03 BEN SHAHN – Leaving Things Out & Adding Things

I lived too far away to spend much lap-time with Dougie, so I wrote him these letters.


Hi Dougie,

Let’s look at some more of Ben Shahn’s drawings.  I like this one but it’s a bit strange.

The boy has only one ear.

Go to a mirror and turn your head to the side a bit. You will see that you too have only one ear. Things change as they turn. A face looks very different from the side than it does from the front.

Remember that a picture of a face is called a “portrait.” A portrait from the side is called a “profile.”

When you see a face half way between the front and the side, that is called a “Three Quarter View.” That’s what you saw in the mirror, when you only had one ear but you still had two eyes.

And that’s what Ben Shahn was drawing when he gave the boy only one ear. 

But the boy has no hair. Why did Ben Shahn leave out the top of his head? Maybe his hair was so short it looked like he had no hair.

Maybe Ben Shahn ran out of paper.

Maybe he didn’t want to show the top of his head for a reason. Maybe he thought the boy was not using the top of his head.  Whatever the reason was, Ben Shahn forced us to look at the boys face, not his hair.

Do you think the boy is standing funny?  

Is he dancing?  Or do you think he might be sitting?  That’s what I think.  Can you see that the boy’s knee on one leg and his ankle on the other leg bend over the edge of something. 

Ben Shahn left out what the boy is sitting on just like he left out part of the head.  

Maybe he is sitting on a bench.  What do you think?

Look at the triple-decker ice cream cone!  Can you tell what the flavors are?


Did you notice that the only color in the whole picture is the ice cream? What did you look at first when you saw this picture? 

What a strange picture this is—a sad boy with a big ice cream cone. Did you ever try to eat when you were sad or angry? How was it?

This drawing is really telling us a story. Most pictures do. But they don’t show the whole story, just one little part of it. It’s fun to guess what the story is. What story would you make up about this picture?

By leaving some things out–the boy’s hair and the bench–and by adding something special–the colors of the ice cream–Ben Shahn got us to look at some things and not others. When you draw a picture, you decide what to put in and what is important. 

Try to draw a picture and then color just one thing, the thing you think is most important.  

Here’s one I did.

I thought the blue awnings were the most important things. The prettiest things.  I liked them so much I drew them twice. I used watercolor paint for the color. You can use crayons, or colored pencils, or whatever you have. You could even paint with grape juice.






About majchr

Majora Christo
This entry was posted in Art, Children & Art, Drawing, Painting and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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