Monday, December 31, 2012

intersecting math and art


The art lessons I teach are based on the elements of design, and many incorporate math in some way, especially geometry. When I ask students to tell me what they notice in works by Wasily Kandinsky or Pablo Picasso, many of the responses include words like square, triangle, line, acute, obtuse, parallelogram, isosceles, and other math words. Any art lesson that includes the creation, manipulation, and use of different kinds of shapes and lines, whether students are drawing, painting, or making collages, is likely related to math. Here is a review of a few of my favorite art-making activities with math connections:

Geometric People
These figures are created entirely from geometric shapes (mostly rectangles). The lesson includes a discussion about joints, human body proportion, length and width, and the depiction of movement. A great introduction is to look at art by Keith Haring and to do a movement activity that requires students to arrange their bodies in different poses. For this lesson I really encourage students to create their figures to show or imply movement.

Geometric Shape Collage
This works with students of all ages, with directions that change according to the age group. Younger students are asked to use one circle, two lines, three triangles, and four colors; older students use one circle, two lines, three non-congruent triangles, four different quadrilaterals, and five colors. The finished art work can be used as a jump-off point for more math practice, with computation, calculating perimeter or area, or other math practice.

Kandinsky-Inspired Abstract Design
This is adapted from an activity in the book “Drawing With Children” by Mona Brooks. I usually have students look at a Kandinsky print and tell me what they notice. Invariably, math vocabulary bubbles up:  acute angles, triangles, parallel lines, etc. Then I have them draw one thing at a time, starting with three dots anywhere. The drawing directions use tons of math vocabulary (parallel, perpendicular, larger, smaller, etc.) They asked to color it however they choose, leaving part of the composition white. These are always successful, colorful, and interesting!

Cityscapes With Symmetry
This drawing activity connects to mathematics with its focus on symmetry, proportion, and a little work with geometric shapes. Students can be creative while applying their knowledge of symmetry. I like to use construction paper crayons on black paper, but I’ve also used regular crayons on white paper. Sometimes the skyline is glued onto a previously-created watercolor wash. This art lesson is inherently successful; even if mistakes are made in the symmetry, the end results are always beautiful.

Mondrian-Inspired Line Designs
These are all about lines and patterns created with lines. Students simply divide the paper with two horizontal and three vertical lines, creating several quadrilateral spaces, a few of which are filled with line patterns. When finished, the original lines are covered over with construction paper strips to give the whole piece a more dramatic look. Fun, easy, and relaxing!

Artists use math all the time. Sometimes this is in obvious ways with the use of lines, shapes, perspective, and proportion. Sometimes it is more subtle, such as in the use of balance and proportion in an overall composition. I often tell students they are “doing math” as well as “making art" because I want them to understand that math is a useful tool that isn't only something we do in school on a worksheet. Teachers might try incorporating math into art work, then extending the math even further through discussion of students' compositions.

All the art lessons described here... and many others... are available in my store at TeachersPayTeachers. Some are available as individual lessons and most are also available in bundles of three or four related art lessons.

And by the way..... if you think there is no time for art, take a look at Making Time For Art, which is free at my TeachersPayTeachers.com store. It has lots of ideas for integrating art across the curriculum, with math and other subjects as well, and suggestions for buying art materials and creating an art center.

Really.... art is for everyone!


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