Lesson Plan Submitted by: Jill Swedlow
Title: Salutations to Georges Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Great Island of Grand Jatte"
Suggested Grade Level: Grades 7 - 9
Estimated Time: One or two class periods
Influenced by the Impressionists' experimentation with color, Impressionist painter George Seurat worked with innovative techniques. On an enormous canvas, the artist depicted city dwellers gathered at a park on La Grande Jatte (literally, "the big platter"), an island in the River Seine. All kinds of people stroll, lounge, sail, and fish in the park.
Using newly discovered optical and color theories, Seurat rendered his subject by placing tiny, precise brush strokes of different colors close to one another so that they blend at a distance. Art critics subsequently named this technique Divisionism or Pointillism.
Over the past several decades, many scholars have attempted to explain the meaning of this great composition. For some, it shows the growing middle class at leisure. Others see it as a representation of social tensions between modern city dwellers of different social classes, all of whom gather in the same public space, but do not communicate with each other.
By exploring and practicing the Pointillist technique used by George Seurat to paint A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -1884,
Students are introduced to color mixing and the science of color perception.
Examine Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884) with students on the Web. Explain that Seurat studied color, light, and form based on the most advanced information about color and visual perception. He placed pure colors side by side by applying tiny strokes, dots and dashes to the surface of the canvas.
Using the computer, experiment with both close up and distant points-of view. Have students zoom in on the painting and record which colors are placed next to each other on various parts of the canvas. As students zoom away from the painting, ask them to identify the point at which colors seem to blend together.
Ask students: What new colors are created by this optical mixing?
Explain that color is a phenomenon of light. As light strikes objects, these objects reflect some of that light back to our eyes.
Have students paint an area of their color wheel with yellow tempera paint. Explain how light travels to the eye.
When light strikes the yellow paint, all of the colors of the rainbow shine on it, but yellow is the only one we see. This is because the yellow wavelengths of light are reflected from the paint back to our eyes.
Color receptors in our eyes send a message of "yellow" to the brain.
Visible light is made up of the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The rainbow of colors is called the spectrum.
Explain that red, blue, and yellow are called the primary colors because they are the basis for all other colors. Orange, green and purple are called secondary colors because they are created by mixing parts of primary colors.
Ask students to look at Seurat's painting again. Discuss how the dots interact to form new colors.
To make the point with another example, show students the comics page of a newspaper. Have students examine the comics with a magnifying glass. Explain that these are made using the Ben-Day process. Although only 4 colors are used (the primaries and black) , the naked eye sees the effect of secondary colors in the combination of tiny dots.
Encourage the students to create Pointillist picture by dipping cotton swabs in the lids filled with tempera paint and making many dots and dabs to produce a picture. Encourage them to try producing secondary colors by placing dots of primary colors near or on top of one another.
Base students evaluation on their participation in class discussion of color perception.
Charlotte drew The Grande Jatte onto a large stretched canvas using chalk. Student and staff alike added their thumb-prints in appropriate colors to match the original print. The finished work looked strikingly similar to some of Seurat's studies for this work.