5.5 River art
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Curriculum Alignment

14, 25, 26

Years K-6: Creative Arts, HSIE
Years 7-10: Geography, HSIE, Visual Arts
Years 11-12: Visual Arts, Earth and Environmental Science, Society and Culture

SOSE, Science, Geography 

Futures, Interdependence, Thinking

Science, Thinking Processes, Geography

>Students will describe and demonstrate approaches to creating mood and movement in a river-focussed artistic piece

2 hours

Materials required
>Powerpoint presentation featuring ‘river art’ (for the Lesson) and ‘masks’ (for the Extension). You will need to find this material via the Internet or school library. We’ve provided some suggestions at the end of this lesson plan for web sites you may find helpful. 
>Art materials

Rivers impact the land, sea and air around us, filling these things with change and movement. When artists display rivers in their art, the result is usually a view of power and a strong sense of mood at work, such as in Bingham’s Fur Traders Descending the Missouri and S.T. Gill’s Diggings at Mount Alexander.

In this lesson students will discuss the rivers represented in the works of art you chose to include in the ‘River Art’ Powerpoint presentation, and consider ways the artists use line, shape, form, and colour to create a sense of movement and mood in their works of art. 

Design elements
Focal point

Canoeing on dusk … river art captured by camera.  Photograph: Bill Phillips
Canoeing on dusk … river art captured by camera. Photograph: Bill Phillips

Lesson plan
1. Discuss the works of art with the students.  Ask them to look for examples of movement in the works. What did the artists use to show movement? Ask students to describe the events that might have preceded the moment depicted in each painting and what is about to happen in the scene.

2. Ask the students to define the elements of each artwork which express the mood.

3. Have the students help you create a list of moods when looking at rivers and water. Make a second list of the outcomes that often result from these moods.

4. Have students select a mood to use as the subject of their own artwork. 
How could they best show this mood with a river? 
What would it look like? 
Would the student be in the picture? 
Would there be other people in the picture? 
Or, would there be some kind of object, such as a tree, car, ship, house? 
What movement would be occurring? 
How would the river and human responses to it them appear to an observer of this scene?

5. At a nearby river, stream or wetland, have the students create a multimedia artwork that shows movement and mood in terms of their river. Get them to do this using collage materials (torn paper, yarn scraps, etc.), natural materials gathered from the site (sustainably!), and crayons/markers and paints. Students may also like to demonstrate their ideas in a drawing.

>Looking at the “Mask” Powerpoint presentation, discuss the following questions with your students:
What material was used to make the masks?
What parts represent water forms or its characteristics?
What do the masks say about the maker’s relationship with water?

What is exaggerated or simplified? 
Why did the artist choose to use these forms? 
What is the visual relationship to humans and the environment in which they lived?

>Have students consider our relationship with the Earth today: 

How has our relationship to our sources of water changed over time?
How might our relationship with nature be different from that of the Urhobo people or Binghams’s fur traders?
What aspects of life and nature do we celebrate and how do we celebrate them? 

>Have students brainstorm a list of things they would celebrate or honour about nature or the environment. Have them list the natural materials they could use.

Why not challenge the
students to make their
own water mask and
present it to the class.

Suggestions for web sites to visit to find ‘river art’ and ‘masks’
Some results from Google Image searching ‘water art mask’


Google Image search ‘rivers in art’


Indigenous art under the main road bridge in Dubbo, NSW. Photograph: Bill Phillips
Indigenous art under the main road bridge in Dubbo, NSW. Photograph: Bill Phillips

Secondary pathway
Divide the students into teams of 3-4 each. Give each team access to an image of Lewin’s Fish catch and Dawes Point, Sydney Harbour. 
Instruct the teams that they are to look carefully at the painting and develop categories of the life forms and other subjects they see. 
Based on this visual information, each team should develop a description of the time and environment depicted. 
They might address questions such as:

>What type of environment is shown?
>What type of climate?
>Where might it be located?
>What conclusions can you draw about the people?
>Their values? 
>The time period?
>What conclusions can be drawn based on the visual evidence seen in the work?

Discuss each team’s ideas and list these to develop a group hypothesis as to the background and meaning of the work. Ask students to support their ideas with visual evidence from the painting. Work with the class to summarise their ideas.

Refer to the information on this work of art (you’ll find on the internet) to check for accurate hypotheses and discuss student impressions.
As a class, students will discuss how this collected information informs their view of the painting. Were all of these fish native to Sydney harbour?  Can they be found there now?

Another suggestion is to have
students draw, sketch or paint
a scene from their nearby river,
stream or wetland highlighting
a point of environmental concern
or of environmental rehabilitation.