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Boxed & ready to go.

French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp was one of a group of artists who created art that ridiculed contemporary European culture and traditional art forms. It is said that the movement got its name when one of the artists randomly opened a dictionary and blindly pointed to the word dada. The word made no sense at all but the artists considered it an appropriate name for their work that commented on a culture that (so this group of artists thought) had lost its meaning and purpose.

Duchamp presented many absurd and bizarre objects as works of art. He took a bicycle wheel, mounted it to a stool and called it Bicycle Wheel. His Fountain is a porcelain urinal and his Bottle Rack is simply a bottle rack made of galvanized iron. This type of sculpture became known as "readymades'--artwork created with mass-produced items that are already made.

Marcel Duchamp's Museum in a Suitcase (Box in a Valise, 1935-41) is a ready-made that is often referred to as a "portable museum." This box consists of miniature replicas, photographs, and color reproductions of Duchamp's work.

Aha! A great idea for a high school lesson plan!

Inspiration for Creativity

The curriculum for my high school Advanced Art II class deals with creativity--learning, enhancing, and experimenting with individual creativity. This class is an upper-level art class and consists of eleventh and twelfth grade students. Most will continue their studies to further their skills in an art field. Most will need to prepare a portfolio for college entrance. Duchamp's remark, "Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase" was a great inspiration of creativity for my students as they prepared their portfolio for a class (and possibly, a college) presentation.

A Portfolio in a Box

Students were to use a ready-made to showcase their artworks over the past years. They viewed Duchamp's Museum in a Suitcase and brainstormed ideas they could use to present their work. They were encouraged to go to yard sales and the local flea market to look for a treasure to house their work.

Requirements for the assignment were to include at least five to ten pieces created over the past few years in art--from in school and out of school classes (these pieces could be the original work or be photographed); to link the "box" to the artwork in one way or another; to find a "ready-made" that was easily carried and transported (would it fit in their car?) and to be creative and unique--making their classmates say, "WOW! That is really awesome!"

The Unveiling

On the day the portfolios were to be presented, it felt like Christmas! Students were anxious to share their Pieces with their classmates and even with others who came into the room to check out the excitement.

One student chose to place reproductions of her pieces in a record player since music has inspired a lot of her work. Actual photographs and negatives from the photography class were included. Another student created a time capsule to record his growth in art. Along with a few photos of his art and some small original pieces, he placed a poem, an old record, and a picture of his grandparents--all which have inspired him over the years.

A senior student chose to use a doll box from her Japanese art doll. Painting the doll and creating clothing for the doll had been a creative outlet for her when she was younger. She covered her ready-made with an illustrated novel because she wants to pursue a career as an illustrator. Other ideas included a "brown-bagged lunch," a mailbox, a Jackson Pollock chest, and a large jewelry box that could even be locked. Like Marcel Duchamp, these art students have packed all of their important things in a little suit-case--the real baggage may not be the actual items but their creative ideas and artistic endeavors.


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


Kay Reist is an art teacher at Elizabethtown Area High School in EIizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:High School Studio Lesson
Author:Reist, Kay
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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