Cambrian: Opinion

Famous paintings given youthful touch with photos in Cambria

Kat Sison as Picasso’s “Dora Maar.”
Kat Sison as Picasso’s “Dora Maar.”

I’m always tickled when someone gets my jokes or cultural references. Halloween being one of my favorite occasions, I had some special accouterments — earrings — that made me laugh. And the young lady at the bank actually got it when I pointed to the eyeball and silver reptile dangling at the side of my head and declared, “Eye of newt!?” Ah, yes! I read ‘Macbeth’ in high school!” Did my heart good.

Zoe MacTavish portrays “Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer. Courtesy photo

Why are the arts important? To play along with some crazy lady’s silly games? Maybe. But, knowing these things makes us feel more a part of the conversation, more engaged in life, dare I say, more intelligent. I know how I feel when people speak of more contemporary plots or images that I am unfamiliar with. Just as important, I believe, is that reading and listening and watching teaches us how to approach our everyday existence. Take a project at Leffingwell High School recently …

Art teacher Nina Margo led a project that was different from any I’d seen. It’s one thing to talk about art appreciation, about the artists’ lives etc. But, to get them to fully understand what might go into creating a masterpiece is a little different. She had students choose from some famous paintings and then re-create them — in photographs.

I always love going out to Leffingwell High School. The kids are so engaged, and they’ve fun stuff happening. So, in the office are hanging prints of some very obvious classics — Mona Lisa, The Scream and six others. Below them are some very convincing re-creations. I asked some of the students what the project was like.

The most important thing they all mentioned was the lighting, trying to get the colors to reproduce, to cast the correct shadows. I thought that was a very astute observation — in all this hustle-and-bustle-now society to take the time to notice such little details. They also enjoyed the costuming and make up, where needed.

They did make the decision to do a smidge of Photoshopping on the backgrounds of a couple because they just could not seem to get close enough to the proper setting. But, they did really, really well! The fact that they have so many more tools at their disposal and can produce a nice piece of art in way shorter time than the old Masters was not lost on them. They did find they appreciated how much thought and time went into each painting and how complicated it could get considering their subjects were often moving and ever-changing.

How do you teach effectively? Engage as many of the senses as possible. Let students take control as much as possible, have a say in the project, have the experience of problem solving together as a team as these students did with makeup and costuming and photographing.

A new way of looking at the details of everyday life. A new way of realizing things work better with more than one head involved. And what a great conversation starter some time down the road, “What is in the background of the Mona Lisa?”

Dianne Brooke’s column appears weekly and is special to The Cambrian. Visit her website at Email her at