A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Color Psychology, Naturally

Stivaly Paulino, Wave Hill’s 2017–2018 Kerlin Education Intern, worked with the School Programs and Partnerships team, developing and facilitating science and nature programs for children from kindergarten through high school. She is currently pursuing her Master of Art in Teaching degree at the American Museum of Natural History. 

Stivaly-cropped-moreThe association of green with the natural world is deeply embedded in our minds – and with good reason. The entire first page of a google search for ‘nature’ is filled with green: grassy fields, dense forests and beautiful sunlit parks. Even many natural-ingredient and biodegradable products are labeled as ‘green’ or have green-colored labels. While green is itself a beautiful, natural color (and my favorite color by far) that is very much at the foreground of natural spaces, nature utilizes many other colors to express its vibrant essence. It is the pinks of peonies, reds of cardinals, rich browns of the Earth’s soils, and many, many more. In art, nature is generally expressed in a variety of colors as well.

Working at Wave Hill as an intern for the past nine months, I have seen the cycle of fall, winter rest and spring wake and bloom, as the grounds responded to the change in seasons and subsequently, the changes in colors. Autumn brought on many warm hues, despite the temperature slowly becoming cooler. The reds, oranges and yellows faded from many trees seen on both sides of the Hudson, exposing the rich, dark browns of the woodlands. This shot is of me, on the left, with Samantha Feldman, former School Programs Coordinator & Educator, taken back in February of this year.

Stivaly with Samantha smaller

Winter brought blankets of white snow, melting slowly and keeping us guessing when the last snow would fall. Soon, the small blue-violet hues of blooming Glory of the Snow gave us a gentle reminder that spring was on its way. And while summer hasn’t officially started, every now and then we get a small preview, a typical, blue-skied, bright and sunny day.

When I began my internship at Wave Hill in September, I had the intention of becoming more familiar with nature and plant identification. I was honestly apprehensive about the craft activities, mostly because I had never taught an art-based activity. I thought that if I did exceptionally well in the outdoor, sciences portions of the lessons that the art activity wouldn’t matter as much. That soon proved to be a not-so-great idea.

During our training period, we read an article by Wendy Strauch-Nelson, titled “Reuniting Art and Nature in the Life of the Child.” Strauch-Nelson talks about the impact of educationalist Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852) and the writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) on education and how their models emphasized the importance of nature and art in a child’s development. This inspired contemporary educators such as Richard Louv, who describes that many 21st-century children may suffer from ‘nature deficit disorder’ that leads to attention difficulties, among others. The pedagogical approach modeled by Froebel is heavily emphasized within the School Programs curriculum.

After observing some school programs and participating in a few craft examples, I came to learn that teaching art in connection with a nature-based activity was a lot easier than I had thought it would be. I began to see the process as less directly teaching children how to do art, but more allowing children to express their knowledge through their own art. My only job in that regard was supplying materials, showing how the materials would be used, and standing back to let their creativity and new knowledge flow onto the paper. I was worried that many children would want to paint only green fields and a yellow sun and call it a day, but each and every time I was astounded by the creativity and use of colors to highlight their learning experiences.

Thinking of all the experiences I have had at Wave Hill, learning about the intersection between art and nature was particularly inspiring. As a child, I always thought creating art was fun because there was never a genuinely solid direction or path, but that connection somehow disappeared for me as I got older. Now that I have finished my tenure at Wave Hill, I have reawakened a long forgotten interest that I plan on continuing to explore.

Speaking about the psychology of color, the connection between art and nature, and the importance nature has in everyone’s lives, I think two quotes summarize my thoughts: “Art takes nature as its model” by Aristotle and “Colors are the smiles of Nature” by Leigh Hunt. To me, these quotes reinforce that not only are nature and art interconnected, but that we as people can express our idea of the natural world in the variety of color that we use to represent nature in art.

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