8 Year Old Girl, 6 Month Old Weed, 1974
Robert Cumming, American, born 1943
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 5/8 × 7 5/8 in. (24.4 × 19.4 cm) Sheet: 9 13/16 × 7 3/4 in. (24.9 × 19.7 cm) Mount: 19 7/8 × 15 7/8 in. (50.5 × 40.3 cm)
Museum purchase funded by Louisa Stude Sarofim
Habits of Mind
- UNDERSTAND BIAS Understand assumption and various points of view / empathy
Shedding Light on Photography
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Explore point of view in photography.
• Create photographs or black-and-white drawings that utilize different points of view.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Think of the expression, “growing like a weed.” Cumming takes this common phrase and interprets it literally to show the error inherent in that expression. He stages the photograph to illustrate his point and presents it in a deadpan manner. It really doesn’t matter if the weed is six months old. The juxtaposition of the girl and the weed, together with the title, is enough to make the viewer question the truth of a common phrase. Cumming recalls a story from his childhood that may be the inspiration for this photograph:
When I was around 8 or 9, I found this funny little plant growing by our fence out back. I watered it a lot and it grew really fast. I was sure it was a sunflower or corn or something. It grew to about 10 feet high, and by then it was apparent that it was a weed.
While this may look like a casual photograph, Cumming carefully composed this work to emphasize the differences between the girl and the weed. The girl and the plant are in the center, placed against a plain white wall and framed on either side by wooden doors. The contrast in the heights of plant and girl is emphasized by the shadows they cast against the wall. The artist also focuses on the differences in textures among the plant, clothing, bricks, and wood.
Cumming usually photographs ordinary objects from unusual angles, forcing the viewer to see things in a new way. Throughout his work Cumming has focused on the tension between the abstract and the material, the ethereal and the mundane, the ironies in life. He says, “You scoop up a lot of fragments of reality – the motion of a hand, a conversation here, a sound of something, the look of something – the little pieces. And you squeeze them out in a different form.”
Robert Cumming was born in 1943 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Art and a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has worked in many media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, written narrative, video, and photography. Cumming finally chose photography as his medium because it seemed to allow him what he felt was his greatest artistic freedom.
Charles Hagen, “Robert Cumming’s Subject Object,” Artforum 21 (Summer 1983), p. 41.
• Study and describe the three photographs. Discuss the subject of each.
• Discuss point of view in each photograph, noting that one was taken from above, one from below, and one at the same level as the subject. Why did each artist choose a particular point of view?
• How does point of view change the viewer’s perception of the size and shape of objects in the photographs?
• Have students create three photographs or black-and-white drawings, each with a different point of view.
(see Art Lesson: Exploring Point of View)
• Display the students’ work with the three focus works of art. Have students explain why a particular point of view was chosen for each subject. Compare and contrast student work with the focus works of art.
Resources Available to Order
The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.
The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.