While touring a group of students today, we made a stop at one of the most popular pieces (with the 18 and under crowd) currently on exhibit:
As we discussed fairly dry topics of cross-hatching and still-life composition, the conversation inevitably came back to skeletons, creepy-crawlies and the upcoming Halloween holiday. All at once, while looking at this piece, I knew of the perfect way to enhance the tour-stop.
Because I often tour with an iPad (to show images or video that may provide context for an exhibited piece) I was able to quickly find and share one of my favorite childhood memories--through a somewhat hokey but wonderful 1980's animation of the Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Sanes.
Each year of elementary school, my wonderful art and music teachers would gather our grade before our Halloween party. We listened to the classical piece while sketching dancing skeletons, and created mobiles and puppets with straws, sticks and dried pasta. I remember my fascination at the macabre. I loved imagining the live bodies that used to enclose the skeletons that danced through the scenes of that video. I wanted to know how each bone moved and worked as a person danced.
Looking back, I am sure that these special skeletal celebrations fueled my interest in anatomy and in turn, my love for figure and still life sketching in charcoals. Then.. (as we all seem to seek opportunities to share our passions) a desire to become an art teacher.
As I sat with my students in the museum gallery, the music echoed badly and they laughed at the cartoon quality.. but were soon mesmerized by the way the music "sounded like dancing" and the "clicking of dried bones." We had a great talk about how fun it is to create music inspired by a work of visual art, and visa versa.
So, in honor of Halloween I thought I would share this fun teaching moment. An unexpected conversation with 4th graders about this piece by Jules Kirschenbaum was a lovely reminder of why this holiday holds a special place in my heart, history and career.