ArtsConnectEd/ArtsNet Minnesota

Art and Artists
 Berenice Abbott
 Giovanni Canal
 Frank Gehry
 Marsden Hartley
 Louis Lozowick
 Mexico (Nayarit)
 David Nash
 Georgia O'Keeffe
 Vincent van Gogh

Inner Worlds What is Art?   Identity Designing Spaces and Places
Vincent van Gogh
Discussion Questions/Activities
Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees
Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees

Pretend you are going on a picnic in the place pictured in van Gogh's painting. What kind of clothes would you wear? What could you find to do here? Does it look like comfortable grass to lie down on? If you stayed until the sun went down, do you think it would still be a nice place to be?

Do you ever associate colors with moods? If you were in a yellow mood, how would you be feeling? How about a red mood? A pink mood? A blue mood? Lines can also express a mood. What sort of mood might a jagged line convey? A smooth line? What sort of mood is van Gogh expressing through his colors and lines? How does he achieve this effect?

Olive Trees
Photograph of real olive trees
Van Gogh tried to show not just the appearance of nature but also its force. Describe how he shows the strength of the trees, their age, the way they grow. In what way is Olive Trees an exaggeration of reality? Why do you think van Gogh painted it this way?

Canaletto, Grand Canal from Palazzo Flangini to Palazzo Bembo.
Compare the above painting to Canaletto's Grand Canal (right). Which painting is more realistic? What, can you tell about the personality of each artist and the time period in which he lived by looking at these paintings?
Symbolic Color
Van Gogh felt that colors had symbolic meaning. To him, yellow symbolized love and light, red and green conveyed passion and conflict, blue was infinity, and gray was associated with surrender. Using colors as symbols, make a painting that expresses an emotion.

Ever-changing Moods: A Study in Color
The kinds and combinations of colors van Gogh used helped intensify the feeling in Olive Trees. Create a painting using a monochromatic (tints and shades of only one color) color scheme. Do a second painting of the same image using only cool colors (blue, green, violet) or warm colors (red, yellow, orange). Do the same painting again using complimentary colors. How does the color scheme affect the mood or feeling of the painting?

Description and Expression

  • Van Gogh almost always painted out-of-doors or directly from nature. Yet he distorted objects and colors for expressive purposes. Writers often do the same. Pick a scene outside and first describe what it looks like, making a list of everything you see. Can this list describe how you feel about the view? Add descriptive words to show how you feel about the view.
  • Find and read a poem by John Keats called Autumn. What can you tell about the way Keats feels about the subject? Make a list of all the descriptive words Keats used in this poem. How has Keats given autumn a personality? In what way is this similar to the olive orchard pictured in van Gogh's painting? How has van Gogh given the olive trees a personality? Whose personality do you think it is?

Mood Music

  • Van Gogh once wrote: "My brush goes between my fingers as a bow on a violin." What elements does van Gogh's painting share with music? In what way might his painting be musical? What kind of music best fits the mood of this painting? What kind of rhythm and movement does it have? Write a short melody that describes the mood of this olive orchard as seen by Vincent van Gogh.
  • Impressionism was not only a movement in art, but in music as well. Listen to a piece of music by an Iimpressionist composer, such as Debussy's La Mer. How would you describe the mood of this piece? How is this mood created? How would you describe the atmosphere created in this piece? In what way is this atmosphere similar to the atmosphere created in van Gogh's painting? Compare the effects created in La Mer to Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik. How is the mood of this piece different than that of La Mer? How might this be similar to Canaletto's painting of the Grand Canal? Try "drawing" each piece of music to explore the different effects.

Express Yourself
The difference between description and expression is often in the way it is presented. For example, Canaletto's Grand Canal is painted exactly as it looks; It is a description of the scene. Van Gogh's painting has exaggerated elements to express emotion. Try to say the following sentence descriptively, in a way which simply describes the situation, then in a way that expresses a particular emotion.

"The man walked in the door, took off his hat, and sat down on the couch."
Try the following emotions: surprise, danger, sadness, expectation, fear, anxiety.

Color Lab
Set up a color lab in your home or classroom. Use the scientific process to find the formulas for various colors by conducting an experiment in which you mix drops of food coloring in a glass of water. Every good scientist forms a hypothesis, conducts his or her experiment, then draws conclusions based on the experiment. Good record keeping is essential. What is the formula for each secondary color (green, orange, violet)? What formula would you use to change the intensity of a color (make it less bright)? How would you make it lighter or darker? Does the formula change if you start with more drops of one color? Try to invent as many kinds of blue as you can.

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Inner Worlds | What is Art? | Environment | Identity | Designing Spaces and Places
About the Art | About the Artist | Discussion Questions/Activities | Teacher Lessons