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Lines in space: a minimalist approach.

Hans Hofmann, considered by some to be the catalyst for the Abstract Expressionist movement, once said, "The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak." This is a powerfully insightful quote when considering Minimalist works of art. But how do you get your art students to invest themselves in artwork many people view as "elementary, simple, purposeless or just plain boring"?

With all the noise in the world, the flotsam and jetsam sensory input from the media, from friends, from family, from life, it is an arduous task to have students slow things down and focus on the simple, raw elements of their world. Specifically related to art class, the challenge is how to help students digest the work of Minimalist artists.

In a global society, I believe schools have done a great job preparing our students to think globally, to think about the "big picture." However, the frustration in regard to looking at Minimalist-type artwork is guiding students to understand and enjoy the simplicity in the work. Like most students, my junior-high artists try to complicate

Minimalist artwork by searching for concrete images, trying to project a higher meaning or some universal resolution beyond the simple beauty of the lines, shapes, forms and colors. It seems as if they cannot find the trees in the forest.


When introducing my studio-art students to Minimalism, I spend at least half a class period reviewing elements reviewing the and principles of art and design--specifically line, shape, form and color. Although there are many artists we could use as examples of Minimalism--Tony Smith, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Frank Stella and Sol Le Witt to name a few--I have found the work of Mark di Suvero and Kenneth Snelson work well, considering the materials we have available in our class.


Before presenting the class with a PowerPoint of di Suvero and Snelson's work, I check for prior knowledge of Minimalism by asking students if they know what the word means, and do they know of any artists who worked in that style of art? A few recognize the term, but are not able to give me a definition. In all the years I've been teaching, I have not had a single student able to give me an artist working in the style of Minimalism.

This is a fantastic opportunity for discovery and dialogue. Students first dissect the word, "minimalism," beginning with the root of the word, then popcorn synonyms for "minimal."

I expand their exploration by asking them to give me examples of something in the room they would consider to be minimal, and could be turned into a "minimalist" sculpture. Responses include "a chair,.... a coffee mug" and "a bar of soap." I tell them although these objects are relatively simple, they are considered "concrete" objects, and wouldn't work for a traditional Minimalist sculpture. The students stare at me with quizzical expressions. We then discuss what "concrete" means in regard to artwork, specifically Minimalism. I assure them it will all make sense once they see the examples.

As I introduce the PowerPoint presentation, I inform students that Minimalism is "a 20th-century art movement and style stressing the idea of reducing a work of art to the minimum number of colors, values, shapes, lines and textures. No attempt is made to represent or symbolize any other concrete object or experience."

As I present the work of di Suvero and Snelson, I have the students point out how line and color are used. Shape is trickier with these sculptures because we are dealing with both positive and negative shapes; however, by the end of the L PowerPoint, students are able to recognize these shapes, and how the artists might have employed them as part of their design.

One of the reasons I elected to use di Suvero and Snelson was in consideration of our materials. I wanted the students to have the opportunity to build a sculpture that had more volume and presence than materials like construction paper, straws, foam board or pipe cleaners.

I chose to use cardboard tubes from paper-towel and toilet-paper rolls. I put a request in our parent communication letter at the beginning of the school year asking for donations. I also had the custodians collect them for me as they worked around the school throughout the year.

GETTING TO WORK Students begin their artistic process by playing around with line on paper with quick sketches. Because of the nature of the intended, eventual materials, I have them focus on geometric lines and shapes specifically.

I then ask them to begin selecting interesting line/shape combinations, and consider putting those together in a new sculpture idea. Some students choose to add a kinetic quality (like some of di Suvero's work) to their design with hanging pieces.

Although they are working in a 2-D space with their sketches, ! ask them to "think through" their design because they ultimately have to build it in 3-D. After they have a design they are satisfied with, I have them put the designs in color using crayons, colored pencils or markers.

With the sketches completed, it is just a matter of getting the students to work slowly as they construct using the paper tubes and hot glue. The students sometimes need to adjust or alter their designs as they work because of the weight of the tubes and the scale of the project. This is a wonderful creative problem-solving opportunity.

Once the construction is completed, students get rid of any "ghost" strings from the hot glue before they paint with school-grade tempera for color. If your budget allows, acrylics are a much better choice because of the paint's quality and sheen.

Students really seem to settle into the project and love the final product. As an observer, I can physically see the students invest themselves in the process, watching a calmness and serenity play across their faces as they enjoy the simplicity.



Middle- and high-school students will ...

* define Minimalism.

* recognize Minimalist artwork.

* understand and employ the use of line, shape, color, balance and form in their sketches and final product.

* successfully use intended construction materials in a quality fashion.

* evaluate the success of their final product by using a rubric.


* Paper

* Crayons, markers and colored pencils

* Hot glue and hot glue guns

* Cardboard paper tubes

* String (alternate materials may include straws, foam board, construction paper, pipe cleaners or wooden dolls)

Nate Greenwood teaches art at Jenison (Mich.) Junior High.
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Author:Greenwood, Nate
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2011
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