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Spectrum of Art Part 2: Subject Matter and Genres

In this section of the Spectrum of Art, segments selected from KET’s three-part series Looking at Painting explore the techniques and ideas of Kentucky painters.

Realism: Landscape

Bowling Green’s Laurin Notheisen and Dal Macon of Whitley County, two painters of realistic landscapes, discuss the various methods, themes, and techniques they use to produce their work. Macon begins the segment, working on a scene from his home. Then, while working on an under-painting—one of the initial stages of her work—Notheisen shows how she uses photographs to guide the first steps of a painting. After that, Macon literally walks viewers through his process of painting by hiking into the woods, setting up his easel, and searching for scenes of vivid light and color. He says that he looks at the landscape as a “kind of home.”

Suggested Uses:
Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use in conjunction with a discussion of the purposes of art (e.g., observing and painting a realistic landscape).
Show in conjunction with other painter profile segments from Spectrum of Art or Through Artists’ Eyes, especially painters who use techniques and styles different from realism. Compare and contrast the techniques and methods different artists use in their approach to the same medium.
Use the segment as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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Realism: Self-Portrait

As she works on a self-portrait, Louisville artist Gaela Erwin discusses how an artist’s technique develops through the evolution of an initial interest. She also describes her own creative process: analyzing her subject with scrutiny, remodeling and intensifying errors, and creating illusionist spaces while observing realistic content. She says that it is often a very rigorous and personally trying experience. Dealing with the intensity of her own image while looking at herself for up to seven hours in one sitting leads to a manifestation of her own anxiety, revealed in the deep, vivid shades of her canvases.

Suggested Uses:
Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use in conjunction with a discussion of the purposes of art (e.g., painting a self-portrait that incorporates symbols).
Show in conjunction with other painter profile segments from Spectrum of Art or Through Artists’ Eyes, especially painters who use techniques and styles different from realism in creating portraits. Compare and contrast the techniques and methods different artists use in their approach to the same medium.
Use the segment as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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Realism: Still Life

Danville painter Sheldon Tapley begins this segment at the first stage of his usual method: a Masonite panel primed with gesso and a light hue that sets the original tone for the work to come. He then demonstrates the deliberate and measured approach he uses in painting, brushstroke by gentle brushstroke. Tapley gives viewers a look into his sketchbook, full of notes and initial ideas for new work, and discusses his use of specially customized brushes. From a loose interpretation of the composition in the early stages, he allows his love of the medium and subject matter to develop into a vibrant, detailed vision of objects in space.

Suggested Uses:
Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use in conjunction with a discussion of the definition of realism.
Compare and contrast the techniques and methods different artists use in their approach to the same medium.
Use in conjunction with a study of still life paintings found on the Kentucky Virtual Art Museum CD-ROM. Does Tapley’s process help explain techniques and processes that might have been employed by painters whose still lifes students found in the museum? Discuss the tradition of still-life painting.
Use the segment as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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Expressionism: Landscape

Patrick Adams begins this segment discussing his memories of growing up “in the middle of a cornfield in Minnesota” and how that landscape’s geography has influenced most of his work. He likes to challenge the differences between the geography of his home and that of Kentucky, finding the wide-open spaces in his memory more appealing than the tightly woven hills. Karen Spears goes on to discuss her youth spent in Texas and the influence of different environments on the vistas found in her work. Adams then describes the methods he uses to look at the reality of a landscape more internally, finding the abstract nature in real forms. Finally, Guinever Smith continues the discussion of the relationship between abstraction and realism, finding it best displayed in the shifting elements of nature, such as dark rain clouds and the currents of change expressed in the colors of autumn. She says that she hopes to create work “on the knife’s edge between realism and abstraction … that expresses those moments when permanent things are just about to change.”

Suggested Uses:
Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use the segment in conjunction with a discussion of the purposes of art (e.g., the artists’ intentions in painting expressionist landscapes).
Compare and contrast the techniques and methods different artists use in their approach to the same medium, using painter profiles from Spectrum of Art and Through Artists’ Eyes.
Show in conjunction with the “Realism: Landscape” segment featuring artists Dal Macon and Laurin Notheisen to compare and contrast expressionism and realism.
Use as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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Expressionism: Figurative Art

Recalling his experiences working on the railroad, as well as images of his family and other important figures, Louisville artist Mark Priest discusses his large compositions, which passionately reflect, through dramatic lines and colors, intense moments of internal expression. His influences include the dramatic works of Michelangelo as well as Priest’s mentor and friend, Henry Chodkowski, whose encouragement helped the young painter continue his development as an artist. Priest also talks about the importance of developing a composition and the methods he uses to “put the viewer in the painting.”

Suggested Uses:
Use the segment to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use the segment in conjunction with a discussion of the purposes of art (e.g., painting a life-sized mural).
Compare and contrast the techniques and methods different artists use in their approach to the same medium, using painter profiles from Spectrum of Art and Through Artists’ Eyes.
Use with the other “Expressionism” segments to develop a definition of expressionism.
Use the segment as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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Expressionism: Still Life

Lexington artist Ann Tower reveals her own unique understanding of abstract painting in her garden paintings. In this segment, she describes her work as “rooted in the realistic world, the observed world” and discusses her desire to encourage the viewer to take a different look at the world through the lens of each canvas. She also discusses the ways in which her paintings attempt to document moments in her own life.

Suggested Uses:
Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use in conjunction with a discussion of the purposes of art (e.g., painting an expressive still life or “life document,” as Tower puts it).
Compare and contrast the techniques and methods different artists use in their approach to the same medium, using painter profiles from Spectrum of Art and Through Artists’ Eyes.
Show in conjunction with the “Realism: Still Life” segment featuring artist Sheldon Tapley to compare and contrast expressionism and realism.
Use as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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Abstraction: Gerald Ferstman

Gerald Ferstman discusses and demonstrates the spontaneous nature of his abstract painting technique and the social messages that make up his thematic output. Ferstman guides viewers through the initial stages of a new work, usually planned out in terms of basic composition and color selection, and onward into an explosion of creative movement, expressive painting, and stream-of-consciousness expression. Ferstman’s methods articulate his deep convictions concerning the ways in which society determines who we are and what we do, passionately resisting the boundaries of conventional style in favor of an abstract technique. Ferstman says that though his work’s messages can sometimes be disquieting or challenging to the viewer, he hopes to generate some new ways of thinking.

Suggested Uses:
Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use in conjunction with a discussion of the purposes of art (e.g., art as social commentary).
Compare and contrast the techniques and methods different artists use in their approach to the same medium, using painter profiles from Spectrum of Art and Through Artists’ Eyes.
Compare and contrast Ferstman’s work and process to the work and process of realistic painters featured in Looking at Painting to better understand abstract art.
Use as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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Abstraction: Nancy Cassell

Nancy Cassell discusses the importance of landscape, nature, and place to her painting; the influence of the Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists; and the sexual nature of her subject matter. She also mentions how her childhood in Tennessee; images of creek beds, tornadoes, and orchids; and the unconventional techniques she has developed using black ink on white canvas have given her a unique method and source of visions to channel her subconscious into her work. This segment may be appropriate for more mature students.

Suggested Uses:
Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use the segment in conjunction with a discussion of the purposes of art (e.g., recalling memories from childhood).
Use in a discussion of color. Compare Cassell’s palette (black and white) to Gerald Ferstman’s.
Compare and contrast the techniques and methods different artists use in their approach to the same medium, using painter profiles from Spectrum of Art and Through Artists’ Eyes.
Use the segment as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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Abstraction: Ideas/Process

This segment is the complete “Ideas/Process” section from the Looking at Painting program on “Abstraction.” The five featured artists talk with host Robert Tharsing about their various ways of approaching the genre and their work. First, painter Henry Chodkowski discusses the archetypal symbols he has researched and developed to produce a series of black and white paintings based on the mythical Labyrinth of ancient Crete. Then Sam Gilliam describes how he moved from the canvas into the open spaces above the conventional gallery, creating large works on the floor, draping them across ladders and other supports, and finally hanging them from the ceiling—creating large-scale commissions of vivid color, depth, and what he describes as “magic.” Next, Ivan Schieferdecker takes the viewer through the process he goes through in creating his abstract works, using color combinations, intense lines, and textures that represent natural elements to bring a serious depth to each canvas. Nancy Cassel and Gerald Ferstman also discuss further the methods they use, their usual choices of subject matter, and the ideas that motivate their work.

Suggested Uses:
Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions as well as the creative process in general. Have students create art based on the video and your discussion.
Use in conjunction with a discussion of the purposes of abstract art.
Compare and contrast the techniques and methods used by these five artists in their approach to the same medium.
Use in conjunction with a study of abstract paintings found on the Kentucky Virtual Art Museum CD-ROM. Do the comments of these five artists help students better understand abstract art?
Use the segment as part of a “careers in the arts” unit or as an introductory activity before an artist-in-residence visits your classroom.

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