Teaching and learning with Kasimir Malevich – By Francesco Carelli  ( and Matteo ), Professor of Family Medicine, Milan , Rome

Some months ago, on London Journal of Primary , vol. 7, issue 3, pages 59-60, you all  happened to find ( and, I hope, also have read ) the article of mine “ There was …a goat ! Impressions of learning from a young visitor to a recent Marc Chagall exhibition in Milan “.

It  concerned  a visit with my grandchild Matteo to an exhibition concerning Chagall. At the end of this article you were invited to consider these questions:  “ (…) Does this small example demonstrate that very young people can be introduced to, involved and interested in matters not usually considered suitable for them ? Do we believe such young people are not interested in or cannot be introduced to great art ? What , anyway, is “ interest “ ? How can we be sure there is none ? What signs of interest might we see in such a young  person, and how can we strive to both induce it and maintain it over time ? How to maintain  memories to as to sustain interest for further discoveries?  These questions interest Grandpa greatly (…) hoping to teach Matteo by stimulating his interests (….)”.

So…how to maintain memories for sustain further discoveries ? Here we try to find   an answer with a second round , introduced by a tale.

One hundred years ago there was a wizard, with a little devil as helper. One day, the little devil suggested that the wizard could become a great painter. With his magic wand he put shapes and  colours  on the canvas, moved a red spot here, a yellow circle there, but notwithstanding his work, the final result was horrible ! a disgusting bulk of colours contrasting one against the others !  The angry wizard hid the colours into a black cube.      Kazimir, a Russian peasant, found in his field a black square and inside it he found coloured circles, squares, rectangles, and started to put them together, studying which could be the best combination. So, he produced beautiful pictures that made him one of the most famous painters in the world.

This was the didactic introduction  I made for a particular student, my four years old grandson  named Matteo, during our visit to the exhibition “ Kazimir Malevich one hundred years after the black square “ at the  Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Bergamo.

So, a method to teach was “ Kazimir and the conquest of colors “.

Another method  of teaching  is to find the opposites: Kamizir painted the country, the workers. Among his most remarkable works is the isolated  red house without doors and windows ( also in this case he returns to the scheme of square ), but he created also the Architekton “ Jota “, an architectural model imagined for a future city. At the same time,  we can speak about the ways, habits, ideas  of the past and the new possible and future developments ( in life as in medicine ).

As in medicine, we must  go beyond  the appearances: in Malevich  when  look at “ the black cross “, we should  understand  that it is not more than the association or grouping of  five squares blacks  ( or   wishbones )    and four white squares.  When we look at a patient and visit and let him / her  speak, are we able the see all these different aspects, to see all the components, all the differnt comorbidities and concurrent causes  realizing the uniqueness of that patient ?

In teaching  our students, we push and encourage   and motivate them, for instance,  asking  how they feel about  themselves  in  situations they have to face .  Adapting this method to Matteo, observing Malevich’s works, I asked him : “  what colour do you feel  today ? “ “ did you ever feel yourself a black square ? “ , “ what would make you feel like a red circle ? “.

When we teach  our students, we act to create “ role- plays “, to form groups in contrast each other , each other  prepared to defend an idea or a position about what they are learning or seeing.       So, for Matteo “ make square “ (as the Malevich’s squares)  means  joining forces to defend own ideas. We can divide into  two, me and you,   create  square for defense, make a triangle or a wedge to go on the  attack, join forces making a circle…or a solid defense through  a new square, incorporating circles and triangles.

“ The head of farmer   “ is a key opera  for Matteo ,  from which he got ( and learned ) the most of  the  philosophy of  Malevich..  Matteo  has seen  the work  and  took  a white  sheet  with only  checkerboard  contours  of the  face  where to put the colours. Here  he is been able to  enter  colours as he liked or he learned and understood . Then he was pushed  to cut the work done along  and,  combining different pieces like  a jigsaw  puzzle, he  was able to create new  positions or  new compositions (….creativity , imagination step ) .

At the end,  Matteo went to  the  great hall where the exhibition’s curators, had created for the  first time the atmosphere of the opera “ Victory on  the Sun “ one of the most important works in Russian  Cubofuturist  Theater ”.  Now, he was in front of the theatrical figures drawn and designed   by Malevich , for the first time reproduced  life-size  in that great room.  What was hypothetical ,  as seen in costumes drawn  in  pencil  and seen in frames, was now the reality , mannequins with the most fantastic costumes, each one different, as in medicine when the student sees for the first time the real patients , each  with its own  large and different problems.

Matteo was really involved all the time, even listening  to the tape and did  a lot of questions.

He has learned a lot, and has explained  how the artist,  at beginning painted figures, to switch  to triangles, circles and squares, to return to the figures ….but many of these figures , for a time, were painted as empty  faces ..without eyes and mouth and nose . And remember, Matteo was impressed by  the straight and long  nose painted for the head of the farmer.

He asked me the reason for  the empty faces . Would you have been  able to answer him this question ?  ready to find an explanation to the  acute observation  of your  student ?