Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots

by Rachel Cabitt

Every Thursday morning during the Fall of 2019, I woke up at 6 am to take the A train to 110th St in Rockaway. I would leave my apartment in the pitch dark, ride over the channel at sunrise, and arrive at PS317 to help teach second-grade art. Upon entering the classroom, the teacher would have the students sit in a circle as she projected a famous work of art on the board. The artists would range from Paul Cézanne, Josef Albers, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Isamu Noguchi. Then, she would ask, “What do you see?”

The students would excitedly shout, “blue!” “circle!” “bird!” and “wave!” Simple answers for intimidating artists, a childlike perspective. Utilizing their sense of sight, they referenced objects they recognized in the works from their own lives in Rockaway.

In a New York Times article, art critic Will Heinrich compared Navy photographer Tyler Thompson’s photographs of the Chinese spy balloon’s recovery to those of works by 19th-century American painter Winslow Homer. Heinrich recognized the similar setting, lighting, and subjects captured in Homer’s heroic paintings. Jeff Rosenheim and Sylvia Yount, two heads at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, drew their own comparisons. Rosenheim mentioning the balloon reminded him of a jellyfish, while Yount referenced the highly staged photographs of Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall.

When crate digging at record stores, my approach to flipping through vinyl is similar to that of my second-grade class and the art connoisseurs. My train of thought spins visually instead of sonically as I move from bin to bin. The other week I entered the Captured Tracks record store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in search of solely blue album covers. My eyes were fixated on the cool color as the weight of vinyl piled up against my chest, drawing connections in my mind like those detective boards in the movies using red string to solve the mystery.

Joni Mitchell's Blue album on a shelf in a record store, with yellow lines connecting it to a picture of the ocean, a painting of the Virgin Mary, and Yves Klein's Blue Monochrome painting.

But even when I might be digging for a specific detail, happenstance occurs, and another cover emerges, catching my attention. In particular, on that Monday afternoon, a compilation album sporting various geometric cutouts on its cover did just that. It reminded me of those children’s building blocks, a book by visual artist Claudia Comte that sits on my studio shelf, and the way Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy plays with shapes.

The SF Sound of Music Club Live album on a wood floor, with blue lines connecting it to Claudia Comte's 40 x 40, a picture of wooden blocks, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's The Olly and Dolly Sisters

Connecting the dots can create a whole picture. But at some points lines can cross, overlap and weave together, further expanding an idea rather than completing a perfect puzzle. No reference is greater than the other. The blue trim painted on a kitchen plate is just as blue as Yves Klein’s Blue Monochrome hanging at the Museum of Modern Art. The circles collaged within Moholy-Nagy’s pieces are just as round as the wooden blocks children use to build towers. Whether the dots live on white walls in a gallery or on the shelf of your home, a line can be drawn between the two.

For the following exercises grab a writing utensil and a piece of paper. Then, become familiar with the below works of art.

a. Henri Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse's The Red Studio, a painting of a studio mostly in red, with paintings and furniture strewn about.

b. Mickalene Thomas, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires

Mickalene Thomas's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noir; three women sit together in the middle of a colorful artwork, gazing towards the viewer.

c. Farah Al Qasimi, The Lunch

Farah Al Qasimi's The Lunch, a photograph of a picnic with lots of fruits and pink and purple picnic blankets.

d. Alex Katz, Red House

Alex Katz's Red House, a painting of a small red house peeking out from a green forest in a yellow field.

e. Ming Smith. Womb

Ming Smith's The Womb, a black and white photograph of two people posing in fighter's stances in front of a pyramid and sphinx.

f. Oscar yi Hou, The Arm Wrestle of Chip & Spike; aka: Star-Makers

Oscar Yi Hou, The Arm Wrestle of Chip & Spike; aka: Star-Makers. A painting of two people clasping their hands together, looking out toward the viewer, against a busy, colorful backdrop.

g. Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace: A gold colored sculpture of two arms intertwined as if in an embrace.

Exercise #1

  1. Pick 1 of the works of art.
  2. Study the art piece and ask yourself, “What do you see?”
  3. List your answers in one column on a piece of paper.
  4. Now, pick an object or scene within your current location.
  5. Study the object/scene and ask yourself, “What do you see?”
  6. List your answers in a second column on a piece of paper.
  7. Compare the two. What details do both columns share in common?
  8. Connect the dots.
  9. Try again with a new object and a new piece of art.

Exercise #2

  1. Pick 2 of the works of art.
  2. Study the first art piece and ask yourself, “What do you see?”
  3. List your answers in one column on a piece of paper.
  4. Now, study the second art piece and ask yourself, “What do you see?”
  5. List your answers in a second column on a piece of paper.
  6. Compare the two. What details do both columns share in common?
  7. Connect the dots.
  8. Try again with a new pair of art pieces.