Perspective Drawing - Art in the middle grades

Teaching perspective drawing to seventh graders has always been a highlight for me. This is one of those magical moments where the curriculum meets the students everywhere they need to be met.

 Thirteen year olds are always right.

 Just ask them ;)

 A seventh grader is desperately trying to form his or her own point of view and beginning to understand that we all see the world through our own, unique lens. The most important concept of perspective drawing is the establishment of point of view. In perspective drawing, the artist must constantly ask "how would this look from my perspective?"

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Waldorf Perspective Drawing.jpg

The Horizon Line

The horizon represents the limit to how far the eye can see, assuming we can look beyond the buildings, trees, and mountains that might be in the way. In perspective drawing, the horizon is a straight line that establishes the "eye line" or point of view of the artist. In reality, we know that the horizon is not straight because the earth is round. We draw it as a straight line because that's how we perceive it. (More on perception versus reality later)

It's fitting that a seventh grader should grapple with the idea of learning to understand the world between him/and the flat horizon which, in turn, begs the questions: "What's beyond the horizon? and... Isn't the world round?"


Vanishing Points

 In the sixth grade, students are often satisfied with isometric three dimensional drawing. All of the lines of an isometric box are parallel. It looks real! Life gets a little more complicated in 7th grade, however,  as the students move farther away from the simplicity of childhood. The typical seventh grader begins to question everything (especially the teacher!).

 When it comes to teaching perspective drawing, I like to teach by asking questions. "If the sides of this cardboard box are equal in length and parallel in real life, why do they look like they're getting closer together as they go off into the distance?" Soon they discover that straight lines going into the distance appear to line up with vanishing points on the horizon. Now they are ready to construct rules for drawing the world as it appears to us.

 On more subconscious level, there is another phenomenon at play. As human beings, we can venture beyond the horizon in the physical world, and we can explore the depths of our inner selves. The vanishing point on the horizon mirrors the vanishing point inside each human being. Interestingly, both the horizon and the vanishing points are not fixed.

They are simply boundaries placed by the artist based on his or her unique perspective at a single moment in time.

Art as metaphor for life.


Perception vs. reality

 I love taking seventh graders through this journey of building a set of rules to create reality and then realizing that we need to keep bending the rules when a new piece of information is introduced.

 "Why does it seem like there's more than one vanishing point?"

 "Why does it seem like all the vanishing points change in reality when I move my eyes?"

 "Is there really a point out there?"

 Some students are happy to live inside the set of rules for perspective drawing and some edge closer to the idea that this set of rules is a convention that humans created. It's a method of taking our visual perception of the three dimensional world and putting it onto a two dimensional surface in a way that accurately represents the artists point of view at that particular moment in time.

The process is akin to learning a language in order to express your point of view. It's all the more valuable if our students can be guided towards developing this set of rules on their own. As they work with the drawing exercises, I encourage you to try not to give in to the temptation of TELLING them what they are experiencing. The questions that lead to the rules will naturally flow out of them if they are given many opportunities to EXPERIENCE the drawings!

~Brian (& Robyn!) Wolfe

Content related to the middle grades:

Form Drawing in Grade Four

Now that we reach fourth grade in this progression from first grade, we find that the wholeness has separated into parts. The fraction is an archetype for fourth grade.  The teacher leads the child to experience the fraction and return it to the whole. Just so, woven forms provide the same journey. Woven forms are perhaps the most recognizable elements of Waldorf form drawings, though the woven form has been an artistic theme in various cultures for millennia.

Fourth grade forms

With the woven form, we take the line and fold it back onto itself, perhaps even with multiple lines. We create a beautifully ordered knot. We weave a fabric. To render this in a drawing requires us to fragment the whole line into many different line segments so that we give the impression that the line has indeed woven itself over and under, over and under. We take the one line and divide into many fractions, but we arrange those fractions so that there is a new one-ness realized. Whether these woven forms are arranged in circular, triangular, or rectangular fashions, there is almost always an inherent geometric foundation evident in the whole.

Form drawing in grade four.JPG

Likewise, we can also take basic geometric shapes and explore an ordered division of their spaces so that we create equivalent fractions that are both beautiful and true. Each of these free-hand form drawing activities bring us ever closer to an experience of pure geometry. It is important to allow the student to struggle with the realization of these forms with the freehand approach first. Allowing the child to struggle with crawling, standing, and walking builds valuable will-forces that serve the human being throughout life. So too the struggle with geometric forms is a valuable learning experience that builds powerful inner faculties.

Rudolf Steiner urged the first Waldorf teachers to awaken “what will become geometry later—but first, one should keep it all in the realm of freehand drawing.” (Lecture 10, Practical Advise to Teachers).

The drawings and activities of these fourth grade form drawings have their own intrinsic value and can fill a lifetime of exploration in and of themselves. However, as a step on the curricular path, they are also leading toward the fifth grade year of freehand geometric drawing.

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Form Drawing in Grade Three

Third grade is very often a time of tremendous change for children and thus it can require that we make tremendous changes in how we meet them.

There is perhaps no more archetypal image that can help us understand the third grade child than that of any creation mythology in which the human being, once united with the Creator, now finds himself separated, forlorn, and bereft. The developing consciousness of the 8-9 year-old begins to have a sense of separateness. There is now an awakening sense of an inner world. The signature of one-ness that holds and sustains the young child is lost. It is a dramatic and necessary step toward individuation. So, the third grade elements of form drawing incorporate this experience.

Forms in third grade

Now we work with forms that explore relationships and change. We bring about forms that challenge us to explore and create new harmonies. This is an exciting time because the forms that we set up for the child can be balanced in many different ways. There is not a “perfectly correct” answer. The “rightness” must be felt by the child and by the teacher.

Form drawing in grade three (teacher training notes)

Form drawing in grade three (teacher training notes)

Learning to live as an individual on the earth is a constant exercise of attempting to find harmony in new ways as new elements arise in our lives. So, the teacher can be as creative in providing new “quests” for the student and then remain open to the practically infinite possibilities that the child has for discovery of corresponding forms. This has a mutually-inspirational quality that provides a lift to the child who struggles with this new sense of the bigness of the outer world and the isolation of the inner world.

“They should be given sufficient space to engage in the process in an exploratory manner. If this is achieved, a rich opportunity for differentiation and mutual inspiration is created.”
Peter Giesen, Form Drawing Workbook

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Form Drawing in Grade Two

(Read an introduction to this topic, as well as Rev’s piece Form Drawing in Grade One, here.)

While we continue many of the same kinds of forms explored in first grade, we begin a new impulse in second grade. The second grader begins to experience a vague sense of duality or polarity in the world. For this reason, the second grade stories told in Waldorf schools will revolve around the tales of human virtue, such as those of the saintly beings from various traditions, as well as the tales of lower nature, such as those found in Aesop’s Fables.

The child is only dimly awakening to these same qualities in the world and within herself. So the stories provide an imaginative realm of soul in which such themes may be explored. Likewise, there are movements and forms that can provide a similar exploration and arena for discovery. It is important to note that the Waldorf teacher will not end a fable by explicitly recounting some abstracted moral. It is important to allow the child to “digest” such lessons herself.

Vertical symmetry in grade two form drawing.

Vertical symmetry in grade two form drawing.

With the movements and forms, we would also not muddy the child’s experience with some intellectual explanation of its value. We simply bring the movements and forms for the child for her experience. We trust the profound wisdom at work in the cosmos and in every human being. We do not need to explain this “soul digestion” any more than we need to explain our physical digestion in order for it to happen after a meal. We simply bring them new movements and forms that provide an even more direct experience of the above and below, the right and the left, and the cross-lateral.

Rudolf Kutzli, in his book Creative Form Drawing, reminds us that this inherent power
of Waldorf form drawing “leads to an activating process of unfolding creative forces that lie dormant in every human being. It speaks to the inner rhythms that bring harmony to the forming and dissolving, the challenging and quietening, the cosmic and earthly in the human being. It thereby strengthens the very center, the ‘I’ between the constant threat of tendencies toward sclerotic thought, barrenness of soul, and the aimlessness or apathy in the whole sphere of the will.”

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