For Grades 6–12
Table of Contents
(American, born Canada, 1912–2004)
The Tree, 1965
Acrylic and graphite on canvas
72 x 72 inches (182.9 x 182.9 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1976
Background Information for Educators
- Explore the technique of meditation while creating art
- Become familiar with the artist, Agnes Martin
- Create a drawing using Agnes Martin’s The Tree as an example
- The Long Curve Presentation
- Drawing materials
- String (optional)
Although Agnes Martin was born in Canada, she is considered to be one of the most influential female artists in American art. Created with pigment and graphite, her abstract paintings are often grid-like in nature, with no one focal point. She often described her creative process as a meditative practice, incorporating her beliefs in Eastern philosophy, specifically Taoism. These beliefs are apparent in many of her images, including The Tree. Martin’s work has been associated with minimalism; however, her ideas were influenced by the Abstract Expressionists while living in New York during the late 1940s and early 1950s, when she created her own version of geometric abstraction. When asked how a viewer should respond to her work, Martin compared it to looking at the ocean: “You just go there and sit and look.” When Martin moved from New York to New Mexico, she took a seven-year break from painting while she built her adobe and log house. She painted again from 1974 until her death in Taos, New Mexico, at the age of 92.
- Explain that artists use a variety of creation techniques, and that today they are going to do a drawing using an artistic process similar to that of Agnes Martin.
- Make your room as dark as you possibly can. Display Slide #3 from The Long Curve Presentation.
- Ask your students to describe what they see. (A grid pattern should be visible on the work. There is a small detail on Slide #4 so that you can imagine what the whole work looks like if you can’t see it well.) Explain Agnes Martin’s process. She first applied a thin layer of white acrylic paint across the whole canvas. Then, by hand, she drew a grid with graphite, often using a piece of string as a guide. Note: It is even better to see the work in person. If you visit the Gallery, ask that it be included in your tours.
- Tell your students the title of the work: The Tree. Ask: Why do you think she named it The Tree? Does the painting remind you of anything else? Why?
- Discuss how Agnes Martin created her paintings while in a meditative state of mind. Ask your students if they know what it means to meditate. (To meditate is to think intently and at length, often for spiritual or healing purposes.)
- Put on a quiet, soothing piece of music, if you can. Encourage your students to get into a comfortable position (perhaps seated on a carpet or in their seats) and read through the Meditation for Youth. Make sure to read through the meditation very slowly, leaving time for the words to make an impression.
- Once you bring your students out of the meditation, have them share how they felt during the exercise.
- Ask your students to close their eyes and concentrate on how they felt during the meditation. Have them take a couple deep breaths before they begin the activity. If possible, dim the lights in the classroom and remove any loud or distracting sounds. You could play the same music as for the meditation if you like.
- Request that your students not speak to each other while they begin their line drawing. They may choose to draw straight (they can opt to use a string as a guide) or curved lines. They don’t have to make the lines be anything. Ask them to draw slowly while concentrating on their lines, attempting not to think about anything but the lines the pencil is making, the smoothness of the paper, and the sound the pencil makes as it goes along the paper.
- Have the students draw for three full minutes if you can—five would be even better and ten would be great! When they are all finished, have them put their pencils down and look at their drawings while concentrating on their feelings from the meditation for at least two minutes. Once the students are done meditating on the drawings, ask them to title their works.
- Display works and titles and have students explain why they chose the titles they did.
Discuss the following quote by Agnes Martin: “Beauty and happiness and life are all the same and they are pervasive, unattached and abstract and they are our only concern. They are immeasurable, completely lacking in substance. They are perfect and sublime. This is the subject matter of art.” Do you agree with Agnes Martin’s views on art? Why or why not?
- New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
- College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 3, 4, 5, 6
- College and Career Readiness Core Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (see Additional Discussion Grades 9–12), 7, 9 (see Additional Discussion Grades 9–12 for the second text), 11 (New York only)
- College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 3 (see Additional Discussion Grades 9–12), 4, 5, 6
- College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing 2
Let’s try a meditation together.
Please close your eyes and take a deep breath in.
Feel your breath inside your neck, then your chest, then your belly.
Hold your breath in your belly for a few seconds before you begin to release your breath very slowly. Make sure you breathe all the air out before you breathe in again slowly.
Again, breathe deeply in and release your breath.
Now imagine a warm summer’s day. Think of how the warm sun feels against your skin. You are walking along a beautiful sandy beach, and in front of you is a warm ocean. There is a gentle warm breeze as you stand looking at the ocean. Birds are flying and making sounds. Imagine seeing the ocean in front of you, blue and calm with very small waves.
Without moving your body, imagine walking slowly into the warm water. As you walk into the water, you notice the temperature and the feel of the water first on your feet, then your calves, then on your thighs, and then on the rest of your body. Stop when the water is deep enough for you to feel comfortable and relaxed. It is almost as if you are feeling the water for the very first time. You feel its wetness, the way it flows through your fingers and how it feels against your skin. Imagine the golden sunshine entering the top of your head and spreading a warm peaceful feeling through your whole self, your body and your mind. Imagine the sound of the water and the birds gently all around you.
Imagine that you are standing still and just feeling the water flowing gently around you.
The little waves are passing by and you are not affected.
Next try and imagine that there is a force or an energy that joins us all together and it is this water. Feel the water joining you in peace and love with everyone in this room who is touching this water just as you are now.
Breathe long, slow deep breaths and feel yourself joining with the water and feeling more and more your connection with the entire ocean.
When you are ready, just for a few moments think about this connection we have with everything, and how it feels. Let your breath relax you, but keep your eyes closed. Let’s spend a minute thinking about the sounds, thoughts and feelings we are having now about this peaceful ocean.
Audio for Younger Students
Audio for High School Students
The Long Curve: 150 Years of Visionary Collecting at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
November 4, 2011–March 4, 2012