It's all done with dots

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When you go to the park, what do you like to do? Do you fish, row a boat, sail a boat, pick little flowers, walk your dog (or pet monkey), play a trombone, knit, sit and watch other people doing things? A writer who saw this painting the first time it was shown in public 100 years ago in Paris counted 50 people in it, and he called them life-size. In a sense they are all life-size because it is 7 feet high and 10 feet wide. The people in the front of the picture, which artists call the ``foreground,'' are the same size as real people. When we look across a park or down a street, people appear smaller and smaller the farther away they are. Artists call this ``perspective.''

The writer saw all different types of people, young and old, dressed up and in working clothes. There are even soldiers in uniform. Although the painter, Georges Seurat, made them look mostly like cut-out silhouettes, there is somehow a natural liveliness to the scene.

Georges did not always draw figures like that. He has beautifully shaded and rounded drawings. But he wanted to make pictures showing the ideas he had gotten from geometry. The writer remarked that these figures in ``Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte'' looked like someone had just told them, ``Stand up straight!''

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Once Georges became interested in painting, he was able to go to art school and follow his career. His parents provided this for him so he did not have to struggle to get started as did some other famous artists. He was shy and never spoke much about his family or his feelings to his artist friends. But he would explain the theories on color and light that he read about in various books.

If you went up close to the painting, you would see it is all tiny dots of different colors. The artist wanted to show that small bits of pure color can blend in our eyes as we look at them without his mixing, say, red and yellow to make orange on his palette. When he discovered this, he became so excited that he painted colored dots all over the surface of this big canvas even after he thought it was finished. He painted in a border of variously colored dots all around it. His type of painting is called ``pointillism,'' coming from the same root as our word ``point.''

Using colored markers, we can see how this is done without the effort Georges had to put in. You could paint a red ball by filling in a circle with red dots, not too close together. Yellow dots over the top make a sunlit area (a ``highlight'') and blue dots on the bottom a shadow. When the dots are mixed just right, the ball will be ``luminous.'' That is, it will seem to give out light from itself. If grass is put around the ball using the same idea, the colors will change each other and continue to glow. And this is how this odd way of painting makes things look the way they do on a bright summer day with sunshine sparkling on the water in a park on an island.

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