Two Hours at the San Jose Museum of Art with Young Art Students

By Pantea Karimi, Artist/Art Teacher

Studying art using computer screens, posters and books cannot evoke the same reaction as seeing the actual pieces in a museum or a gallery. Sunday December 13th was the last day of Alexander Calder’s show, Color in Motion, at the San Jose Museum of Art. Additionally, two other wonderful exhibitions were on display: Chuck Close prints: Process and Collaboration and Ansel Adams: Early Works. I took a few of my students, 7-11 years old, to the San Jose Museum of Art on December 13th for a two-hour field trip.

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Sara Emami’s drawings, Yellow Whale and Dots and Dashes after Alexander Calder, December, 2009

We started our tour with Chuck Close gallery. I told my students about his life, media and work process before we entered the gallery. Screen-print and Intaglio printmaking techniques sounded mysterious to my students and they were amazed by how Chuck Close has been using these two processes in his works. Chuck Close’s twelve-step etching, Self Portrait-Scribble, elicited a stirring reaction; my students tried to figure out how Close used the metal plates, colors, and layers in order to create his self-portrait print; they counted and matched the layers for a few minutes. I let them figure out the process and when they finally did it, they got excited and started a commotion, which also engaged other visitors around us and put a smile on the gallery guard’s face.

The second gallery we visited was showing Calder; I told my students about his family background, how he became an artist and his creative invention of moving sculptures. Students were very entertained by the colorful mobiles and their shadows on the walls. We specifically took our time in front of one of his mobiles: Yellow Whale. I asked my students to draw it and interpret the abstract mobile. Sara, an imaginative 9-year old, drew an interesting impression of the mobile, depicting a fish and a whale in her drawing, not knowing that the mobile was in fact entitled Yellow Whale. The Yellow Whale reminded Alec, the playful 7-year old, of a piece of cheese. Students also interpreted some of the other Calder’s mobiles and prints’ abstract shapes: “flowers and planets” or “sun with a cute smile and nose” or “space” and “giant ferns.”

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Bita Naimi’s drawing Yellow Whale, after Calder, 2009

After Calder’s colorful exhibition, we visited Ansel Adams’ gallery. Outside the gallery, I gathered the students again and introduced Ansel Adams, his work process, camera type and his photos’ content. Then I asked my students to go in and explore his photos on their own. The San Jose Museum of Art is showcasing early small prints of Ansel Adams. Interestingly enough, because of the small scale of photos my students had to get closer and therefore read the labels next to each photo; they pointed out that they have visited some of the places captured in the photos while camping or hiking, and as a result, they found a great connection with the pieces and various photos’ locations. Students also commented on Ansel Admas’ technical skills; Sara was amazed by how Adams captured lights and shadows in his photos. Bita, an enthusiastic 11-year old, thought the photos had painterly quality. Anthony, a creative and methodical 9-year old, commented on the use of perspective in his images and photos’ angle of view.

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Anthony Petros’ drawings, Yellow Whale and Red Flame, after Alexander Calder, 2009

We also spent time in the permanent collection galleries viewing and discussing the artworks. Tam Van Tran’s Most Secret Butterfly and Ruth Asawa’s Untitled sculptures were my students’ favorite pieces. Parents who accompanied us for this field trip also enjoyed the experience and had their own moments of discovery. Our last stop was Chihuly’s glass chandeliers: Nuutajarvi Turquoise, Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow. We finished our two-hour tour with Anthony’s impromptu comment on the Chihuly’s Chandelier, that delighted everyone: “This sculpture looks like my mom’s hair!”

Pantea Karimi is a highly successful art instructor with young students because of her manner with children and her approach to teaching them art — the same way she would teach adults. Her students in private lessons follow her for years.

Editor

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