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Monuments and miniatures.

At an early age, infants learn to mimic and respond to this animated prompt by reaching upward. Soon after, the question, "How big is it?" becomes part of every child's inquisitive repertoire. Yet the answers - whether in tons, feet, or acres-contribute very little to our grasp of the size of something. We really need to know how things compare with the commonplace. Words, books, slides, and reproductions cannot effectively convey the effects of scale. Scale is something that has to be experienced firsthand.

No book, movie, scale-model, or comparison chart could have prepared me for the experiencing of two of Egypt's colossal monuments - Abu Simbel and the Great Pyramids. My friend and I were traveling home from Ethiopia via Sudan and Egypt. Parts of the journey were by bus and train, but most of the trip was by boat down the Nile, with a stop at Abu Simbel. It's one thing to be told about a statue of King Ramses II that's so big eight people can sit on one of its fect. It's quite another thing to actually be one of those eight. When our commonplace experience is to step on someone's toe, it's hard to imagine having to climb up on the little toe of a monumental sculpture.

My flawed imagination also misled me to believe that having lunch on top of the Great Pyramid would be a relatively easy climb. Despite the many pictures I had seen, or maybe because of them, I had envisioned that all one had to do was climb up the side, as if climbing stairs. To my amazement, for each row of stones, I had to jump and pull myself up the length of my body. Fortunately, it became easier as we approached the top.

Experiencing the monumental can be overwhelming. Experiencing the miniature can be amazing. Imagining these extremes of scale can be misleading. Comparing, contrasting, manipulating, or distorting our sense of scale can be amusing. Creating artworks with consideration for scale can be rewarding.

For the most part, nonpublic art-works are neither monumental or miniatures. In terms of human nature, a painting or sculpture seems big if it is greater in its larger dimension than the height of a person and small if it fits comfortably in our hand. In terms of school furniture, a child's painting seems big if it is greater than the desktop and small if it fits comfortably on the chair. I suspect that children are usually prompted to work large and rarely encouraged to work small, although I sometimes wonder why we discourage the miniature. Some children seem naturally inclined to organize within a miniature world - fitting tiny figurines into matchbox houses or filling small pieces of paper with precious jewel-like designs. But, for the most part, that's not the school art style. I guess it's not the type of work that shows up well on hallway bulletin boards, or perhaps, some of us actually believe that good art has to be big. I recall a former colleague whose students, works kept getting bigger and bigger each year. When the classroom space became too small for the massive productions, the hallway became their studio. When it seemed the works were becoming too large to assemble in the hallway, the professor retired.

I am not suggesting that the increasing scale of our students' artworks be the measurement for our retirement. What I am suggesting is that we reflect on the whys and ways we engage students in thinking about scale and size. The articles in this issue were selected because, in one way or another, they involve students in thinking about or working with scale in both serious and playful ways.
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Title Annotation:scale of artwork
Author:Katter, Eldon
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Previous Article:Artistry: The Business of Art.
Next Article:Quilting a monumental memorial.

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