Ansel Adams and the Nature of Expressive Portraiture
Grades: 4, 5, 6
Related Subjects: Visual & Performing Arts
Medium: Drawing, Mixed Media, Painting, Photography, Sculpture
Class time required: 3 X 50 minute sessions
Author: Museum of Photographic Arts
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In this multi-session lesson, students will be introduced to the portraiture work of acclaimed photographer, Ansel Adams. Adams, best known for his black and white landscapes of Yosemite National Park and the California coast, did not confine himself to just one subject area. His portrait work is often as expressively appealing and filled with emotion as are his landscapes. Using selected photographs from the work of Adams, students will discuss and analyze the expressive nature and mood of his portraiture and how it often makes a personal statement. Students will record their ideas and reflections while incorporating these ideas and thoughts into an original portrait, either of themselves or of a peer. Students will also be introduced to how art contributes to society and culture. A final critique of original artwork will be held in culmination. The students will lead a discussion about their own work as well as the work of their peers.
- Varied art media (paint, charcoal, colored pencils, clay, camera, etc.)
- Magazines and glue (if creating photo collage)
- Glossary terms: asymmetrical, balance, color, contrast, dominance, elements of art, emphasis, line, movement, photography, portrait, principles of design, repetition, rhythm, self portrait, shape, space, subordination, symmetrical, texture, unity, value, variety
- Familiarize yourself with the work of Ansel Adams, particularly his portraits.
- Print the images listed above onto overhead transparencies or use a document camera.
- Write the vocabulary words (without the definitions) on the board, poster, or overhead transparency. You will refer to this throughout the lesson.
1. Session One 1. Begin a discussion with the students about photography: What is photography? Where have you seen photographs? Who has used a camera before? What do you like to take pictures of? Why do people take photographs? What is a portrait? What is a self-portrait?
2. Define the terms ‘Photography’ and ‘Elements of Art’ and ‘Principles of Design.’
3. Choose one black and white portrait by Adams to start off the discussion. Engage the students in a conversation about the visual elements found in each image:
Which elements of art are dominant in this photograph? Which ones are subordinate?
Do you sense any rhythm in this artwork? Repetition?
Is this photograph symmetrical or asymmetrical? How does this contribute to the overall message of the image?
What does this portrait reveal about the subject(s)? What more would you like to know about the subject(s) and why?
What is the overall mood of this portrait? How does Adams convey this mood?
4. Start the class in a discussion about how art contributes to and makes a statement about society and culture, specifically when discussing the image, Winnowing Grain. Emphasize the social, cultural, and economical life interactions among the people of the desert Southwest.
5. Tell the students know that they will be making their own portrait. Have each student decide which type of portrait he or she is going to create. The portraits can be of themselves or another person. These original works of art should incorporate composition, while evoking the undertone of a mood or personality. An overall personal statement should be constructed and derived from this project. The project can be done with any chosen medium or available material (for example, drawing focusing on tints and shades; paint; mixed media; photo collage; sculpture, etc.) Encourage the students to be as creative as possible in their endeavors.
Sessions Two through Four
1. Have the students work on and complete their portraits. Portrait options include:
a. Using magazines and photographs to create a photo-collage
• Have the student bring in or take a photograph of him/herself
• Using the magazines and other photographs have them create a collage with objects that define them or are important to them.
b. Using paper, pencil, paint, etc, have the students draw their own self portrait
1. Lead the class in a critique of their final works. Allow each student to vocalize their thoughts upon completion of their work as well as any problems, outcomes, successes, and/or complications along the way. Have them talk about their steps beginning with the creative process and medium of choice up to the final result. Constructively critique all of the works and allow for adequate time for each student to present his or her work.
CA Content Standards
Sixth Grade Visual Arts
1.1 Identify and describe all the elements of art found in selected works of art (e.g., color, shape/form, line, texture, space, value).
1.4 Describe how balance is effectively used in a work of art (e.g., symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial).
2.4 Create increasingly complex original works of art reflecting personal choices and increased technical skill.
2.5 Select specific media and processes to express moods, feelings, themes, or ideas.
3.1 Research and discuss the role of the visual arts in selected periods of history, using a variety of resources (both print and electronic).
4.1 Construct and describe plausible interpretations of what they perceive in works of art.
Seventh Grade Visual Arts
1.1 Describe the environment and selected works of art, using the elements of art and the principles of design.
1.4 Analyze and describe how the elements of art and the principles of design contribute to the expressive qualities of their own works of art.
2.3 Develop skill in using mixed media while guided by a selected principle of design.
2.4 Develop skill in mixing paints and showing color relationships.
2.6 Create an original work of art, using film, photography, computer graphics, or video.
3.1 Research and describe how art reflects cultural values in various traditions throughout the world.
4.1 Explain the intent of a personal work of art and draw possible parallels between it and the work of a recognized artist.
4.3 Take an active part in a small-group discussion about the artistic value of specific works of art, with a wide range of the viewpoints of peers being considered.
Eighth Grade Visual Arts
1.1 Use artistic terms when describing the intent and content of works of art.
1.2 Analyze and justify how their artistic choices contribute to the expressive quality of their own works of art.
2.3 Create an original work of art, using film, photography, computer graphics, or video.
3.1 Examine and describe or report on the role of a work of art created to make a social comment or protest social conditions.
4.2 Develop a theory about the artist's intent in a series of works of art, using reasoned statements to support personal opinions.
4.3 Construct an interpretation of a work of art based on the form and content of the work.
4.4 Develop and apply a set of criteria as individuals or in groups to assess and critique works of art.
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Burns, Rick. Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film, PBS Home Video, Sierra Club and Steeple Chase Films, Inc. 2002
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Shull, Jim. The Beginner's Guide to Pinhole Photography. Amherst Media, Inc. Buffalo, New York, 1999.
The Visual Classroom: Integrating Photography into the School Curriculum. Education Department: Museum of Photographic Arts, 2000. To order, call 619-238-7559x236 or E-mail email@example.com to order. It is $25. Additional shipping charges may apply.
Library of Congress: American Memory
Sixty-two collections of photographs and prints from the Library of Congress American Memory project. Includes Ansel Adams and photos from the Civil War.
Photography for Kids: Photography Projects, Ideas and Resources
A list of good Web sites for helping kids learn photography techniques, projects, cameras and optics, and history of photography. Includes book and software reviews.
Photography: Western History from the Genealogy Dept, Denver Public Library
Collections of photographs from western history including railroads, children, covered wagons, Buffalo Bill, and famous western photographers.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Ansel Adams at 100
Explore the world of ideas behind Ansel Adams's photography through archival footage of the artist at work, audio commentaries by art historians, and words from Adams himself. This interactive multimedia feature was developed in conjunction with the exhibition, Ansel Adams at 100, on view at SFMOMA from August 4, 2001, through January 13, 2002.
Teaching Digital Photography: Showing Kids How to See With the Camera's Eye
A site that introduces digital camera and photography techniques, and helps kids understand media images and observe the world around them.
The Columbus Museum: Ansel Adams Celebration of Genius Educator Guide (PDF 736kb)
This Educator guide includes a biography on the artist, images of photographs, and K-12 lesson plans using Adams’ photographs as inspiration.
The Sierra Club
An organization dedicated to the preservation, responsible practice, and promotion of the environment.
The Museum of Photographic Arts
Permanent collections and current exhibits at the Museum of Photographic Arts, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA.
Vue: A Solution to Education’s Challenges
Visual Understanding in Education (VUE) conducts educational research focused on aesthetic and cognitive development that results from interaction with art. Based on its findings, VUE develops programs for schools and museums, principally Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS).
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Parker, Steve. Eyewitness Pond and River. London; New York: Dorling, Kindersley, 2000.
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BetterPhoto for Kids and Teens
A site dedicated to kids and young adults interested in the art of taking pictures. Includes sections on pets, friends and family, vacations, and more.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Ansel Adams at 100
In conjunction with an exhibit on the centennial of Ansel Adams's birth, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art built this Web site. It provides an excellent Flash-based introduction to Adams's photography. The site works best with high-speed Internet connections.