Jackson Pollock Art Lesson for Kids
Each year my children’s classes are assigned a country to explore including: the foods, the arts, music, geography, language, government, and economy. My fifth grader’s class was assigned U.S.A. and I thought to myself, “Well this is going to be interesting.” Then I asked myself how I could get them excited about a place they already know so well. Enter American artists, Jackson Pollock. He is a famous American painter that we had yet to explore, and he was my ticket to the kids’ excitement.
Also, paint gets every kid excited, so there’s that. Here’s a little overview I shared with the kids about his life:
-Born in Wyoming and raised in Arizona and California
-Became famous for his drip painting style which had never been seen before
-He suffered with alcoholism and possibly bipolar disorder which physicians weren’t familiar with back then
-When Pollock became famous for his drip paintings, he abruptly abandoned this style
-His alcoholism lead him to died in a car crash at 44 years old
Now I know his life is pretty deep for some children, but for older kids, don’t feel you have to gloss over his possible mental disorder and alcoholism. With the fifth graders we were able to talk about alcoholism, which, they’ve already discuss through the anti-drug programs at school. We also discussed depression and how it can affect people’s decisions. This quote I found very moving,
“I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting…I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”
I had a question and answer paper the kids could read and ponder. Some of the questions included: “how do you think alcoholism influenced his paintings?” and “why do you think he would abandon this art when he became famous for it?”
The kids had very thoughtful answers, so if your kids are old enough, I highly recommend an honest discussion. Now let’s get to the art.
For this messy and extremely fun art lesson, you’ll need:
-an old white or cream sheet
-various paint brushes
-several colors of paint
-a few sticks, toothbrush, comb, bowls, string or yarn
You’ll want to lay something beneath the sheet because the paint will seep through. If you don’t have a sheet, be sure to have a hard, washable surface underneath for hosing down.
I recommend bowls of watered down paint so the paint drips fall generously. Pollock was not a fan of fresh soft brushes. Instead, he used hard tools that allowed him to fling, drip, and splatter paint. Using the comb, brushes, toothbrush, and sticks, experiment to see how the paint lands. Cut the string or yard and dip it into the paint. Then drag it around the canvas to create lines and movement. Encourage painting from all four sides of the sheet.
Forgive my iPhone photo but I didn’t dare take my big camera out during this project!
Since we did this with a class of 30 students, I broke them up into smaller groups to create layers upon layers of paint on one collaborative piece. When it was dry, I cut a generous piece to give each child a portion of the canvas to take home. Their delight was well worth the mess!
I hope each child hangs their contribution up and will be reminded of the impact American artists have on the world. Now, if only I could come up with a project for my third grader’s class, the country of Turkey!