Campus & Community

Fabulous fakes: Kids imitate artists

3 min read
Fifth-grader Terrance Brown (above) holds his version of Self Portrait by Max Beckmann, which is currently on display at the Fogg Museum in "Fabulous Fakes and Poignant Poetry," an exhibition featuring the work of 45 fifth-graders from the Samuel Brown Elementary School in Peabody, Mass. Photo by Lynne Stanton.

For centuries aspiring artists have learned their craft by painstakingly copying the great works of the masters. One of the latest examples of this reverent and practical activity took place over the past few months at the University Art Museums when 45 fifth-graders from the Samuel Brown School in Peabody, Mass., chose a work each to copy. The project is part of an ongoing objective of the Department of Public Education at the Harvard University Art Museums to involve school age students with the resources in the museums in meaningful ways. Its results can be viewed on the 3rd floor of Fogg Art Museum in an exhibition called “Fabulous Fakes and Poignant Poetry.”

The collaborative effort between museum and school began last November, when each of the fifth-graders chose an artwork housed in the Fogg or the Busch Reisinger collections. The students spent several months immersing themselves in their chosen works. They explored the life of the artist, wrote poetry inspired by the work, and made a “fake,” – their own version of the painting, gaining knowledge and insight about technique, style, and creative inspiration. The exhibition demonstrates the diverse choices made by the fifth graders; there are works from Botticelli and van Gogh to Klimt, Marc and Feininger. The exhibition demonstrates the diverse choices made by the fifth graders; there are works from Botticelli and van Gogh to Klimt, Marc and Feininger.

Visual activities the children carried out included proportionally resizing a postcard reproduction using grids, interpreting the work in a medium of their own choice (paint, pencil, cut paper, pastel, oil crayon), and extending the artwork beyond the bounds envisioned by the original artist. Language activities in addition to poetry included fictional short stories inspired by the images in their paintings.

“What makes the “Fabulous Fakes” project unique is the marriage of visual and verbal expression,” said Samuel Brown School art teacher Deb Whitmore, who conceived the project. “Study of the original art, coupled with multiple language activities inspires the students to write with passion and insight. They come to own their chosen work. They know it inside and out, and from several different perspectives.”