Woody Guthrie Elementary School Curriculum
ART: Studying the Elements of PERSPECTIVE
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Woody Guthrie has observed a multitude of fence posts running along the edge of a forgotten farm, he has watched tall telephone poles outline the horizon along a track, he has witnessed a long train carrying freight and hobos away down the line. These visions are reflected in the way he uses perspective in his art work. Many of his paintings provide children with an excellent opportunity to observe perspective. For example, "Woman and House" from the Bound for Glory series shows a rounded, large figure of a woman in the foreground. She appears close to the viewer and is the biggest element in the painting. Near her, the lines of a fence recede into the back of the picture, the fence posts shrinking in size with each step back, finally disappearing into a point far away. Meanwhile, the house appears smaller than the woman because it is far back.

Guiding children to understand this use of perspective is just one goal; inviting children to use perspective in their own studio work is the other.


Getting Started

One of Woody's best examples of perspective can be found in the painting "About a Hundred of Us Fell Out" which shows a bunch of men jumping off a freight train.

About a Hundred of Us Fell Out by Woody Guthrie

Children will easily observe that the men in the foreground, closest to us, are the largest figures in the picture. Way back in the distance are smaller looking figures. Are they really smaller men? No, they are just so far away from us that they look that way. Look at the farthest men in the crowd. They are so far away that Woody doesn't show any facial features or complete bodies . Notice the size of the train cars, the ones nearest to the viewer are large and have readable messages on the sides. The farthest train cars look small and lack detail. Look at the puffy trail of smoke diminishing as the train recedes.



It's time to go outside! This is the best way to study perspective. Look at the telephone poles. Do you notice how they change in size? Compare the trees closest to where we are standing to those trees down the block. How do they appear? How is this like Woody's art work?

Have a few students run down to the end of the playground. Let the others observe how their friends look smaller now, especially compared to the people standing beside them. Bring along a chair or trashcan from the classroom and put it as far down the play yard as possible. Now look at it through your fingers. How many inches tall does it appear now? Why is this? Look at the neighborhood surrounding your school. What appears big? What looks small?

Back in the classroom, practice drawing puffy smoke as in Woody's train picture. Make it big and billowy in the beginning and smaller and tinier toward the back of the scene. Think of the trashcan when the class put it far away out on the playground. Try to draw yourself and the trashcan. These practice exercises will let students manipulate the concept of perspective.

For the final project, have students draw themselves in the foreground of a picture and ask them to include a background that reflects perspective. Where will they be standing? In their neighborhood? By a train? Near their house? After painting share the pictures and look for how perspective was achieved.

Woody and Charlie Guthrie in a Cyclone



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