Las Meninas of Picasso as a model of revision

The website for the Museu Picasso in Barcelona doesn’t load in my school, probably because it is a European website. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be too worrisome for me as I’m generally unconcerned with the work of Pablo Picasso in the planning and teaching of 11th grade English but a teaching idea Yemi Stembridge began to hatch as he stood in the museum studying masterpieces this last summer has me clicking back and forth between Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas and the abstract remixes of that masterpiece created by Picasso.

Stembridge stood in front of Picasso’s work and had epiphanies about how his own public schooling in New York left him with few memories of art class, and how the high cost of visiting a museum in America creates an experience gap for American students with limited means.

Las Meninas
Screenshot from Stembridge’s Tweet from July 15, 2018

Though we hadn’t made the trip to Spain, art teacher Alison Manciu and I wanted to tinker with this teaching idea because the series of works Picasso created based on Las Meninas by Velazquez suggested instructional ideas to us. Manciu imagined ways to help her students understand perspective and abstraction in her drawing class, and I thought the paintings could offer a new tact for presenting the revision process to high school writers.  For me, it is important to give writers a view of writing  in the real world, where adults who write professionally struggle with first drafts, and they embrace creative, personal processes to help them produce writing that has meaning and serves a personal purpose. In the hustle of English assignments and unit planning that sometimes shoehorns writing into grading windows and reading response tasks,  I can inadvertently give them the message that hurried revision of a written piece that amounts to polishing for a teacher audience is all there is.

The quote below begins to explain how my revision unit might gain inspiration from the art.

The series is made up of 58 works: 45 interpretations of the work Las Meninas by Velázquez (isolated figures, heads, groups of characters and interpretations of the whole), the 9 paintings of The pigeons (works about the dovecote and the views that he had from the studio of La Californie in Cannes where he painted the whole series), three landscapes and the portrait of Jacqueline. At the museum we also have the preparatory sketch that was subsequently donated to the museum and that doesn’t form part of the series itself, but it is fundamental for understanding it.

My planning and teaching will be inspired by great art, as well as what I learn in a bustling art classroom.  I’m observing for a week or two to see how Picasso’s Las Meninas pieces inform her teaching of abstraction and perspective. I’ll adapt some drawing lessons from the mini-unit on perspective and abstraction to launch my revision mini-unit. Also I’ll take photos, capture videos, and record conversation with students as they create art under the influence of Picasso’s abstractions. The media I gather will help me illustrate creative possibilities for the revision process.

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