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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Beautiful (11/07/05)

TITLE: The Lesson
By Val Clark
11/10/05


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I place the reproduction painting in the middle of the wall. Around it I have outlined, in red tape, a huge rectangle

Sonia: Yuck.

Helen: Miss, that’s horrible. I could paint better than that.

Karen: Isn’t today’s topic Art and Beauty?

Jack: Well, I like it.

Twenty three, seventeen-year-old students settle noisily into their places. Only a few will participate. The essay will reveal how much the others were engaged.

‘What do you see?’

Jack: Dead bodies with bits chopped off. A bull. A horse. Swords. There’s been a massacre.

Karen: All the bits are in the wrong place. Broken up. Distorted. Did that Spanish guy, Picasso, paint this, Miss?

‘Good observation, Jack. Do the rest of you see what Jack sees?’

Most nod.

‘Yes, it’s by Picasso. Does anybody know anything about Franco?’

Leon: He was the Fascist leader of Spain during the Second World War.

Leon thinks he knows all about Fascists. I’ve seen him look sideways at me and mumble ‘Fascist’. My shoulders are broad. One day he’ll understand.

‘On April 27th 1937, with Franco’s permission, Hitler saturation bombed Guernica, a Spanish town opposed to Franco.

I walk to the back of the room. ‘The red tape indicates how big the original painting is: 11’8” x 26’.

Their heads scan the space.

Karen: It’s not beautiful. It’s really ugly. There’s hardly any color and, look over on the left side, there’s a mother holding a dead baby.

‘How do you know it’s a mother?’

There’s a moment’s silence. I know a boy will answer this question. Probably Leon. He loves to shock.

Leon: She has big dangling breasts.

Some girls blush. Others glare or giggle.

Leon: Well, Picasso’s interpretation of breasts. She’s looking up. Her mouth is open in an anguished scream. So probably it’s a mother.

Dean: It’s mostly black and white with a bit of grey to show the stark reality of the battle between good and evil, where there’s no middle ground.

I wonder if he’s been looking at my notes. Probably not. He’s my son and since a baby we have explored art galleries and discussed art works together. I nod, to encourage him.

Dean: If it’d been realistic, y’know with lifelike bodies we would have gotten hung up on the technique and not the message.

Sonia: There are three lights, a candle, a bulb and a lantern. Maybe…

Sonia hides behind her hair. Despite her opinionated ‘Yuck’ as she entered the room she is embarrassed that she might have said something wrong.

I bring up a quote on the power point display:

A painting…. When it’s finished, goes on changing according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it. Picasso

‘Go on Sonia.’

Sonia: I don’t like war and I don’t like this painting but I think the big bulb at the top of the painting is Picasso shining a light on how horrible, how destructive, war is. See, there’s a broken sword.

‘Well done, you and Picasso are in agreement.’

Helen: Why does he have to distort everything?

Jack: Death and war aren’t pretty, are they? It has to be ugly. Form follows function, remember?

Helen pokes her tongue out at him.

‘Good question, Helen. And Jack’s right. Every line, every shape every symbol has a purpose. Maybe multiple purposes.’

I pull up another quote:

The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them. Picasso

Helen: So the person lying down at the bottom. That could be like a crucifix, like Jesus is in as much pain over the bombing as Picasso was?

‘Excellent, Helen. What else?’

Leon: It could be a symbol of sacrifice.

Helen: I think it’s Jesus. His outstretched arms have been chopped off and he’s being trampled by the bull and the horse.

Dean: The innocent people suffering: being sacrificed so that Hitler can….

Ten minutes later I re-enter the discussion.

‘Right. By next week I want you to have, in outline, an answer to this question.’

They groan and copy the question down.

We are driving home. I’m weary. My mind is on preparing the evening meal.

Dean: Picasso must have entered into the emotions of the people of Guernica when he was painting. With every brush-stroke he experiences their pain. That’s an incredibly beautiful and heroic act. Helen was right, Jesus would have grieved over Guernica. You’re right, too, art doesn’t have to be nice-looking to be beautiful.

He turns the music up.

I am re-energized.



To view the painting:
http://www.mala.bc.ca/~lanes/english/hemngway/picasso/guernica.htm


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This article has been read 862 times
Member Comments
Member Date
terri tiffany11/16/05
You put a lot of work into this! You made me think about art in a different way. I liked your ending too:) Nice writing.
Beth Muehlhausen11/16/05
This made me curious! I'm going to look up the picture....NOW! Good dialogue.
Denise Stanford11/17/05
Stunning piece of writing, I'd be well pleased if students interacted with this much maturity. What is brilliant is how you inform in such an interesting and painless way, and there is so much information. So many ideals represented in one lesson - good one.
How could anyone ignore the chance to use the reference and check the painting.
Pat Guy 11/18/05
'A painting…. When it’s finished, goes on changing according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it.' Picasso - This made me think of our writing also. Our pens are the brush - words, the paint. And the reader the interpreter. Good dialogue and good scenery.
Julianne Jones11/18/05
You've packed a lot into 750 words and taught me a thing or two. Loved this thought: "With every brush-stroke he experiences their pain. That’s an incredibly beautiful and heroic act." Appreciated the way you linked the story to Jesus' sacrificial act - a layered effect that worked well and has left me thinking more about the beauty of the cross than beauty in art. Well done.
Shari Armstrong 11/18/05
Very good, I could see the students and thanks for sharing the painting with us -that makes it complete.
dub W11/19/05
I have been to the Prado several times to see Guernica. Your essay reminds me of the many things I heard over my shoulder as groups passed by. A wonderful submission. Thank you.
Anita Neuman11/19/05
Fascinating, educational, intriguing, inspiring - and a very creative take on this topic.
B Brenton11/19/05
This is a different style of writing. But nicely done.
You made us all think about something new.
Jesus would be proud. :D
Linda Watson Owen11/19/05
You've brought to mind a powerful work of art and shared insights that I had not previously known. Thank you. Wonderfully written!
Debbie OConnor11/20/05
I love this entry! The classroom setting is believable, and the interpretation of the artwork is amazing. I can't wait to go see the painting...right now! :)
Debbie OConnor11/20/05
Just came back to say I think this is a wonderfully creative take on the topic, too. Congratulations! This is a great piece.
Karen Ward11/22/05
Bravo Yeggy! By writing an example of a good teacher, you have taught me so much. I confess, I have already looked at the painting, and I was perhaps more caught up in your art/life lesson than your writing. That would have to mean you wrote very well! I feel I've done your class, and learnt a little about many things...
Suzanne R11/23/05
I'm ready to sign up for your art classes! Well done!