The Human Face through History
We’ve been very deliberately studying how the Human Face has been presented and perceived by the many great cultures through history. Each cultures’ artistic representation of the portrait gives a telling doorway into and through the eyes of its’ society. After writing in our Main Lesson books about the aesthetics, history and unique meanings and perspectives of each culture, the students did very developed drawings in their books of striking examples from each culture and period. I helped them refine and focus on their drawings, helping them to be more accurate in seeing and drawing of brow lines, mouths, nose shapes, eye-line levels and skull shapes, so they could develop the skills to achieve a likeness. These are not facile pieces or cartoon sketches, but refined, classic and revealing works of art, that require extra work.
The Babylonian mask: The delicate, striking mask, thousands of years old, has the empty eyed stare of the mask, but the most extraordinarily; modeled mouth, subtle smile and soft cheeks. It is a face so supple and so present; thousands of years falling away from someone we recognize.
The Burial Sculpture of the Pharaoh: Because the Pharaoh was believed to be a god, he could not be taken away by death and forgotten, as mere mortals are; his image monumental and with a careful, but ennobling likeness needed to keep the god pharaoh alive after his body was mummified and entombed. These are heroic, culturally desperate, aesthetically imposing efforts to transcend death.
The Chinese Sacrificial Prisoner and Monk: The hollow eye cavities and grim, fearful mouth in the kneeling figure of the prisoner, hands tied behind his back, are so compellingly anonymous, unimportant, of the slave class. The noble Buddhist priest’s portrait is so delicately drawn in fine graceful lines with great attention to detail and likeness; he is clearly of a class worth the artistic effort.
The Greek Head from Benevento: The beautiful Greek head is idealized, serene androgynous and perfectly proportioned. This is the idea of a face that uplifts and has no ugliness. This is a portrait of the democracy, the republic, not an individual but a symbol of the Greek citizen.
The Roman Senator: The strong-jawed, willful, lifelike, lined, accurate portrait head, so unidealized, unflattering , truthful, and powerful.
The Painted Coptic Death Portraits: The dark, huge mesmerizing eyes of the painted on wood portraits are so compelling; you can’t look away. Yet what a transformation, evolution in consciousness, that in the third century AD, after the sculptural realism of all the earlier cultures, that the soul and true inner nature of these beloved dead could be best captured in a painting, in two dimensions, in the first threshold of the Abstract!
The Mayan Whistle Priest: The elaborate head-dress tells the rank of this high priest, and his costume. Compare this with the beautiful, serene mask with the pointed hat and the lifelike portrait of a woman in jade. The hierarchical class structure of the Mayan culture is carefully catalogued in how each is clothed, bejeweled, and dignified.
This is the beginning of a study that will go through African masks, the medieval and Giotto, the Renaissance, and Raphael, through the Dutch and English portraits, Goya’s condemning royal portraits, master of the self-portrait Rembrandt, the Impressionists and Van Gogh, the Expressionists and Munch, the Cubists and Picasso, etc. We will visit the Johnson Art Museum, where we can see examples of ancient and modern busts and portraits, including a show of Dutch Portraiture, now on exhibit.
Math Puzzles and Number Conundrums
As a balance to the intensive drawing, history, and emotional exploration of the human face, we’ve been working on many wonderful, some easy, some more difficult, and some impossible math puzzles. Also simple and complex math mysteries have been fun, challenging, frustrating; and revealing as to the students’ grasp of number patterns and processes.
American History, Social Studies and Government Questions
By quizzing the students on varied American history and government questions, and then re-questioning, the children were able to slowly build up a rapport and repertoire of American History knowledge. This also gave me clear pictures of the areas where the students need study and deepening.
We began a careful study of the many powerful symbols that create our culture and consciousness, from the ancient to the modern. What is so startling to the children is how similar and derivative the old and new iconographies are. We started with the braiding of the Celtic Knot, US Biohazard, Cave Ideogram, Octogram of Creation, Seal of Solomon, Trinity Braid, Chinese Shou Long Life, Gnostic Star, Star of Ishtar Goddess, Star of Venus, Cross of St. John, Cross of Endlessness, Atomic Energy-Nuclear Reactor(modern), the eerily similar Dangerous Power, Highest Power (ancient), etc. We’re working carefully on these symbols which involve geometry, number, specificity and beauty, and we’re creating little books with this work.