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Teaching with Modern American Art

January 20, 2011

Last week, Amy W. blogged about a training session on Colonial American art that she and Jenny led for our docents.  Melissa and I recently led a follow-up session for the docents on teaching with Modern American art.  

Arts of the Americas and Colonial to Modern American Art are two of the most popular topics for docent-guided visits at the DMA.  Melissa and I deliberately selected artworks from the first half of the 20th century that docents don’t typically use on their tours.  It was our hope that by learning more about these paintings and artists, docents will have even more flexibility in selecting stops for their tours.

I started off training by looking at two American artists who were influenced by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian: Leon Polk Smith and Ilya Bolotowsky

  • We discussed what “Boogie Woogie” means and how boogie woogie music might sound.  I even played a short clip of boogie woogie music for the docents and had them dancing in the galleries!
  • Leon Polk Smith’s painting Homage to Victory Boogie Woogie #1 is a direct reference to Mondrian’s final painting (Victory Boogie Woogie). There is an Homage to Victory Boogie Woogie #2, which is in the collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
  • Ilya Bolotowsky knew Piet Mondrian.  They were both members of American Abstract Artists, which was founded in New York City in 1936.  In fact, Bolotowsky was one of the founding members of the group.

Melissa invited the docents to complete a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting two still life paintings: Survival of the Fittest by Fred Darge and On the Ranch by Jerry Bywaters.

  • This is an easy exercise to do in the Museum or in your classroom.  Encourage your students to look closely at images of these paintings and make notes about what they see in a Venn Diagram.  This resulted in a great conversation with our docents, and we think the same thing can happen in your classroom.
  • There are many similarities in the lives of Fred Darge and Jerry Bywaters as well.  Both artists lived and worked in Dallas most of their lives.  They also both took sketching trips to West Texas, where they were inspired by the vast landscape.
  • Jerry Bywaters was actually the director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts when Fred Darge’s Survival of the Fittest came into the collection in 1944.

We hope you’ll visit the Museum this spring to see these paintings in person.

Shannon Karol
Manager of Docent Programs and Gallery Teaching

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