One of the ways we can engage students in a work of visual creativity is to provide a connection between an idea and their own lives. Art is much about ideas and ways of expressing ideas. Examples include the sacred in everyday life, status and significance in portraiture, the confusion of the urban experience and many more.
I visited a photography exhibit recently of work by a young man where he photographs the most forbidding landscapes; desert dunes, snow drifts, the ridge lines of mountains against the sky. The consistent theme in his work he felt was “always being in that narrow space just between light and shadow”
“The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, my be fettered by the spells of our ‘Natural Magic’ and may be fixed forever in the osition which it seemed only destined for a single instant to occupy”
Shadows are the most ephemeral and impermanent aspect of a landscape or portrait. To fix a shadow in place is an important skill; to use a shadow to suggest something more interesting through exaggeration provides a way to imbue and idea into an art form. Shadows carry additional meaning in our culture.
Consider the film L’Année deriére à Marienbad, directed by Alain Resnais. The famous scene where figures cast towering shadows while the towering bushes do not. The meaning being, that the unacknowledged looms over everything else in the film.
Exploring the shadow self or the shadow side of ourselves is a subject that adolescents in particular can respond to, adolescence is famously a period of alienation and inquiry. Adult students can also desire for this exploration of shadow; type “Shadow self” or “Shadow side” into your favorite search engine and the internet will reveal a host of resources for explaining and elaborating on the idea of the shadow in the human personality and spiritual search.
For example; many references to the strength of the shadow side can be found in Jungian psychology where Jung postulated that individuals banished the aspects of their personality they were unhappy with and refused to acknowledge into a shadow side. These shadow aspects are then projected on to others for punishment, allowing the projecting personality the opportunity to deal with things they dislike about themselves by attacking those things in others.
It is from the theories of Jung and the shadow self that we receive the ideas of projection. In a work of art, the artist can explore the various meanings of “Shadow”.
To discuss with your students the idea of the shadow before embarking on the representation of the shadow in painting, drawing and photography, places the idea of the shadow at the center of the project.
As at the beginning of this essay we said that an idea, the idea, is the beginning and the purpose of art is to convey the ‘idea’ in a visual, non-rational and intuitive way. We would encourage the student to consider, after a review of some of the literature, what might the shadow mean to them. Do they consider themselves forever caught on the line between light and shadow? Do they have a shadow side, an aspect of their personality they seek to hide and if so, how might they reveal this visually.