Aurora Borealis: A Painting by Frederic Edwin Church
More than meets the eye...
Happy Monday Friends!!
Take a long look at the painting above by Frederic Edwin Church, then think about the following questions with a parent or a friend:
What do you think is going on?
Why do you say that?
What more can you find?
Artists often have more to tell us than we think. When trying to figure out what an artist was trying to say with a painting, it is important to know what was happening in the world around them (get context) when they created their artwork! Take a look at the label that is hanging next to this artwork at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
During the Civil War, the auroras--usually visible only in the north---were widely interpreted as signs of God's displeasure with the Confederacy for advocating slavery, and of the high moral stakes attached to a Union victory. Viewers understood that Church's painting of the Aurora Borealis (also known as the northern lights) alluded to this divine omen relating to the unresolved conflict.
The Civil War defined America and forever changed American art. American artists of this era could not depict the conflict using the conventions of European history painting, which glamorized the hero on the battlefield. Instead, America's finest painters captured the transformative impact of the war. Through landscapes and genre paintings, these artists gave voice to the nation's highest ideals and deepest concerns — illustrating a time that has been described as the second American Revolution.
Smithsonian American Art Museum: Commemorative Guide. Nashville, TN: Beckon Books, 2015.
Now what do you think?
Did your opinion about this painting change at all after reading its wall label?
The artist was using this painting as a way to show his feelings about the Civil War that happened in the United States of America from 1861-1865. He believed that the heavens were displeased with the state of the county at the time, and they showed their displeasure through the Northern Lights.
What are the Northern Lights?
Today, there are scientific explanations that tell us why the aurora borealis occur. But our ancestors believed in beautiful legends and myths about the lights. Some believed they were a signal of change or a sign of impending doom. In Norse mythology, when the lights were red, it was a warning to prepare for battle. Ancient Norwegians believed the lights warned of harsh, cold weather, while many Inuit cultures viewed the aurora as a sign of warming temperatures. Some Inuit believed the lights were caused by spirits playing a game of soccer with the skull of a walrus. Aurora borealis has been defined as fires of ancestors, angry gods and dead enemies by cultures for thousands of years. In the past century, scientists have begun to answer the questions that have so often been asked.
Explore.org will be live streaming Aurora Borealis tonight!! Click the button below to watch the colors dance across the sky in real time.
Read the Legend of the Northern Lights by Seth Adam Smith
to hear another story about Aurora Borealis!
(click the button below)
Here's all you'll need:
- Black or dark paper
- Colorful chalk
(If you do not have dark paper or want to try a different variation of this, you can create this art with sidewalk chalk in your driveway or on a chalk board in your home!)
Got your supplies? Great! Let's get started...
First, we will pick out a grey or white chalk and create snowy mountains. Aurora borealis appears best from the north pole, where there is always snow!
Thank you for learning and creating with us today, see you here tomorrow!!