Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lesson # 1 - Delving into key concepts of Modern art

1) What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Art”?
2) Who are your favorite painters or artists? Why do you like them?
3) How do you feel about Contemporary Art?
4) Did you use to have Art lessons when you were at Elementary school? If so, describe them.
5) Are you any good at painting? Were you good when you were a child?
6) Have you ever visited an Art gallery? If so, what’s the best art gallery or museum you’ve been to? Support your answer.
7) Do you think any object can become a work of art?
8) Who’s one the most famous living artist in your country? If you don't know, search online.
9) Are there any artists whose work you really dislike? If so, support.
10) Do you think art galleries and museums should be free? Why or why not?
11) What’s the most beautiful work of art you’ve seen? Describe it.
12) Do you have artworks in your home? What artworks would you most like to have?
 13) How do you think the Art world might change over the next 50 years?
14) Define the following concepts with your own words (if you don't know them, search online):

a) Figurative art

b) Abstract art

15) Match the pictures below with their respective names:
a) Dripping                                          
b) Pictographic symbols                              
c) Canvas                                                    
d) Brushstrokes                                          
e) Portrait                                                     
f) "La Sagrada Familia" at Barcelona            
g) Grid                                                         
h) Brush                                                       
i) Oil paints                                                  
j) Stained glass windows 
k) Manifesto
l) Ink
m) Splattering
n) Pouring

Lesson # 2 - Joaquín Torres-García: Uruguay's founder of Constructive Universalism

Joaquín Torres García (28 July 1874 – 8 August 1949) was an Uruguayan painter, sculptor, novelist, writer, teacher and theorist. He was one of the most notable personalities of artistic movement in the first half of the century. He is known for his collaboration with Gaudí in 1903 on the stained glass windows for the Palma Cathedral, and the Sagrada Familia, the frescoes painted in the Palau de la Generalitat of Barcelona, and for being the founder of the European art group Cercle et Carré in Paris in 1929.

In 1891, Torres-García's father returned to Mataró, Spain, with his wife and three children. The family settled in Barcelona. Torres-García enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona (Escuela de Bellas Artes de Barcelona), the Baixas Academy (Academia Baixas) and the Saint Lluc Artists Circle. Torres-García and Picasso were contemporaries.

In 1910 Torres-García traveled to Brussels to paint a Pavilion in the Brussels International World Fair. During his prolonged stay in Paris, he  visited friends, museums and galleries. On his first trip to Italy and Switzerland, Torres-García observed the ancient and the modern: Futurism. In May 1913, he published his first book, "Notes sobre Art" (Notes on Art), and founded the Escuela de Decoración (School of Decoration/Decorative Arts) in Sarrià, Catalunya. He was commissioned in 1913 to create murals for the decoration of the monumental atrium of the Municipal Palace of Barcelona.

In 1934, at the age of 60, Torres-García returned for the first time since childhood to Montevideo. As he did in Barcelona he eventually shaped the artistic education of Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. He created the "Taller Torres-García", and published several books. In Montevideo he built the "Monumento Cosmico", painted mural frescoes at the Hospital Saint Bois, and a series of portraits under the name of "Men, heroes and monsters ". His workshop became the center of Uruguayan painting, recruiting disciples and admirers everywhere, and changed forever the art of painting in the River Plate area.

On August 8, 1949 Torres-García died while preparing two exhibitions one at Sidney Janis Gallery in New York and other at Pan American Union in Washington.

Joaquín Torres-García has long been recognized as a charismatic avant-garde painter, teacher, and theoretician who influenced the development of avant-garde abstract and constructive art movements in Barcelona, Paris, Madrid, and Montevideo, where he exhibited with Picasso and Mondrian, among many others. Since the 1980s, a series of exhibitions organized in Europe - specifically in Spain, France, and England - have explored the artist's extraordinary accomplishments. In the United States, however, the Uruguayan master remains an under-exposed and under-appreciated figure." 

Constructive Universalism

Constructive Universalism is a philosophy of art developed by Torres-García in the 1930s. Its goal is to combine the “reason” of geometry (Constructivism) with the spiritual “intuition” of Man and Nature (Universalism). The term “Constructivism” refers to a European tradition of abstract art based on geometric elements – lines, squares, planes – and characterized by simplicity and precision. Torres-García evoked the “universal” to describe organic sources of abstract art found in ancient (American) civilizations. In its integration of the constructivist grid and universal pictographs, Constructive Universalism aimed to restore balance and harmony to the (pictorial) world. 

Torres-García's paintings often balance Nature and Reason through a combination of Constructive elements and signs. To convey this balance he elaborated his own particular language based on the neo-Plasticist grid (Reason) and pictographic symbols (Nature). He called this language Constructive Universalism. Convinced that the impulse towards abstract modes of abstraction lie at the core of all civilizations, the system of Constructive Universalism incorporated symbols from ancient cultures such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the ancient cultures of the Americas. 

One outstanding work on view is an untitled oil painting from 1932, depicting the outline of a fish. Inside of the fish are painted a number of other objects, which are all familiar symbols from Torres-García's Constructive Universal repertory: precise references to the Cosmos (the Sun), the ideal pentameter (the number five), human emotions (the heart and the anchor, representing hope), Nature (the fish), and references to North American Indian art (the teepee framed by a crescent moon and the sun, such as is found on painted hides). 

In 1928, during the full boom of abstract art and cubism, Torres-García experienced a decisive influence. While living in Paris, thanks to his friendship with Teo Van Doesburg, he met Piet Mondrian.  The following year, he founded, along with these and other artists, the "Cercle et Carré" (Circle and Square) movement, in contraposition to Impressionism. Torres-García adopted the grid in its most rigorous and geometric sense as a means to preserve the two-dimensionality of a picture. Here the artist created patterns by dividing the picture surface into horizontal and vertical formations, each painted with different primary colors. Although Neo-Plasticists believed in the pure qualities of the grid, Torres-García emphasized instead the raw aspect of the composition, highlighting the imperfections of the canvas, the impurity of the colors, the thickness of the paint, and the manual tracing of the brushstrokes. Both van Doesburg and Torres-García used the Golden ratio to structure their work from this period, which is a mathematical proportion known to have existed in the classical world. The Golden ratio postulates that the subdivision of space into certain ratios symbolizes structural parallels with the Universal Cosmos. Torres-García's affinity for this mathematical measure became prevalent for the rest of his career as an artist.

Torres-Garcia's inverted map of America

In 1934, after spending some time in Madrid, the Torres-García family moved to Montevideo, 43 years after the departure of young Joaquín. One of the reasons given by the artist for returning to Uruguay was the need to get exposure to the Pre-Columbian art: “The whole of America must stand up to create a powerful and virgin art.” However, Uruguay is far away from those civilizations where Pre-Columbian art flourished. The European crisis, the lack of understanding experienced by Torres-García, who by then was almost sixty years old, his incredible vitality and an incessant artistic search, all played a role in this return. In Uruguay, Torres was well received and embarked on a frenetic pace of activity. Without giving up painting, he founded the Constructive Art Association, edited the magazine "Círculo y Cuadrado" - continuing the tradition of Cercle et Carré, and gave hundreds of conferences.
In 1935, Torres García published “The School of the South”, which is considered his first Latin Americanist manifesto. In it, he formulated the premise that would make it possible to establish an autonomous art movement in Latin America. For many critics and scholars, this manifesto was the first systematic attempt to put together an autonomous artistic tradition for Latin America. Torres García was proposing that Native America was the point of origin for a new hemispheric visual-arts tradition founded on the recovery of the pre-Hispanic past and its reconciliation with Universalist art.

Even before drawing Inverted Map of America, Torres García had already stated in “The School of the South” manifesto that:

“I have called this “The School of the South” because in reality, our north is the south. There must not be north for us, except in opposition to our south. Therefore, we now turn the map upside down, and then we have a true idea of our position, and not as the rest of the world wishes. The point of America, from now on, forever, insistently points to the South, our north”.

So, what is such a map telling us? It is still possible to find a variety of interpretations and readings of this map, including the idea that the countries of Latin America feel slighted by the dominance of the developed north, and the conclusion drawn by some that Latin American art should go back to its pre-colonial origins. 


Recent exhibits

At Moma (Museum of Modern Art, New York - October 2015 through February, 2016).

Art intervention at "The Cosmic Wall", Museo Nacional de Artes audiovisuales, Montevideo.


Read the article above and answer these questions:

1) Besides being a notorious painter, what other artistic fields did Joaquín Torres-García explore?
2) How did Torres-García contribute to the art heritage of Catalunya and its capital city, Barcelona?
3) When did he first set foot in Paris?
4) Search online and find out what the "Monumento cósmico" ("The Cosmic Wall"), what it represents and where it is located.  
5) Which two art movements are associated with Torres-García and with which European artists did he associate with?  
6) What are the basic elements Constructive Universalism is made of? What do they represent?  
7) Why did Torres-García name it like that? (express this answer in your own words).
8) Does Constructive Universalism represent a single culture? Why / Why not?  
9) How is Torres-García's style similar to that of the Neo-Plasticist artists he collaborated with? In what way is it different?  
10) Interpret in your words the following manifesto by Torres-García when he created The School of the South: “I have called this The School of the South because in reality, our north is the south. There must not be north for us, except in opposition to our south ...".  
11) How is such manifesto connected with his artwork "The Inverted Map of America"?  
12) Which is the most current exhibition devoted to our national painter? Find information online and specify where it is taking place and which artworks of his creation are displayed.  
13) Watch and describe what the art intervention at "The Cosmic Wall" consists of.


Complete this criss-cross word puzzle by using some concepts from the article:


1. What do Torres-Garcia's pictorial symbols represent in general? 
4. What kind of painter is Torres-García regarded of internationally?
6. Which French artist did Torres-García meet in Paris and was deeply influenced by? 
7. Which symbol represents the Cosmos in Constructive Universalism? 
8. What animal symbolizes Nature in Constructive Universalism? 
9. Which artistic and social movement did Torres-García encounter in Italy? 
12. What school did Torres-Garcia found in Montevideo? 
13. How old was Torres García when he came back to Uruguay?
14. What mathematical concept do most of Torres-Garcia's artworks follow?


2. What do grids symbolize in Torres-Garcia's artworks?
3. What colors did Torres-García use in most of his paintings?
5. What was Torres-Garcías first book?
10. Where did Torres-García's parents settle down when they returned to their homeland?
11. Who did Torres-García work with in the construction of "La Sagrada Familia"?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Lesson # 3 - Designing our own Constructive composition based on Torres-García's principles

Conceiving the Golden ratio:
As mentioned in the previous task, Torres-García is known to have used the Golden ratio in his constructivist paintings.The Greek mathematician Euclid first defined the Golden ratio around 300 BC. Found in Nature and used by artists and architects for millennia, the Golden ratio is thought to have special mystical properties related to the ideas of universal order, structure, and harmony. At the Torres García Museum in Montevideo, visitors are provided with a golden compass, a type of scissors whose ends keep that ratio between them. You can measure the components of the paintings, the pieces of the wooden toys and even corroborate on yourself the presence of the Golden ratio.

The figure below is an example of a Golden rectangle. All of the rectangles were traced with a pencil first and then re-drawn with a black marker.

You will need:
  • A ruler
  • Paper
  • Markers or color pencils.
  • A black marker
  • A compass and a piece of cardboard larger than your paper.
 Step 1: To make a golden rectangle, first draw a square.  Recommendation: Practice making a golden rectangle on graph paper first.

Step 2: Extend two parallel lines from the top and bottom sides of the square.

Step 3: Mark the midpoint of the bottom side of the square.

Step 4: Position the point of the compass on the midpoint and extend the pencil to the upper right corner of the square.  Draw an arc from the upper right corner of the square to the lower parallel line.  Recommendation: place a piece of cardboard underneath the paper to anchor the compass in place.

Step 5: With the ruler, draw a perpendicular line from the point at which the arc meets the lower parallel line to the upper parallel line.  This is a Golden rectangle.

Step 6: Choose colors.  Use colored pencils, or markers to add color to some or all of the rectangles. Choose some of Torres-Garcia's pictographies to complete your artwork.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lesson # 4 - Abstract impressionism: the first Art Movement born in the U.S.A.

Discuss the following questions with your partners:

a) Why might an artist choose to paint abstractly instead of representationally depicting figures, shapes, objects, or scenes?
b) What kinds of choices do you think artists make when painting?
c) What kinds of materials and techniques does an Abstract painter use?
d) How can you express emotion in an entirely abstract drawing?

e) What words would you use to describe Jackson Pollock's painting?
f) How would you describe the lines in it?
g) What kind of gestures or movements do you think Pollock made to make this painting? What do you see that makes you think that?

h) What kinds of shapes do you see in this work by Helen Frankenthaler?

i) Based on what you see, what gestures or movements do you think Frankenthaler made?
j) Do you think Frankenthaler’s and Pollock’s paintings are governed by chaos or control? Support your answer.

k) How would you describe this painting?
l) How has De Kooning chosen to represent this woman?
m) How is "Woman, I" similar to or different from these other representations of women?



Abstract expressionism is a post–World War II Art movement in American painting, developed in New York in the 1940s. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the center of the Western art world, a role previously filled by Paris. The term "Abstract expressionism" was first applied to American art in 1946.

Abstract Expressionist painters explored new ways of creating art, reinvigorating and reinventing the medium. They changed the nature of painting with their large canvases, energetic and gestural lines, and new artistic processes. Many artists experimented with nontraditional materials, such as commercial paints and housepainter’s brushes. Artists also developed new techniques to apply paint, such as moving the canvas from the easel to the floor and working on unstretched and unprimed canvas. With these unconventional ways of painting, the Abstract Expressionists searched for new forms of self-expression and personal freedom in their work.

Like the Surrealists before them, many Abstract Expressionist painters were interested in psychoanalysis and the theories of Carl Jung, who identified certain myths indicative of what he called a collective unconscious. In the 1940s, artists like Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock believed that they could use universal symbols to evoke certain emotions in the viewer.

Characteristics: The Two Styles

In simple terms, the Abstract Expressionism movement encompassed two broad groupings. These included: (1) the so-called "action painters" such as Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning who focused on an intensely expressive style of gestural painting; and (2) the more passive "color-field" painters, notably Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still, who were concerned with reflection and mood. That said, it is not always easy to draw a precise line between these two types of Abstract Expressionism, and several artists contributed to both.

1) Action Painting

In 1947, Jackson Pollock - supported by his wife Lee Krasner (1908-84) - developed a radical new technique which involved dripping paint onto a canvas laid on the ground. Pollock worked in a highly spontaneous improvisatory manner, famously dancing around the canvas pouring, throwing and dripping paint onto it. By doing this, he claimed to be channelling his inner impulses directly onto the canvas, in a form of automatic or subconscious painting. 

Pollock's paintings smashed all conventions of traditional American art. Their subject matter was entirely abstract, their scale was huge. This was because, for these Abstract Expressionists, the authenticity of a painting lay in its directness and immediacy of expression: in how the artist conveyed his inner impulses, his unconscious being.

In short, Pollock (and others) abandoned all the traditional concepts of composition, space, volume and depth, allowing the flatness of the picture plane to become the main important feature of his creations. Not surprisingly, the paintings caused a sensation. The New York Times art critic John Canaday was highly critical, but Clem Greenberg proclaimed abstract expressionism in general and Jackson Pollock in particular, as the best painting of its day. 

Although Willem De Kooning is also grouped with Pollock in the highly charged active type of Abstract Expressionism, his works are different both technically and aesthetically. His violent and sinister Women series of six paintings (1950-3), exemplify his figurative style, although he also produced more abstract works. However, like Pollock, De Kooning was a strong believer in the idea that an artist acted out his inner impulses, and that something of his emotion or state of mind could be read by the viewer in the resulting paint marks. "I paint this way because I can keep putting more and more things into it – drama, anger, pain, love... through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or an idea."

2) Color Field Painting

Evolving a little bit later than action-painting was a second style of Abstract Expressionism, which became known as Color Field Painting. It emerged as several important artists in the USA in the late 1940s and 1950s were experimenting with the use of flat areas or fields of color to induce contemplation in the viewer. They were very much on the passive wing of the Abstract Expressionist movement, in contrast to the agitation of Pollock or De Kooning, though it is hard to draw a definitive dividing line between both movements. The work of these artists was on a very large scale.

The impulse behind Color Field painting was reflective and cerebral, characterized by simple imagery designed to create emotional impact. A type of highly colored minimalism, their style aimed to liberate the artist from all the effects of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, and myth that have been used in Western European painting. Rothko's soft-edged rectangular shapes of glowing color aimed to envelop the viewer and produce a semi-religious emotional experience. Like Pollock and the action-painters, color field paintings were executed on a monumental scale for optimum impact. Rothko said, "I paint big to be intimate."

The most distinguished of these color-field painters was Mark Rothko. He has been described as the chief exponent of the "American Sublime". He first showed in 1929 and by about 1940 was working in a Surrealistic vein. By 1947, however, he was evolving the formula to which he was to remain faithful for the rest of his life. This formula, though generally interpreted on a monumental scale is almost simple. Mark Rothko's paintings typically show two or three horizontal or vertical rectangles of different colors, varying in width or in height, on an even colored background. The rectangles are filled with color, which is washed or stained with shifting tones and luminous intensities, and their edges blur into soft-focus. This blurring of edges makes the color seem to float. So powerful and intense is the impression of mysterious radiance flooding from these great canvases, that viewers themselves can also experience a floating sensation.


The first generation of Abstract Expressionist artists flourished between 1943 and the mid-1950s. They had a major impact on the reputation of American painting, leading to the establishment of New York as the centre of World Art. By the 1960s, the main effects of Abstract Expressionism had been completely absorbed, although its themes and techniques continued to influence later artists from a variety of different schools, including Op Art, Fluxus, Pop Art, Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Neo-Expressionism, and others.

Answer the following:

1) Why does Abstract expressionism represent a relevant movement in the history of American art?
2)What makes Abstract expressionism unique?
3) What connection is there between Abstract expressionim and Psychology?
4) How is Action painting different from Color field painting?
5) What do you understand by "Gestural painting"?
6) Find similarities and differences between De Kooning's and Pollock's artworks. Why do you think they were labeled in the same style?
7) What kind of emotional impact do you think Color field painters wanted to achieve in the viewers?
8) Explain Rothko's quote: "I paint big to be intimate".
9) What do most Rothko's artworks have in common?
10) Which art movements developed from Abstract expressionism? Find out some brief information about them online.

Decide if the following statements are true (T) or false (F). Provide evidence when false:

a) Abstract expressionists basically applied identical art techniques from those of their predecessors.
b) Pollock's style involved lots of planning before applying paint to the canvas.
c) Many Abstract expressionists added depth and dimensionality to their artworks.
d) Both Action and Color field painters used unusually large surfaces to create their artworks.
e) Color field painting preceded Action painting.
f) Rothko kept his typical style throughout most of his artistic career.

Lesson # 5 - Jackson Pollock, the Movie.

Summarize Pollock's movie in a review. Focus on its plot and express your opinion about it. 

If you happened to miss some of the video sessions in class, check the following links below on Vimeo:

Part 1 - Part 2

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lesson # 6 - Paint like Jackson Pollock online

To create your own masterpiece, just visit the website below and move your mouse around the screen. Click on the mouse to change its colors and press any key to sign your painting. When you’re done, save your artwork to be published in the blog with those of your classmates.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Field trip to Museo Joaquín Torres-García & Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales (MNAV)

Location: Museo Joaquín Torres-García & Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales, Montevideo.

Goals & objectives: To extend and enhance classroom learning in the field of both Uruguayan Constructive Universalism and American Avant-Garde art. During the field trip, you and your group will be required to document a report on both development of the tasks proposed, collect relevant information on the museum facilities, art works and sketch a Constructive Universalist sculpture.

Materials: Folder, notebook, hard surface as a clipboard for note-taking and sketching, recording device like pens, pencils, markers, and paper. Handheld devices as tablets, cellphone or digital cameras.


a) Create a detailed account of the main events that will take place throughout the field trip. Mention both the time and the place each event takes place. There should be a minimum of 30 entries.

b) Take notes on the guide's descriptions at Museo Torres-García. These will be eventually used in your Art portfolio. To facilitate your work you may use your Spanish to write as much information as you can. You will have some extra classes to translate your notes to English.

c) If allowed, take non-flash photos to at least 10 paintings of Torres-García's artworks. Remember to include their names, date & place of creation, size and materials.

d) Draw a map of the different rooms / levels of the museum and describe them thoroughly. Which are its permanent exhibitions? On which floor are they located? What is its latest changing exhibition? What memorabilia is displayed for sale? Where can you purchase it?

e) When arriving at the MNAV, explore the sections of the building and devise a map. Devise a map of the MNAV. Indicate its facilities and the art works arranged in its garden.

f) Use your cellphone / tablet to find out the history of the building that houses the museum. You are expected to answer the following questions:

  •  When was  the "Museo de Bellas Artes", now known as "Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales" inaugurated?
  •  Has it always been located in the same area of Montevideo? If not, where was it?
  •  How many art artifacts did it use to hold?
  •  Who was Clorindo Testa? How is he closely related to the current MNAV museum?
  •  Describe the museum's library. Why is it regarded as a remarkable facility?
  •  Which distinctive foreign artists have displayed their works at MNAV?
  •  Which directors have run the MNAV?  Who runs it nowadays?

g) Find Constructive Universalist artifacts within the MNAV. Take non-flash photos and register their names, date & place of creation, size and materials. Which ones belong to Joaquín Torres-García? Which ones to his students'?

h) Sketch Torres-García's Cosmic monument. Indicate which symbols in its grid are Pre-Columbian and which ones are of Greek origin.