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Public art exists for a variety of reasons--expressions of remembrance, contemplation of place, and celebration of identity. And while usually impressive in scale, such works are typically fixed and stationary, their permanent nature leaving little room for dynamic structure or form. In response to this, my eighth-grade art students chose to question the nature of such artworks.

Essential Questions

In consideration of a proposed public art project, students were asked to reflect on the following essential questions:

* Who am I?

* Who are middle-school students?

* What is public art?

* What does collaboration look like?

We identified key characteristics unique to middle-school students. Various public artworks were researched on the Internet and slides were reviewed and projected at floor-to-ceiling size to emphasize the impact scale has upon an artwork. Students pinpointed fundamental attributes of "collaboration."

The Blueprint

With these general ideas in mind, we outlined a plan for a public artwork project to be displayed in our community. Our project would focus on a "big idea." Our focal point was identity, specifically as it relates to middle-school students. With each student representing a unique and individual perspective, we realized that certain core ideals would need to be singled out. Several students were nominated to act as archetypes; they agreed to pose as "visual metaphors" for fun, athletic, visionary, thinker, and so forth.

Our project would be both ephemeral and dynamic. Middle-school students are nothing if not independent-minded. After determining that most public artworks are permanent, unchanging, static installations, my students asked, "Why?" We decided that, aside from our expression of identity, going against the status quo would be the other important identifying characteristic of our collaborative artwork. The artwork would be constructed using collage techniques to reinforce a feeling of impermanence. It would also feature life-size representations of middle-school figures that could be moved, re-posed, and changed in context with each new location and, or arrangement.

To keep the project relevant to the life experience of an eighth grader living today, we decided to include digital techniques in the construction process. My students, on a day-to-day basis, commonly interact with iPods, the Internet, Gameboys, blogs, video, etc. It seemed like a highly authentic approach to include such tools as a digital camera and digital projector in addition to utilizing student magazines as collage material.


We collected several large sheets of corrugated cardboard (appliance boxes are great) and boxes of magazines. Magazine photos were torn into small pieces, approximately 1 x 2" (2.5 x 5 cm) and separated into piles by color such as red, blue, yellow, black, flesh, and so forth. Obviously, there is more than one way to identify such colors as "flesh"--I encourage such observation and relevant reflection. Our palette of colors created, each pile was stored in a separate container.


Students were divided into groups of four or five with one model in each group. The model was posed to expressively reflect his or her "visual metaphor" and photographed with a digital camera. Then a large sheet of cardboard was taped to the artroom wall. The camera was connected to the digital projector; images were projected at life size, reviewed, and one was chosen from each group. The projected image was loosely traced with black markers.


After hearing reminders about safety procedures, students cut the life-size shapes from cardboard with heavy-duty shears. Narrow sections were reinforced by gluing wooden craft sticks and heavier strips of cardboard to the reverse side of the board. Using a watery mixture of papier-mache glue, each group collectively applied pieces of torn magazine photos to the figures. By preparing and separating the torn pieces in advance, selection and choice was made similar to the creation of a painting--building upon prior student knowledge of a medium with which they were already familiar and proficient. Students were encouraged to use pieces to form faces rather than simply "lifting" an intact and whole face from a magazine photo.

Some students began to experiment outside the confines of collage technique. incorporating a sort of "bas relief" by using papier-mache to build up and emphasize selected facial features. Others applied paint on top of collage. At the end of each session, a light coating of white glue was applied to all exposed surfaces and blended in evenly with fingertips to seal the collage surface.


When completed, the life-size figures were arranged into several different compositions around the school. My students would rearrange the compositions by adding, moving, or removing figures each day to keep the displays dynamic and fresh.

Students manipulated small forms into large, intentional structures endowed with personal meaning. The process of reflecting, deliberating, defining, and constructing proved to be engaging and authentic. Students demonstrated real enthusiasm for the joint effort required to produce life-size archetypes of eighth-grade identity, and were very vocal in pointing out the integrated meaning of each figure to their fellow students.


* large sheets of corrugated cardboard

* color magazines

* black markers

* white glue

* papier-mache glue mixture

* heavy-duty shears

* wooden craft sticks

* digital camera

* digital projector

* shoe boxes or bags to store torn photos

* examples of collage, paper colle, assemblage art

* example of murals and other public artworks


Students will:

* learn the process of creating a mural-sized public artwork.

* explore unique properties and potentials of materials.

* apply common materials in creating design and structure.

* understand that people create art for various reasons and from various materials.


Students apply media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that their intentions are carried out in their artworks.


Mark Alan Anderson is an art teacher at Oak Park High School (formerly Raymore-Peculiar Middle School) in Liberty,
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Middle-School Studio Lesson
Author:Anderson, Mark Alan
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Previous Article:Air-Hardening Sculpting Material.
Next Article:Community bridge: a participatory public art project.

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