Talking Back to Picasso
by Tara Ebrahimi
With the Seattle Art Museum’s temporary display of hundreds of pieces of art by the incomparable Pablo Picasso (borrowed from the Picasso museum in Paris), SAL and WITS couldn’t let the occasion pass without taking advantage of the once-in-a-life-time opportunity. Students from all over Seattle had the chance to come to SAM and enjoy the artwork early in the morning, before the throngs of museum-goers arrived. As part of their morning at the museum, they worked with writers and poets in the community who volunteered to lead groups of students through the museum. Each writer chose three pieces to focus on and use as a jumping-off point for guided writing. The end result? Some pretty fantastic writing that the students could work on and revise after their museum experience. I was lucky enough to spend four Wednesdays with students from four different high schools.
I chose to work with three interesting pieces: “The Frugal Repast,” “La Minotauromachy,” and a photo of the student’s choice from a gallery of photos both of Picasso and by Picasso. Other writers chose some better-known pieces, such as The Portrait of Dora Maar, Weeping Woman, and La Celestina. Whatever the artwork, the writers created intriguing exercises and used their great ideas to, in turn, inspire great writing from the students. For “The Frugal Repast,” my exercise asked students to write a narrative of what happened before and after the scene drawn by Picasso. What resulted were brief, but continuous narratives that told the story of a man and a woman who, for whatever reason, face away from each other in the piece. Every student had a different story: one told the tale of a couple who went their separate ways after the miscarriage of a child. Another student showed a husband and wife living on the streets, broken apart by poverty, but still trying to take care of one another.
For “La Minotauromachy,” the students wrote the inner monologues of one of the many characters portrayed in the scene. Some chose to write from the perspective of the maimed female bullfighter and how she attempted to take on the minotaur. Others wrote from the point of view of a child holding a candle, who many interpreted as attempting to bring light to the grisly scene. After, they were prompted to write from the perspective of the minotaur, and many created a sympathetic and misunderstood character.
The third and final activity took place in the hallway of photos, where students chose their own photo to focus on. Once they chose the image, I guided them through the step-by-step process of writing a poem. They used detail, metaphor, imagery, and interpretation to create some beautiful poems. Most students enjoyed this activity the best, since it afforded them the freedom to choose their own piece, and it allowed them to work with metaphor. Not to mention that the photographs are a real glimpse into Picasso’s life.
One of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of the experience was discussing the art with the students. Their observations, interpretations, and attention to the most minute details were really incredible—they opened my eyes to things I had never considered. The five weeks of the collaborative effort was an exciting opportunity to interact with the art, the writing, and most importantly, the kids. Getting high schoolers thinking about art and writing was rewarding, and of course, really fun.
Below are some of the written works inspired by the Picasso exhibit:
I wish my head to appear not round, yet symmetrical.
Don’t make it too round, or too long.
My face should be plain, not out of the ordinary.
Pretend you are a ghost, hiding in the shadows.
The body to be in a tense posture.
As if they were self-conscious.
The background is gloomy like the bi-polar Seattle skies.
With the things you choose to add.
It doesn’t really matter to me.
Also, a window, peering out into the past
with the grief leaking through the eyes.
Some final recommendations:
I would like to appear emotionless.
With a hand laid gently on my shoulder,
not knowing where he’s coming from.
by Kobe, Franklin High School
TO PAINT THE ARENA WITH THE RED OF ROSES
I call you Bullfighter
and not Matador.
Matadors paint the arena
of the bull.
They wave their
capes in swollen victory
as the angry cow
Matadors receive roses, thrown by the audience,
red like the blood
that painted the arena.
Bullfighters paint the arena
They wave their capes
as they fall to the ground
and let it cover their blank
Bullfighters receive roses
thrown by the mourners
red like the blood
that painted the arena.
by Helen, Chief Sealth High School
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE MINOTAUR
I have been told to kill the maiden,
and all the innocent souls
that get involved:
I’ve been taught
that I am wrong—
the way to want such
some may go against me,
but ‘tis not me
they truly fear—
their wild imaginations
you only see
my face portrays.
I may have been found wrong
but it’s the only way I know—
so I snuff out the light,
kill the maiden,
with my day.
by Audrey, Chief Sealth High School
Bright pink shoes
with neon shoelaces
and shining blue shirt
posing in front
with a big white smile
see that the pink shoes are worn and dirty
shoelaces are tightly wound neon rope
orange pants are stained
shining blue shirt is handed down
her smile is actually a grimace.
by Domenica, Chief Sealth High School