When looking at a work of art, the question that first comes to my mind is “What is this?” However, in approaching an abstract work of art, that question might be challenging to answer, or have a variety of answers depending on who it is posed to. How do we get our children to engage with abstract art?
Younger children generally tend to enjoy and appreciate abstract art more than the older children. With their more imaginative minds, they love to make up stories inspired by what they see. The beauty of abstract art is that it allows for a broader scope of interpretation.
Project Zero, a long-term intellectual initiative by Harvard University, has a thinking routine, Colours, Shapes and Lines, in which children are prompted to identify the colours, shapes and lines that they see in the work. This can be facilitated by providing them with art materials to draw and colour what they might see, or coloured paper and scissors to allow them to reconstruct the artwork. Such a process will allow them to take on the role and possibly the mind of the artist, as they break down the artwork into its formal elements of colours, shapes and lines during the reconstruction.
Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1930 © Estate of Piet Mondrian
Another routine, Looking - Ten Times Two, involves asking children to look at the artwork for 30 seconds, then listing or drawing 10 things they see in the piece. After doing so, children can be prompted to repeat the process (Times Two). This facilitates looking and relooking, allowing children to realise that looking again may help them to notice things they missed out the first time.
To make the artworks more relevant to our children, we might ask them: What do the colours, shapes and lines in the artwork remind you of? They might come up with stories, objects, memories, people etc. This will help them to draw connections between the artworks, and things that might be important or significant to them, making the learning more relevant.
Such looking and questioning aims to help children to reach the understanding that artworks do not necessarily have to represent things that are recognisable like people, places or things. They can simply be a combination of colours, shapes and lines!
Written by Ting Yan Khor