Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Inspired by Picasso's Guernica

“Dear Journal,
The air was stiff with the scent of crackling ashes in the air. I couldn’t see through the dark smog that surrounded me. Was this a nightmare? I pinched myself in the arm hoping to wake up in a daze enclosed between layers of blankets, but the comfy mattress did not meet my skin, just cold fall air. The daily alarm that normally sounded around noon was screeching like a crying child...” 

And so begins a challenging and interesting project.  After studying Cubism and Picasso, we take our learning one step further as we focus on “Guernica,” Picasso’s artwork about the terrors of war. 

Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937
photo source:

We view the painting, discuss some background info, watch a short video and talk about what the images might mean (even though Picasso never explained this painting, there are many theories about the meanings of the images.)  

I ask students to step back and really think about what this painting is about by imagining that our little town has been bombed.  I’ve done this project for many years, but it almost seems more controversial now than ever.  The idea of a small town in the middle of Iowa being bombed wouldn’t have crossed anyone’s mind years ago.  Now with what we see on the news, anything seems possible at any time.  

Students write a journal entry (see beginning of this post) or a letter to a friend telling them about their experiences - what they saw, heard, felt, etc. in the midst of fear and chaos.  We share these writings (I take volunteers, but usually by the end, most of them have shared) and talk about our feelings and how Picasso was expressing this for the little Spanish town of Guernica after they were bombed during the Spanish Civil War by Nazi war planes.

For this project, students are asked to create an artwork expressing the idea of their town being bombed.  They must put in symbols for good, evil, mental suffering, physical suffering, a small area of cubism (in a nod to Guernica’s style) and something that represents our town.  They have a choice of medium and compositional style.  Some choose to create a scene, others break up the space into shapes and still others create a collage.  The options are endless!

As these students are freshmen, I sometimes wonder if this project is a little too deep for this age group, but each year they do a good job of taking it seriously and working hard on it.  One thing I have found...they never forget Guernica. There’s something to be said for that! :-)

Happy Creating!