Arts & Activities  
      September Student Page      

      Concept, Composition, Confidence, Contrast, Color Harmony, Character, Courage      
      By Dan Bartges      
      Assignment 1 In A Series Of 10: CONCEPT      

What does it take to create a good painting? And how can you harness those qualities for your own artwork? To find out, hop aboard!

Each month during this school year, we'll explore seven key ingredients found in most good paintings. More importantly, you'll learn how to inject those seven qualities into your own artwork. As a result, you'll soon see big improvements in your paintings!

HOW IT WORKS Each month, simply read about the two featured paintings on this Web page. Next, download and print the "Quiz Me!" sheet, write in your answers to three questions and hand it in to your art teacher. The correct answers will be shared with you on next month's Student Page.


"What should I paint?" It's the all-important question that begins every painting. Always spend some time thinking before you decide what to paint. Why? Because a good painting takes time and effort. So it makes sense to choose a subject or concept that grabs your interest and holds it.

Consider painting something that appeals to you personally. Maybe it's posing your skateboard in a particular way, your best friend, a family member, the street you live on, your pet, your soccer shoes or a musical instrument. Maybe you'll want to paint your version of an awesome photograph you saw in a magazine.

Many famous painters, such as Andrew Wyeth, had favorite models they painted time and again. Claude Monet enjoyed painting the beauty of the French countryside. J.M.W. Turner and Winslow Homer concentrated on the powerful forces of nature.

Pablo Picasso found new ways to depict human emotions. Some artists specialize in portraits of children, others of senior citizens, of horses, of automobiles, of birds.
There's a successful painter in New York City who only does paintings of bicycles!
Or ... consider creating a completely original painting from your own imagination. Think how exciting it must have been for the contemporary artist Alexis Rockman to have envisioned the painting "Only You". Not only was Rockman's vision of a forest fire completely original and eye-catching, it also powerfully communicates the artist's deep concern about man's mistreatment of our environment. (To see more Rockman paintings, visit The painting's title comes from the U.S. Forest Service's slogan, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires!," which dates back to 1947.

      Alexis Rockman (American; b. 1962). "Only You", 2008. Oil and resin on wood; 54" x 96". ©Alexis Rockman. Photograph courtesy of the artist.      
      Here's another painting based upon a highly imaginative concept." The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge" is by 19th-century American artist Thomas Cole. If you enlarge the image, you'll see Noah's ark in the middle and a dove flying towards it and, in the bottom-center region, a skull.      
      Thomas Cole (English-born American; 1801–1848). "Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge", 1829. Oil on canvas; 35.75" x 47.75". Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Katie Dean in memory of Minnibel S. and James Wallace Dean. Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program.      

What's this all about? Cole created this painting 182 years ago, and it conveys his conviction that America was then the new Eden, pure and untainted by the mistakes and corruption of Europe. The painting glows with Cole's belief in America's potential, and his optimism for our country's future.

But what if your teacher or someone else chooses the subject for you? If the subject is assigned, then take time to figure out something about it that engages your interest. Maybe it's the object's shape, its color, the shadow it casts or something it symbolizes for you. Apply your imagination. Discover something that inspires you, then express it in paint.

      QUIZ ME!
Click here to download September Quiz Me! document
      Author: A full-time artist since 1996, Dan Bartges is the author of the book, "Color Is Everything," and two books on sports, "Winter Olympics Made Simple" and "Spectator Sports Made Simple." Visit his website at      


Visiting an art museum is a terrific way to examine how artists get ideas and create works of art. You can also visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) online:
In "Meet Me at Midnight," SAAM's interactive adventure, an artwork comes alive and wreaks havoc in the museum galleries overnight. Students choose a friend—a character who has been separated from its artwork—to put the mixed-up museum back to normal, learning art concepts along the way.–Carol Wilson, SAAM


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