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posted: Sun, Mar 29th, 2015

Matisse comes to Sandshore 

When art teacher Ric Heckman saw the Matisse exhibit this fall at the Museum of Modern Art, he didn’t immediately know he was going to translate it to the classroom. He was at the museum for a few hours with other district art teachers as part of a professional development day, but even a long walk through MOMA can be overwhelming. There is so much to see, so many different types of art to experience.

Matisse is one of those artists that you love or hate; generally there is no middle ground. Either way, you probably can appreciate his bold compositions, signature shapes, and striking use of color. And those are some of the very elements that inspired Mr. Heckman to bring his Matisse experience to his fifth grade classes.

The MOMA exhibit focused solely on the artist’s cut-outs – abstract works formed solely from scissored shapes of hand-painted paper. Rather than giving his students free rein to cut and paste as they saw fit, Mr. Heckman came up with the concept of the abstract cut-out self-portrait. The students were charged with conveying their personalities, likes, interests, and hobbies through the shapes and colors of cut paper.

Mr. Heckman first presented a lesson on Matisse and asked students to come up with names for the abstract works. This was a key step in the process since it focused students both on the overall images and their individual elements. It challenged them to figure out what Matisse was trying to depict or what feeling he was trying to convey. The fifth-graders were then encouraged to adopt and adapt some of these classic techniques in their own abstract self-portraits. Each student started the assignment by coming up with one adjective to describe himself or herself, and then went on from there.

“This project encouraged students to think abstractly and they really responded well to it,” Mr. Heckman said. “Sometimes with realistic pieces, kids get down on themselves because they haven’t developed the artistic abilities yet to do them as well as they would like to. Abstract art is usually easier for them because it’s freer and doesn’t have rigid rules.”

Mr. Heckman designed the abstract self-portrait assignment to perfectly meet the goals of the fifth grade art curriculum, which calls for the study of a variety of art genres, color theory, and the ability to create a feeling or emotion using color, and composition.

You can see more about the Matisse exhibit at:



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Sandshore School
498 Sandshore Rd Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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