honored many saints and relatives. It was a great way of signaling to their schoolmates this was an artist like no other.
So, thinking back to when you were in sixth grade. Ask yourself, how would you feel about trying to educate second graders to seniors in your school about an artist of the stature and influence of Picasso whose creative imagery is anything but the landscapes so often displayed in people's homes and local galleries. Actually, for a sixth grader trying to educate a senior about anything would be daunting, but that's what they took on with aplomb.
"I think Picasso is a great artist," said Gemma, a sixth grader. "He did a lot of cool art. I liked the project because it taught us about public speaking, and I liked that aspects were in Spanish."
"I didn't know about Picasso before this," said Brady, another sixth grader. "I learned that you can be a great artist by following your dreams. I think his art is pretty interesting and cool. His work is different. I think we were able to teach other kids about him and that you can lean more every day."
"I knew a little about Picasso before this class, but this project taught me a lot more," said Adeline, who paints and sculpts sometimes. "It taught me why and how he painted. I would love to have met him. I'd ask him what inspired him to paint things differently than everyone else and how he was able to ignore all the people who said this isn't the way things are done?"
"I think Picasso is very inspiring," said Hunter. "He chose to follow his dream, and he didn't let other people stop him.
"What questions did you get that stood out? What do they want to know?
"In his cubism phase, they want to know what's in it and why he chose to make people look like he did. I answer that he saw things differently than the rest of the world. I think it's great that he did."
"I like the Rose Period paintings the best even though they are not on display," said Sophia. "They are just so happy. I do paintings once in a while and hang them in my house. I do landscapes or just smudges. I like painting smudges." For her, the biggest challenge was the public speaking, something she doesn't like to do."
"I learned that Picasso didn't like to paint actual things," said Sarah. "He'd rather make things that were in his head. I also learned that it is really fun to talk to people and getting their response to things that we already knew."