Monday, December 22, 2008

Woman Documentary Photographer

DID YOU KNOW that photography was the first art form women were actually encouraged to explore during the nineteenth century? At that time, women were not allowed to study in most academic art schools. Have your students make up a list of famous women photographers from the last century and a half. What factors do you think influenced the fact that so many women become documentary photographers?

Like Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, and Margaret Bourke-White, Consuelo Kanaga was an important documentary photographer in the middle of the 20th century. Unlike her contemporaries, despite a successful career of sixty years, Kanaga received little public acclaim or critical success during her long career. Her political and social ideologies guided her art. At a time when most social commentary in photography involved images meant to shock the viewer into action, Kanaga’s images seduced the viewer with careful composition, intuitive cropping, and reframing.

Born in Oregon in 1894, Kanaga first began taking pictures in 1918 as a staff photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Though self-taught, she became a master printer. She was particularly influenced by the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz, whose work she saw and admired in his journal “Camera Work.” At the same time, Kanaga was deeply committed to radical politics—a passion that began in early childhood.

As a newspaper photographer in California and later as a documentary photographer in New York in the early 1920s, Kanaga recorded rural and urban poverty, displaced children and mothers, and labor unrest. During the late 1940s and early ‘50s, Kanaga traveled throughout the South recording the difficult lives of black migrant workers.

Kanaga’s work appeared in only ten group and six solo exhibitions during her lifetime. At the time of her death, her entire estate was assessed at $1,345 (for 2,500 negatives, 375 prints, and miscellaneous photographic equipment).

This link is great, includes brief bio, poster and photo links.

Here you will find a resource for research into women’s art.

Connections Across Curriculum - Viewing the world through a camera lens is an engaging learning experience. Photographers can capture a moment, shed light on a situation, and explore the world around them as photojournalists. Students can use photojournalism skills to learn the technical aspects of the medium, analyze a variety of situations, and express themselves through storytelling. The New York Times provides resources for incorporating photojournalism into your curriculum.

Monday, December 8, 2008

World’s Oldest Ceramic Vessels

Most people think of ancient Greek painted ceramic vessels when you mention the word “ancient pottery.” What I think of are the sophisticated, elegant, and beautiful ceramic vessels of one of the oldest cultures in the world in Japan, the J_mon Culture.

DID YOU KNOW that J_mon vessels, which were discovered in the 19th century, are the oldest ceramic vessels (not objects) in the world? The J_mon people had a continual culture that is believed to date back as far as 11,000 BCE and lasted until the first millennium BCE. Most Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic cultures developed sophisticated ceramic and other art forms after becoming agricultural communities. The J_mon developed agriculture very late, and remained primarily a hunting-fishing, food gathering culture throughout their long existence. This makes the sophistication of J_mon ceramic vessels particularly interesting. Archaeologists generally consider the period 3000–200 BCE to be the height of the J_mon culture.

The J_mon vessels are coil-built pots decorated with incised or applied decoration. The very term “J_mon” means “cord pattern,” referring to the common decorative motif seen on vessels from the Middle Period (c2500–1500 BCE). This vessel, from the Middle Period, is termed “flame-style” because of the exuberant decoration of the rim. J_mon potters seem to have delighted in exploring a wide range of decorative effects totally unrelated to the intended use of the vessel. This would mean the J_mon ceramics were the first vessels in history designed on an aesthetic basis comparable to the utilitarian.

Cone-shaped vessels such as this one may have been stuck into the soft sand and used for cooking food. They were also used for storage in burials. It has been hypothesized that J_mon vessels were made by women, as were many ceramics in early human societies.

The following link takes you to a website that has links to various museums in Japan with extensive collections of J_mon artifacts:

Connections Across Curriculum - As the study of artifacts, archaeology gives students an opportunity to explore the world around them. Art, history, and science come together to give students a hands-on learning experience. Activities can include visiting a museum or National Park or interpreting objects in the classroom. The National Park Service “Archeology for Kids” website provides information, activities, and resources for educators.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Women Artists in America

Although largely passed over by art historians until the 1970s, women artists have played a significant role in the art world since ancient times. Ask your students to create a work of art that expresses a female perspective. Ask them to address gender issues in a work of art, and if that is relevant in today’s pluralistic society. What biases, if any, do we bring to a work of art based on our gender?

Palmer is considered one of the most important American graphic artists of the nineteenth century. She turned out over 200 farm scenes and landscapes for Currier and Ives, and a good deal more that went out anonymously for the firm. Currier and Ives prints were the alternative to buying fine art for the middle class, and the American public purchased Palmer’s work in great quantities. Few other artists at the time expressed so clearly the optimistic and romantic spirit of the new country.

Palmer received an excellent education in her native London, which included art lessons. This enabled her to work as a lithographic artist when she and her husband immigrated to the US in the 1840s. She and her husband founded a lithographic company in 1845, but it failed. By 1849 she was creating lithographs for Nathaniel Currier, soon of Currier and Ives.

Palmer specialized in landscapes. Figure drawing was her weakest skill, and other artists in the company sometimes assisted her on this. She often rode out to the countryside in Long Island to sketch the scenery on site. Palmer lived in Brooklyn all her years in America. She never went farther west than Hoboken, New Jersey, but produced numerous views of the western American territories including views of the Rocky Mountains she had seen in other artists’ studies.

Although most of the artists who produced designs for Currier and Ives were men, most of the artists who worked in the New York studio were women. They meticulously watercolored thousands of lithographs that were then sold for as cheap as 10 cents.

For a brief bio and beautiful painting by this talented artist, click here.

Click here for more information about Currier and Ives. The “Education and Outreach” section contains an interactive feature for students.

Here you will find a resource for research into women’s art.

Connections Across Curriculum - From agricultural beginnings to the Industrial Revolution, Currier and Ives prints reaffirmed the national identity that was taking shape in the United States. Images of daily life were popular, as well as current events that gave Americans a sense of pride in their country. How do Palmer’s contributions help shape our view of 19th century America? How do Americans display their national identity today?