Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Light, mirrors, and the secret of Renaissance artists

Over the past three weeks the children have been learning about human phenomena: how we get information (and sometimes misinformation!) about the world through our senses. The second semester of the Exploratorium homeschool science program, this class is a follow-up to Tinkering from earlier in the spring. The program is run by Ken, teacher extraordinaire and Exploratorium staff member.

Today the focus was on vision, light, and mirrors. We started by exploring how mirrors reflect light, and learning to draw reflections with the help of a handheld mirror:

Then we looked at some very clever mirrors, where we could see everyone else except ourselves:

Ken's artist friend had created a mirror out of thousands of tiny pinheads:

Standing in front of a very large mirror, the children traced the rays of light that came together to create a reflection:

How come some things appear so huge and others so tiny on this big convex mirror?

The study of light, and tricks that can be played with it, dovetailed nicely with our work on drawing from life.

Also, the Renaissance artists were no strangers to the power of mirrors. In his interesting (and controversial) book Secret Knowledge, David Hockney argues the manipulation of light and reflections brought about the disruption in medieval art during the period we now call the Renaissance.

Techniques such as the camera obscura, which were used to produce life-like art, were a carefully guarded secret, thinks Hockney. The BBC made a TV series about it:

In the evening, E and C decided to try their hands - literally! - and practice drawing them from life:

Leonardo Da Vinci: Study of Hands (circa 1474). Source: Wikipedia

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