Chairs: Criticism, History and Aesthetics in Relation to Studio Production

By Kuhn, Todd | School Arts, December 1991 | Go to article overview

Chairs: Criticism, History and Aesthetics in Relation to Studio Production


Kuhn, Todd, School Arts


Art teachers are continuously looking for lessons that easily infuse art history, aesthetics, criticism and studio production. CHAIRS is one such lesson that combines these four disciplines in a unique and motivating manner.

Introducing CHAIRS

I showed my fourth grade students examples of typical industrial designed chairs. I then raised a question of aesthetics; "Should a chair be considered art?" This, of course, led us to the age old question of "What is art?" After our discussion, students concluded that a chair could be classified as an art form because of the artistic decisions pertaining to the size, shape, color and materials that were involved. I then showed them a chair titled The Cadillac Chair which was designed with the back of a Cadillac as the main form of the chair. It reminded students of something that they would possibly see on Pee-Wee's Playhouse. We talked about how this chair was different from the industrial designed chairs viewed earlier, and how each had a different function and purpose.

I then demonstrated how to draw a basic chair shape involving perspective in a manner similar to the way an industrial designer might draw one. When all students had a basic chair drawn on their papers, I asked them to transform their chairs into a personalized fantasy chair. We brainstormed different types and titles of chairs before students started to draw. Their final ideas ranged from a beach chair with surfboard legs and wave arms, to chairs combining food, animals and electrical gadgets.

At this point, students had no idea that their next step was to make a model of the chair they had just created. Upon discovering this, they were excited but intimidated by the idea of trying to construct the complicated and detailed chairs they had designed.

Problem Solving

The first problem that students needed to solve was turning their two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional models. I showed them the materials that were available in the room for constructing their chairs, including cardboard, paper towel tubes, wire, white glue, tape and objects from the scrap box such as wood, fabric and metal. I also encouraged them to bring in other items from home to fabricate their chairs. The scale of the chair and how to produce it was left to the students; however, most finished sculptures ranged between two and three feet high.

Throughout the construction phase, I circulated around the room, helping students arrive at solutions to problems that arose. Most of the problems were not how to go about erecting the chair, but how to keep the pieces attached. Almost all of the joining was done by using white glue and taping the pieces together until the glue had dried. Because of the size and weight of some of the pieces, this method was not always successful, especially in places where the highest stresses of weight were contained. I though it would be helpful to demonstrate the use of plaster of Paris strips. Students were shown how to join two pieces together by using tape, then covering the tape with layers of plaster strips. When dry, the plaster made a much more permanent bond than the glue, and students found this technique very helpful when placing the backs of their chairs onto the seats. …

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