Romare Bearden was born in 1911 and became famous for his amazing collages inspired by the people and music in Harlem.
“Romare Bearden, one of the most important African American artists of the twentieth century, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and raised in Harlem, New York. As was the case for another African American artist, Jacob Lawrence, Bearden grew up in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s—a literary movement of notable writers and poets that centered on black culture.
Bearden studied art in New York during the 1930s, asking in an important essay that African American artists give voice to their own distinctive experiences. Gaining recognition during the 1940s and achieving international status by the 1960s, he made his memories of life in the South and in Harlem the basis of his art. His art and that of Lawrence parallel the spirit of American Scene Painting, which in the 1930s recorded and commemorated regional identities, most especially that of the Midwest. In the 1960s, Bearden experimented with a variety of collage techniques that became his signature medium. His later style captures the syncopation and liveliness of American jazz, playing upon caricature and the fragmentation of forms associated with Cubism.”
After watching this wonderful video made by Picturing America, students learned about improvisation.
Romare Bearden was something of a Jazz musician himself. Jazz and art were one to him. My musician friend visiting from Nashville, Kevin Knapp, came into our classroom and introduced the concept of improvisation. Students had been discussing call and response as well as improvisation in music class as well. Kevin explained that improvisation is like a conversation. One person says something and the other person responds. But when you respond it has to make sense, it has to relate to what the first person said. So you need to listen to each other so the responses make sense with what has already been said. You also need to l leave space for each person to respond. If you talk over one another, you aren’t really listening.
Students practiced call and response improvisation with Kevin. Kevin ‘spoke’ something on his bass and a student responded with a rhythm clapped out or a scat. Students soon experienced the importance of listening and giving each other the space to respond.
Students began creating their own collages in partners. One student would cut out an image and glue it down. Their partner was to then cut out another image to glue down but in response to what the first person glued down. In this way, their art became a beautiful, improvised conversation.