We made use of Mountain Day to bring together our large-format photography and sculptures classes to work on collaborative assignment based on the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is best known for his sculptures made of all natural, found objects (ie. leaves, ice, stone, wood). The sculptures are in no way permanent, are built outside, and gradually are reclaimed by the natural environment. In order to preserve his temporary sculptures, Goldsworthy carefully photographs them.
On Mountain Day the photography and sculpture students hiked together in pairs. After lunch, they had twenty minutes to create their first Goldsworthy sculpture. We provided the students with disposable cameras loaded with color film. The majority of the students made their trial Goldsworthy out of colorful fall leaves. The film from the disposable camera was developed after Mountain Day, and the images were later presented to the students. This served as a perfect, hands-on introduction to the project, which integrated the skills of sculpture, photography, art history, writing, and environmental appreciation.
Before students began working on the extended project, we thought it was important to provide information about the history of landscape in art from an art historian's perspective. Westover's art history teacher and the school's extensive slide collection were invaluable resources. Additionally the school's collection of art books enabled students to refer easily to the work of Goldsworthy. Westover's art history teacher gave a slide lecture on the environment and landscape in art discussing the Lascaux cave paintings, medieval manuscripts, French Impressionism, and the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Students learned that Goldsworthy is one of the first artists who created art forms where the art is landscape, as both subject and object. More simply put, Goldsworthy's art is not just about the landscape, it is the landscape.
Westover students from the two classes paired off and worked closely for three weeks designing, sketching, building and photographing their sculptures. To give them an idea of what many artists have to do in the professional world, we required the students to apply for a grant. The students wrote a grant proposal that included a calendar, statement of intent, sketches, a list of materials, and building site location, including considerations of light requirements for photographing the work. In the written proposals, students had to convince the funders that the project was clearly conceptualized. If a proposal was not well prepared, work could not begin until revisions were made and the statement of intent had a clear focus.
The beautiful fields, woods and pond on the Westover campus provided an optimal resource for building Goldsworthy-type sculptures. Students needed only to take a short walk to the school's woods where they could then begin working. As the students built their sculptures, they were careful not to damage the natural environment. The building site and sculpture were to be returned back to a completely natural state.
Students learned that art can be made with simple, inexpensive materials. The natural beauty, and availability, of objects found in the environment lent itself nicely to this particular concept. One student said she developed a new appreciation for art made from elements found only in nature, and one's hands.
Students also learned to solve problems quickly as changing weather patterns pushed them to alter their original plans. One sculpture made of leaves and held together with mud was destroyed in an instant by a sudden, blustery rain. One pair decided they would need to photograph the sculpture at night to give it greater clarity by blocking out surrounding leaves and vines with nighttime darkness.
Students learned to appreciate each other's fields. The photographers built their subjects with their own hands and were thinking about the photos as three-dimensional objects, while the sculptors were thinking about sculptures as pictures. The best photos were sensitive to the camera's position in space, which is the sculptor's idea. The best sculptures developed and enhanced the play of optical properties (light, reflection, vantage points).
The collaborative projects were exhibited for one month at the Middlebury Public Library. "Forces of Nature" featured large-format, 16 x 20" (41 x 51 cm) silver gelatin, black-and-white photographs. Sketches, drawings and written statements from each pair of students were also part of the show, as were the small, color photos taken on Mountain Day. All the students attended and discussed their work with interested viewers. One Westover trustee was so impressed, she offered to purchase the program cover photograph.
The Westover administration encourages collaborative work, and the students respond positively to it. Our collaboration was the first of its kind within the art department. We set clearly defined goals, but allowed for flexibility (letting the project develop a life of its own) once the students actually began working together. We learned to listen to and accept new ideas. We all gained new insights into sculptural form and photographic considerations.
Early on we learned to relinquish control as we discovered that collaborative teaching means not only having trust in your peer, but also in your students, and being willing to experiment and to explore alternatives to the classroom. Several student groups checked in with a teacher then disappeared into the woods for the remainder of the class. Concern that students might not be using their time wisely was tempered by the realization that the woods--not the classroom--provided the "hands-on laboratory" for this assignment.
Students conceive and create works of visual art that demonstrate an understanding of how the communication of their ideas relates to the media, techniques, and processes they use.
Sara Orr Poskas is a teacher of sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, and graphic art and Michael P. Gallagher is a teacher of photography at Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut.
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|Title Annotation:||art students emulate sculptor Andy Goldsworthy|
|Author:||Gallagher, Michael P.|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2000|
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