Teaching Ideas

Early Learning

For Ages 3-5

  • What do you notice in this painting?
  • What is the same or different between this painting and Stuart Davis' Electric Bulb (1988.59)?
  • Do you think they were made by the same artist or a different artist? Why?
  • This was painted by Gerald Murphy. Murphy kept a notebook that he carried everywhere with him. As ideas for paintings came to him, he would jot them down in his notebook and he would check them off when they were completed. Murphy’s notebook entry for Razor states: “Razor, fountain pen, etc. in large scale nature morte big match box.”
  • Show the children a store-bought razor and a matchbox and have them compare the objects to the painting. What changes did Murphy make in his portrayal of these everyday objects?
  • Murphy’s early paintings celebrated the industrial age and the power of machinery. Boatdeck, a painting from 1923 that has been lost, showed the smokestacks of an ocean liner and was 18 feet high! Later paintings, like Razor, focus on everyday items arranged in unique and interesting ways.
  • Murphy found pleasure in observing the details of everyday objects. He once said, “I seem to see in miniature detail, but in a giant scale.”

Encouraging Dialogue

For Students K-12

  • Think about shapes and layers as you look at Razor. What shapes do you recognize? Imagine this painting as a collage of various shapes. What shapes are layered on top of one another.
  • Consider the scale of the objects in Razor. Imagine that Gerald Murphy painted the objects their actual size. How would this change the impact of the painting?
  • Notice the way the colors are related to the shapes. Can you see areas where color contrasts suggest depth?
  • Look closely at the razor again. The artist has painted this object as it looks from many different angles. Can you see that the cylinder of the handle is shown from the side, but the ends are shown head on?
  • Describe Murphy’s painting style. Commerce and advertising were on the rise during the 1920s. What qualities of this painting look like an advertisement?
  • Murphy’s Razor presents consumer products of the 1920s that represented the “modern American man.” What popular products today might represent the “modern American man”? What popular products today might represent the “modern American woman”?

Making Connections

For Students K-12

  • Compare Razor to Gerald Murphy’s painting Watch (1963.75.FA), also in the DMA’s collection. How are they similar in style, subject matter, or technique? How are they different?
  • Compose and draw a still life with popular present-day consumer products. What products did you choose, and why did you choose them? How will you arrange and present these products in your still life?
  • Look closely at Razor. How would you describe it? Think about the composition, objects represented, title, scale, colors, line quality, etc. Create a list of words and ideas that you can associate with Razor. Look at your list of words and come up with another title for this work of art. Discuss your title choice with a classmate.
  • Murphy and his wife Sara inspired others by their life choices, their joy, their love of their children, and their passion for living a “good life,” which included lots of friends, art, music, theater, dressing up, and play. Write an essay on one of the following topics: [1] What does living the “good life” mean to you? Emphasize a life rich in areas other than material goods and wealth. How can you be “rich” beyond money? [2] How has someone you know and admire created a “good life”?