Thursday, December 15, 2011

4th Grade Jazz Paintings

Source: via Katie on Pinterest

I discovered Ray Berman's paintings when I was researching art from southern Africa. Ray Berman grew up in South Africa but moved to Swaziland during Apartheid. He makes colorful abstract paintings that show the influence of the urban jazz music he grew up listening to. My 4th grade students  viewed images of Berman's paintings, like the picture above and compared them to Wassily Kandinsky's Composition VII below.

My district's Art curriculum focuses mostly on the Elements of Art but with this project I wanted the students to think more about the Principles with this lesson and what they have in common with music. The students were able to identify rhythm and harmony as being music and art words. It was pretty easy for them to figure out that "rhythm" in Art is  like a visual beat but it took a little more prompting for them to get the definition of harmony. I'm about to tell you a little story of embarrassing myself for the sake of education. I asked the students what it means if people are singing in harmony. One answered "singing the same song". I knew that wasn't quite going deep enough so I asked the student to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and to keep singing no matter what I did. I let him get about half a verse out before I started singing from the beginning in my very best horrible opera voice. The students laughed and then understood when I pointed out that they would have to be singing together, not just the same thing. So "harmony" in Art is the elements working together and looking good together.

And in the next part of the lesson, technology failed me, and later the music teacher saved me. I had found some videos of South African Jazz on YouTube as well as another website that would play South African Jazz music. I tested the link the week before and when I went to play the music for my first class, my district's internet filters had changed and YouTube was blocked. Then the music on my backup website would not play. So instead of listening to jazz while creating abstract paintings, my students painted to REM. Good music, but not quite the same. I talked to our music teacher and she hooked me up for my classes the next week. She brought a bunch of jazz music VHS tapes and showed me how to run the audio from the VCR through the speakers in my classroom. I just had to fast forward through a few speaking parts to get to the music. I can't remember the titles of some of the songs but let's just saw there was some laughter. I had enough paint out at each table* that I didn't need to refill any and was able to paint along with the students (when I wasn't fast forwarding) and we all enjoyed it. It's not uncommon for me to play music while the students paint, but this was one of the first times I had asked the students to paint the music.

*I've found that my students get better results with abstract painting when they are given only the primary colors and white. They can mix any color they want without you having to refill or waste supplies and it keeps everything unified.

The schedule ended up being uneven again so only one class finished the project how I had originally planned. I played music again in the second class period and the students were to draw, cut, and glue an instrument then add lines with oil pastels that showed the beat of the music. I'm kind of glad that the other classes' projects remained abstract paintings because in most of the pieces, I felt the instruments actually took away from the project. I invite you to check out some of the other results below or see more in our Artsonia gallery.
Camryn363 says this about his/her art...
This is a saxaphone. We listened to music while makeing this. The lines are to the beat to the music.
Peighton14 says this about his/her art...
In this picture I made an instrument to go on top of my design. The notes are coming out of the instrument.


  1. You certainly had your share of hurdles. In the end the pieces are so Wonderful Katie! I don't have a problem with the pieces with instruments. I'm having a hard time picking my favorite.I would love to try this sometime. Pinning! :)

  2. Thanks! These were some of the more successful instrument pieces. Some were hard to recognize or went overboard and just scribbled with the oil pastels.

  3. Love these! I have loved doing abstract pieces with my students..very interesting to get their perspective on such work! Here are some from last year...

  4. I love your results. Don't you just hate it when technology you've been counting on doesn't work!!! Looks like your improvising definitely worked!! I also like having the kids just use primary colors and white. I have found that a limited palette can cut down on muddiness. And, you are right, it sure helps cut down on wasted paint!!!

  5. I have really enjoyed the display of paintings in the halls! It is interesting to hear the whole story (or should I say, saga) of the creative process involved in the projects. The juxtaposition of the painting and the clippings form some pretty humorous and thoughtful images.
    Nice project!!

  6. I'm really liking this project! Thanks for sharing. When I first started teaching I tried something very similar. I ended up making a few Jazz instruments out of tag board to hand out to students who struggled with the whole concept of this kind of work. It's so frustrating that YouTube was blocked. I started to put all of my favorite art and music on my own site that school didn't block for that exact reason. Feel free to use it as a resource...that's what it's there for.