Elementary Studio Lesson
At first, I
the edge of
teaching contemporary art,
introducing my students to
Dine, Warhol, and Thiebaud.
It wasn’t until the University
of North Texas sent student-
teacher David West to my
classroom that I even considered
teaching fourth graders about the
art of Richard Diebenkorn and his
Ocean Park series.
the students what the lines and the
shapes in the series might represent. We then reinforced their previous knowledge of abstraction and
defined abstraction as the simplification of an image. One way David
demonstrated simplification was to
draw an easily recognizable object,
such as a car, on the board. Then,
one part at time, he erased the
details until the object was barely
We assessed on four criteria:
Did the student simplify the
Did the student participate
constructively in discussion?
Is creativity evident in the
Is artistry evident in the
Using the digital photographs as
inspiration, we demonstrated how
to simplify the views of the community the same way Diebenkorn
simplified his views of Ocean
Park. We discussed whether their
Students created abstract be vertically or
paintings of their hometown horizontally ori-
influenced by Diebenkorn’s ented based on the orientation of the
Ocean Park series. inspiration photo-
During the second session, students completed their drawings and
began painting their abstractions
using tempera paint. When David
finished his student-teaching with
me, I took over. I provided students
with large, flat brushes to create a
smooth surface, and smaller, round,
camelhair brushes that allowed
them to paint smaller spaces. During the third session, students outlined some of their shapes with a
narrow paintbrush and black paint.
The first step to this introduction
began a week or so before the start
of the lesson. David took many
interesting digital photographs of
our school. He
graphs from a
several of his photos a bird’s-eye
view. He took photographs looking
out of windows in order to include
buildings our students recognized.
I made copies of the photographs.
The use of multiple brushes
made students feel like real artists.
The subject matter was comfortable for them and led to discussions
about their connection with the
locations in the photographs. Learning about their hometown gave
students a sense of civic pride and
led them to see how their town was
unique, a concept which is especially important in this age of strip
malls and fast-food restaurants.
Will Diebenkorn be visiting your
Artwork: Student art, grade four.
Denise Clyne-Ruch is the art specialist
at Borman Elementary School in Denton,
Texas, and David West is now the art
specialist at Lee Elementary School, also
Our next step was to familiar-
ize our fourth grade students to
the Ocean Park series by Richard
Diebenkorn. David put a reproduc-
tion from the series on the board
for our students to view. He asked
Students explore and understand
prospective content for works of art.