Printer Friendly

Sculpting the environment.

At the School for Creative and Performing Arts, the middle school visual art majors have art classes every day of the school year. These concentrated lessons provide art instructors with the wonderful challenge of taking their students a step beyond traditional lessons.

One day, a class of sixth and seventh graders were discussing recent events in the arts, and Christo's umbrella project dominated our conversation. The students were in awe of such a massive undertaking, and I was inundated with questions about his work regarding cost, concept, insurance, how long they last, what happens to all of the material once the sculpture is disassembled, etc. Their curiosity and my lack of answers prompted me to begin constructing a teaching unit on environmental sculpture, or Earth Art, as it is sometimes known.

After scouring the local university's art library, I rounded up books and slides on artists such as Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria, Dennis Oppenheim and Christo.

In a effort to expose the students to a wider range of environmental sculptures, I shared a book with them called Amber Waves of Grain by Georg Gerster. The book is a compilation of aerial photographs of human-made and natural landscapes, some of which were created by farmers. One such image was a Mona Lisa drawn onto a field using the height of the bushog blade and different kinds of grass to create values.

Another day was spent discussing the evolution of environmental artwork from Stonehenge to the latest alien hoax that took place in England. This knowledge provided the students with a myriad of ways for adapting such monumental artworks to their own creative purposes. (Stonehenge as a calendar perhaps, Mount Rushmore as a historical monument, the pyramids as burial shrines, and more contemporary sculptures as pure aesthetic devices meant to involve people with nature.)

We began composing a list of things to consider when planning an environmental sculpture. Among these were location, size, materials, cost, safety (beware of flying 500 pound umbrellas), permission from administration, time/labor and the importance of documentation.

Making Art Happen

I divided the class into groups of three or four, and began working on their original ideas, which soon grew into professional-looking proposals complete with sketches. These were presented to the principal who was impressed by the scope of the projects, the creativity of the students, and the professional presentation. All of the following plans were approved:

Group 1. Plant our school logo with tulip bulbs on a 15 x 15' bank of land in front of the school.

Group 2. Surround the previous project with large painted rocks.

Group 3. Construct a 50 x 70' maze of tomato stakes, orange safety netting and caution tape.

Group 4. Paint an outdoor balance beam with stripes of shocking colors.

Group 5. Paint four 2 x 4s with wild colors, one side splattered; the other side painted with more controlled designs so that the sculpture could be changed periodically.

Group 6. Plant a 30' in diameter peace sign with fluorescent pink and green landscape flags.

Contribute and Consider

Each person in the class had to contribute something toward our materials list, even if it wasn't for his or her particular project. In addition, the school's supportive parent organization, The Friends of the Arts, agreed to purchase the tulip bulbs. With materials in hand and our ideas clearly developed, we braved the chilly weather for three weeks of hammering, painting and planting. The students were pumped with energy and excitement every day. They also exhibited such an intense protectiveness of their work that when we were forced to stay inside because of inclement weather, our conversation focused on the hazards of displaying art in public places. It was becoming obvious that the students were gaining a sincere appreciation of the work that goes into such monumental artworks and the artists' ability to conceptualize images on a large scale.

The New Environment

Upon completion of each project the students made final sketches showing how their sculpture altered its environment. We also agreed on fair criteria for grading the projects.

30%--sketches and evidence of planning

30%--participation and cooperation (bringing in supplies, getting along with peers, cleanup)

30%--ability to discuss and defend artwork

10%--extra creative effort

The entire school has been curious and excited about the changes and the color that was now a part of the school grounds. A creative writing class wrote essays on the mysterious appearance of our projects.

It has been an involved and exciting endeavor, one that has the school and local community abuzz. The general feeling is that our school finally looks like an art school! When winter settles in, we will look forward to the first snowfall when the sculptures will be in high contrast to the landscape. In the spring we will anxiously await the emergence of the tulip logo.

Georgia A. Meyers is a Visual Arts Instructor at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Bluegrass, Lexington, Kentucky.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:6th and 7th graders tackle environmental art
Author:Meyers, Georgia A.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Previous Article:Robert Smithson's Spiral Jette.
Next Article:Building bridges across cultures: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

Related Articles
Going vibrant with endangered species.
Visionaries live on as the Eight Great Statues.
Red Figure Black Figure.
The misfits. (Paperback Fiction).
When earth is our canvas.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters