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Constructivism. (Classroom Use).


* The idea of joining different materials together was first tried by the Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, when he experimented with Cubism. Before that, sculpture was usually made by modeling or carving a single piece of wood, clay or stone. The Russian artist, Vladimir Tatlin, took this idea further and combined industrial materials, such as welded steel, wire and glass to construct architectural-like sculptures. The name, "Constructivism," was first used in 1917 following the Russian Revolution.

* Constructivism was successful in Russia because everyone at that time believed the Revolution was going to result in a better future. But, when the Communist Party gained control, experimental art was not encouraged and, after Joseph Stalin seized power, Constructivism was suppressed. Russian artists who then went to live in other countries took their ideas with them. Some of the more important exiles were Antoine Pevsner, Naum Gabo and Alexander Rodchenko.

* After World War II, Constructivism was rediscovered, but with more emphasis on beautiful shapes and forms than early Constructivism. Alexander Calder's sculpture belongs to this later period. His interpretation of Constructivism made him internationally famous with commissions from all over the world.

* Calder's first sculptures were made by bending brass wire. He liked animals and circus life, so that is what he chose for his subjects. These early wire sculptures were quite humorous, but were very small. After he had invented mobiles and stabiles, he became more confident, and his work became much larger. His later work consisted mainly of monumental stabiles designed for large public places. Flamingo, for example, is 53 feet high.

* Welded, bolted and glued constructions are no longer thought of as strange and ugly. People have become used to seeing this kind of sculpture in their homes and in the city centers, thanks to the efforts of Alexander Calder and the other Constructivist artists who went before him.


* In order for students to develop a clear understanding of Constructivism, they need to become familiar with as many examples as possible. The first goal is to become familiar with the general appearance of Constructivist sculpture. Because they are all constructed of pieces joined together, they are all somewhat similar. Each artist's choice of materials together with his or her way of joining them, however, is different.

A second goal is to see enough Constructivist sculpture that students can identify the individual styles of the better known artists.

* Because Constructivist sculpture does not require the production of realistic images, students can create excellent work of their own without being burdened by the feeling that it can only be good if it reproduces what people normally see. Even though, at the height of his career, Alexander Calder worked mainly with sheet steel, students can explore the same ideas using lightweight, easily bendable metals or even paper and cardboard in creating their own sculptures.

* The effect of a sculpture depends more on where it is located than do paintings. For this reason, students may be asked to find examples of local sculpture--on buildings, free-standing monuments and reliefs--and ask themselves whether the sculpture fits well into its environment. They should be asked to justify their opinions either orally or in writing.

* A related task to the above might be for students to find a local site that could be improved were a piece of monumental sculpture to be placed there. Students might then design sculpture for that location and create a maquette (scale model) for it. To take the idea a stage further, a class might engage in a competition with all the results displayed for consideration in the local municipal offices and perhaps presented before the local council.

For students with computer-graphics skills, a picture of a local setting may be scanned into a computer and then a scan of the maquette pasted in where the sculpture might be placed. Those with superior graphics skills might be able to create a three-dimensional graphic that can be rotated so a viewer can simulate walking around the sculpture in its location.

* Alexander Calder followed the example of early Constructivist artists by using materials that had never been thought of as suitable for art. Since then, numbers of artists have learned to make use of almost every kind of material imaginable.

Students--especially those who have only used typical school art materials--might be encouraged to search out materials they had never thought of as suitable for making art: to experiment with them and to create new artworks. To name just a few, they might include corrugated cardboard, sheet aluminum, sheet acetate, wire, string, various fabrics and small, discarded parts of machinery.

* A good way for students to become familiar with Calder's sculptures--and other works of art--is to view the 125 Calder works on the Corbis Web site. Corbis is a company with over a million images for use in books, posters and other publications. Many of the images are works of art, including the one used in this month's Clip & Save article.

To visit the Corbis Web site, enter the address in the address bar near the top of the computer screen: http:// When keywords are requested, type in the artist's name, Alexander Calder, and press "GO." Eight pages of small images will appear. Enlargements become visible by pressing the magnifying glass.

BUILDING A PICTURE FILE WITH THIS CLIP & SAVE ART PRINT REPRODUCTION This sculpture by Calder may be used both as an example of Constructivism and various other art-teaching needs. Potentially useful picture-file categories include: "Constructivism"; "American Constructivists: Alexander Calder"; "Sculpture: Steel"; "Non-Objective Art"; and "Maquettes."

For ideas about collecting and retrieving pictures to help in teaching art and other subjects, readers are invited to write to: Guy Hubbard c/o Arts & Activities, 591 Camino de la Reina, Suite 200, San Diego, CA 92108, e-mail:
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Author:Hubbard, Guy
Publication:Arts & Activities
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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