High School Art Activities With Symmetry

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Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man is a classic example of a study in symmetry.
Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man is a classic example of a study in symmetry.

Symmetrical designs exist everywhere, and art projects in symmetry develop both the artistic and the mathematical skills of high school students. Leonardo da Vinci pioneered the art and science of symmetry, and studying his diagrams and drawings is a good exercise for students to start thinking about symmetry. From there, students can explore the world, looking for examples of symmetry and inspiration for their art.

  1. Nature

    • Leaves and other natural objects can be photographed for a symmetry exhibit.
      Leaves and other natural objects can be photographed for a symmetry exhibit.

      The natural world is filled with examples of symmetry things such as leaves, trees, ice crystals and blades of grass. During art class, students can head out with digital cameras and walk around the school grounds or nearby park. Have them take photos of anything they see that is symmetrical. Within minutes, they should have dozens of images. They can open these images in a photo editing program such as Photoshop and study the symmetry of each image, finding the axis, sketching the outline of the object and adjusting the color and brightness to highlight the symmetrical elements. They can then print these edited images on high-quality photo paper and matte and frame them for a photo exhibit on natural symmetry.

    Architecture

    • Arches are one kind of expression of symmetry in architecture.
      Arches are one kind of expression of symmetry in architecture.

      Architecture often relies on symmetrical elements, and even high school buildings will yield plenty of examples, from arches and doors to windows and walkways. Send students out with sketchbooks to draw with a pencil some of these symmetries in and around the school. When they return to the classroom, have them flesh out their drawings, tinker with them and recreate them from different angles and perspectives. Viewing other drawings and comparing notes can be useful, especially since all the students will have interpreted similar symmetrical elements of the school differently, incorporating their own artistic perspectives. After completing this project, the students will never look at the school in the same way again, and some of them might be inspired to explore further the world of architectural design.

    Quilt Blocks

    • Designing a quilt block gives high schoolers a chance to understand how symmetry works in arts and crafts.
      Designing a quilt block gives high schoolers a chance to understand how symmetry works in arts and crafts.

      Most high school students have had little or no experience quilting. This craft, however, has much to teach them about symmetry. Students can study quilt designs at a quilt exhibit or craft show, look at quilt books and even bring in some of their own family heirlooms to analyze. A local quilter can be brought in to talk to the class about the process of designing and making quilts. Students can create a single quilt block by using graph paper and copying an existing pattern from a quilt, book or other template. They can then add their own flourishes and elements. They can use inexpensive quilting software in class, such as Quilt Design Wizard, to play with different patterns, colors and styles. The assignment can end with creating a quilt block design on paper, or it can be extended so that they actually cut fabric and stitch the blocks. These quilt blocks, either in paper or fabric form, can then be exhibited as a quilt block collection.

    Mandalas

    • Mandalas are colorful expressions of symmetry and wholeness.
      Mandalas are colorful expressions of symmetry and wholeness.

      Mandalas are beautiful and colorful expressions of cosmic wholeness and unity. Based on a Sanskrit word that can be roughly translated as "circle," mandalas are often created in colored sand that is swept away after the mandala is created, in order to illustrate impermanence. Mandalas are a way to teach about symmetry and its significance in various cultures, and students will enjoy learning about the history of this art form. For this project, have the students study examples of mandalas, and instruct them to write an interpretation and analysis of mandalas that particularly interest them. Each student can then create a mandala, first drawing and coloring it and then creating it in sand.

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