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Assigned seating.

As a first-period warm up, and as a way to reinforce the notion of "nonrepresentational," I gave each student a piece of white 12 x 18" (30.5 x 46 cm) paper. They folded the paper in half. They bent the edges back and creased them again to form an accordion shape. Students put their initials in one of the bottom corners I gave them about ten minutes to draw (using graphite pencil) on only the first section of the paper. The drawing had to be nonrepresentational and at least one line from the composition had to touch the crease. When time was up, students extended the line(s) slightly over the crease it was touching. The paper was then folded so that the drawing could not be viewed, only the line(s) extending into the next section. They passed the paper to another student. The second student used the extended line(s) to draw another nonrepresentational design. (They could not look at the other drawing on the paper.) This process was repeated until each of the four sections had a drawing on it. The paper was then returned to the original student who unfolded the paper to discover the collaborated design.

I heard surprise and curiosity as students commented on their designs and asked to see the compositions of students seated nearby. I asked them questions about nonrepresentational art, as well as questions about balance, unity, and line.


After we reviewed the elements of art and principles of design, I gave each student a small, old chair and a brown grocery bag filled with a few items. They were to create a unified, nonrepresentational design on, around, or extended from the chair. They could only use the items given to them in the bag and as much acrylic paint and papier-mache and/or plastercraft that they wished (and as much newspaper that was needed for support). When they were finished, the chair still had to be functional. Every student received the same items in their bag but some of the sizes of the items varied. The items included wire, a Styrofoam ball, a metal hoop, and a wooden hoop. They also had to bring in one item of their choice to add to the chair. Students used saws to change the shape of their items, and a variety of adhesives to attach objects to the chair.

Using some of the items from the bag, I demonstrated balance, unity, and the other concepts we had talked about. I chose not to show them any examples from nonrepresentational artists. I talked about papier-mache versus plastercraft and showed them examples of both.


Because our class periods are eighty minutes long, students still had some time to work. Students grabbed their chairs and materials and went right to work. During the next four classes, students came to class enthusiastic about the assignment. They were helping, giving advice, and critiquing each other throughout the whole process.


Students chose their own design to form a unique, nonrepresentational, yet functional, chair. Some students chose to cut up the Styrofoam ball; others chose to keep it whole. Some chose to cut apart the wire and wooden hoops; other chose to papier-mache them. Some chose to paint emphasizing line; others chose to blend the colors.


For closure, I thought a debriefing session would be more beneficial than a class critique, since peer critiques had been ongoing, Students received a worksheet with questions such as: How did you feel while you were doing this piece of artwork? What can you apply from this experience to the "real world?" How did you interact with the people around you during this assignment? By filling this form out before discussion, they had time to think about their answers.

Students then shared their responses. Most stated that they were more relaxed. They knew it didn't have to look like anything special but had to be unified and balanced. One student mentioned that she thought she used her feelings more than her brain. When asked how this experience related to the real world, students commented: "You don't have to do things like everyone else to be cool," "You have to take what you get," and "Things in life aren't always laid out clearly, but you have to deal with them anyway."

The experience provided valuable life lessons that will be with them for years to come.


Students create artworks that use organizational principles and functions to solve specific visual arts problems.

Kay M. Reist is an art teacher at Elizabethtown Area High School in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:High School
Author:Reist, Kay
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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