A haiku for Van Gogh

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Self-Portrait as a Painter
Date  1887-1888
Place Paris, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
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Slide 1: Slide
EnglishArt and designSecondary Education

This lesson contains 20 slides, with text slides.

time-iconLesson duration is: 45 min

Introduction

The students will write their own haikus, short poems of 17 syllables at most, inspired by Vincent van Gogh paintings.

Instructions

General learning objective
- The class will look at a painting by Vincent van Gogh and describe its atmosphere, or their feelings about it, in short poems of 17 syllables at most.

Materials required
- Pens or pencils, along with several sheets of scrap paper
- Sheets of sturdy paper (A5 format, for example) for writing down the final versions
- Optional: drawing paper (A3, for example), India ink and thin ink brushes 

Optional variations
1. A haiku can also have fewer syllables than the basic 5-7-5 pattern: 5-7-4, for instance, or 4-6-4. Other combinations are also fine, as long as the division into three lines gives the poem a clear rhythm. Usually, no more than 17 syllables are used. You could have the class experiment with different possibilities.
2. You could collect all the haikus into a booklet, with illustrations of the paintings that inspired each one. Or you could have the class make their own illustrations based on the paintings.

Items in this lesson

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Self-Portrait as a Painter
Date  1887-1888
Place Paris, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 1 - Slide

Tell the class: This is a painting by Vincent van Gogh. To tell you what I see in this painting, or what is going on in this painting, I could use a whole lot of words. Or I could keep it very short. Like this...


Go on to the next slide. 

A man with red hair
brushes colour on his face
on a bright canvas.

Slide 2 - Slide

Now read this poem aloud. Ask the class: - What is this type of poem called?  (Answer: It's a haiku, a poetic form that originally comes from Japan. - Does anyone know how a haiku works? - Is it a good poem about this painting? Why or why not? Or is it really about the person who wrote the poem? Or about both?

a - man - with - red - hair
brush - es - col - our - on – his - face
on - a - bright - can - vas

Slide 3 - Slide

Now discuss the structure of the poem. It has three lines, in the pattern 5-7-5: five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables. Explain that you count syllables, not words. If you wish, you can discuss how to hyphenate words: 'co-lour' or 'col-our'? 'brush-es' or 'bru-shes'? ['col-our', 'brush-es', and 'can-vas'  are correct]

A haiku has three lines
with fixed numbers of syllables:
5
7
5

Slide 4 - Slide

Briefly show the class this summary before going on to the next example. If the group already knows about haikus, you could discuss other possible variations with them (see 'Optional variations' above). The writing tool at the bottom of the slide allows you to cross out the numbers and change them.

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title The Harvest
Date June 1888
Place Arles, southern France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 5 - Slide

Continue: Vincent made this painting (The Harvest, 1888) in the south of France. It shows a landscape with farmers bringing in the harvest on a hot day. Vincent later wrote in a letter that his job of drawing and painting was just as tiring as working on a farm. Ask the class: What would it be like if you were in the middle of that landscape, like Vincent? What would you see, hear, feel and smell?

The scent of the earth
on a scorching summer day
tickles my nostrils.

Slide 6 - Slide

Read the haiku with the group Ask the class: Is it a good poem about this painting? Why or why not? Explain that haikus are sometimes about the feeling you have when you look at a painting. Ask a student to divide the words into syllables on the whiteboard. (If you've talked about using fewer syllables, you could ask how to make this haiku shorter. For example, 'The scent of earth – on a hot summer day – tickles my nose', 4-6-4.)

The – green – of – the – fields
The – dis – tant – roof – tops
A – horse – drawn – car – riage
A – cart – full – of – straw
The – blue – hor – i – zon

Slide 7 - Slide

Tell the class: These are examples of first lines for a haiku about this painting. Each one has five syllables. You can each choose a first line (individually or in pairs), and then you'll have five to ten minutes to write the rest of the haiku. Make sure to use the right numbers of syllables. 


This can also be a group exercise.

Haiku hints
  - Take a good look and ask: What do I see? What is happening? What feeling does it give me?
- Will your haiku remind the reader of the painting?
- Three lines, in the pattern 5-7-5

Slide 8 - Slide

Briefly go over this list of the main things to remember when writing a haiku, pointing out that there's no need to answer all the questions. The questions are meant to help the students find words and sentences. If you're using variations on the basic pattern, you can use the drawing tool in the lower right corner to cross out and change parts of the pattern.

The – green – of – the – fields
The – dis – tant – roof – tops
A – horse – drawn – car – riage
A – cart – full – of – straw
The – blue – hor – i – zon

Slide 9 - Slide

While the students are working, leave this slide on the board.

Slide 10 - Slide

Ask several students to read their haikus or write them on the whiteboard. Use the drawing tool to write the poems on the board.


Slide 11 - Slide

Now ask the students to write another haiku (individually or in pairs) based on a different painting by Vincent. They can choose among the paintings on the whiteboard. Then show the individual works, spending about ten seconds on each slide, and ask the students to look closely. Each slide includes a sample haiku in the notes, which you can use as you see fit.

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title The Potato Eaters
Date April - May 1885
Place Nuenen, The Netherlands
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 12 - Slide

A woman pours coffee

four white cups on the table

steaming potatoes


Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title The Yellow House (The Street)
Date September 1888
Place Arles, southern France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 13 - Slide

Under the blue sky

a long black train chugs by

past yellow houses.

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title The Bedroom
Date October 1888
Place Arles, southern France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 14 - Slide

The room is empty

all the doors are tightly shut

the window ajar

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Field with Irises near Arles
Date May 1888
Place Arles, southern France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 15 - Slide

Flowers like butterflies

blue, purple, green and yellow

waving at the town

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Courtesan (after Eisen)
Date  October - November 1887
Place Paris, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 16 - Slide

Japanese woman

in a dazzling kimono

next to frog and toad

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette
Date  January - February 1886
Place Antwerp
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 17 - Slide

Everybody knows

that smoking is bad for you.

The skeleton smiles.

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Garden with Courting Couples: Square Saint-Pierre
Date  May 1887
Place Paris, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 18 - Slide

Young men and women

out for a walk in the park

among the green trees


timer
10:00
- Take a good look and ask: What do I see? What is happening? What feeling does it give me?
- Will your haiku remind the reader of the painting?
- Three lines, in the pattern 5-7-5

Slide 19 - Slide

Have the students choose their paintings and give them about ten minutes to work. They can use the scrap paper for their first drafts. After finishing the haiku, they can copy it over onto the sturdy paper.

Who would like to read aloud?

Slide 20 - Slide

Finally, ask a few students to read their haikus to the class. As each student reads, show the relevant painting on the board, or have the other students guess which painting the haiku describes.