November 30, 2010

The Art and Science of Shadows for SAGES Students

Students see interplay of light and shadows.

The art and science of shadows is on the fall syllabus for Modern Languages and Literatures associate professor Linda Ehrlich’s SAGES seminar, Shadowplay/East and West.

Students visit the Cleveland Museum of Art, listen to guest speakers, analyze films, compare cultural differences in the meaning of the shadow and participate in unusual activities such as making improvisational shadow movements to the inspiring directions of Cleveland Art Prize winner and choreographer David Shimotakahara from the Groundworks dance company. 

So what exactly are shadows?

The technical answer, second-year mechanical engineering major Daniel Kwass says, is a form created when an object blocks light.

Where there’s light, there are shadows, says Surya Ravindran, also an engineering student. Even if invisible, he adds, shadows are always present, but the angle of light may obscure them.

The shadows of science are never more evident than when the Earth, Sun and Moon lie in a straight line to have the earth’s shadow fall on the moon to create a lunar eclipse, says physicist Mano Singham who spoke to the class.

All shadows, caused by an extended light source, have both an umbra (region of no light) and penumbra (region of light), Singham said.

The arts integrate shadow into storylines and use it to enhance mood or create depth. Entertainer Fred Astaire two-stepped across the stage with three of his shadows in Swing Time, as did James Cagney in Man of 1000 Faces.

Ehrlich said she was inspired “to take an ordinary topic, reframe it and explore new avenues of cross-cultural interpretation.”

The idea for the class first came to her 20 years ago when, as a doctoral student at the University of Hawaii Department of Theatre and Dance, she saw a Javanese shadow puppet performance under a moonlit sky and palm trees. She was amazed by the beauty and subtlety of the performance.

Like all SAGES seminars, Ehrlich has integrated speaking and writing into the curriculum, with the assistance of writing instructor Joshua Roiland.

Ehrlich’s students have used their writing skills to create an hourlong script about the scientific and artistic aspects of shadows and light that Cleveland Museum of Art Distance Learning educators will edit, produce and broadcast next spring to fourth-graders from Alberta, Canada.  The SAGES students have designed a companion teacher’s kit and a series of multimedia interactivities to engage children in exercises about shadows.

With the assistance of Dale Hilton, department director of the School and Teacher and Distance Learning Programs, and others in her staff, the students drew from the museum’s wealth of artworks to illustrate the lesson with 15 paintings, photographs, Tiffany stained-glass works and knight’s armor from the museum’s collections. They honed their research skills in the CMA Ingalls Library, with guidance from Matthew Gengler, instruction and outreach librarian.

“The students have risen to the challenge,” Ehrlich reported. “They´ve learned about a wide range of topics—from the horrors of atomic ‘photograms’ to the menacing shadows of Orson Welles in The Third Man to Japanese ‘shadow warriors’ and doubles. What at first seemed a limited subject has become increasingly expansive, even magical.”

Posted by: David Wilson, November 30, 2010 09:04 AM | News Topics:

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