Student Success with Abstract Art

By Hamidou, Kristine | Arts & Activities, May 2009 | Go to article overview
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Student Success with Abstract Art

Hamidou, Kristine, Arts & Activities

As a high-school art teacher who creates lessons to appeal to all skill levels and to all types of students, I have found that most students feel comfortable and confident producing abstract art.

An abstract art project can be challenging or not, depending on the objectives the teacher sets up. Most of my classes are an introductory high-school course for three-dimensional art, which is a required elective to graduate. Therefore, I teach gifted and talented students, regular education students, special-education students and severely handicapped or behavior-challenged students. An abstract sculpture is the perfect opportunity for all students to succeed.

As an introduction, I define abstract art and explain to students that many artists begin with a very complex subject and then break it down into shapes, colors, lines, etc. I give students some examples of famous artists who have created abstract sculpture to give them a reference point. Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is an artist the students enjoy learning about since he produced very playful sculptures, especially early in his career. Obus (1972), one of Calder's stabiles, is one I routinely show students because pieces of the sculpture intersect with one another. This is a primary component of the students' abstract sculpture assignment.

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) also sculpted abstract forms, often organic. I point out to students that Noguchi often copied forms from or was inspired by nature. This, in turn, serves as a resource for those students who have trouble coming up with ideas for their own abstract sculpture. Other artists ! mention include Henry Moore (1898-1986), especially Recumbent Figure, Jean Arp (1886-1996) and Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973).

After students have some background and resources to pull from, we start discussing the objectives and steps of the assignment. The abstract sculpture is made using papier-mache. Before the students begin, I set a size requirement of 10 inches and a minimum number of three pieces to the sculpture.

The students first draw out a plan. Then they construct a cardboard armature using pieces of reinforced cardboard (I use the boxes our clay is shipped to us in). Students attach the pieces of cardboard together by cutting slits in some pieces so they easily slide onto other pieces. Using a hot-glue gun, students glue these seams to secure the connection.

In addition, narrow strips of cardboard that support heavier pieces will probably need extra support themselves, otherwise they will collapse from the added weight of wet newspaper. I suggest using wooden craft sticks. Later, students can papier-mache over them.

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