PORTFOLIO > Art Education

Subject: Art Grade Level: High School Estimated Time: 6 weeks

Unit Title: Memory

Introduction: Human memory and its limitations are at the heart of this unit. Despite living in an age where computer technology has far surpassed the abilities of the brain to encode, store, and retrieve information, there are still aspects to thought and memory that are unique to us. Our lives are shaped by our experiences, by what we retain, by what we forget, and by what we deem worthy of remembrance. Although capable of some extraordinary mental feats, we are an imperfect machine. In this unit students will examine how contemporary artists and architects approach the subject of memory in their work in order to highlight issues of personal recollection and collective experience. Students will draw upon their own lives and memories as they engage in the unit lessons.

What broad, overarching understandings are desired of students?
• Artists create work that explores both personal memories and collective memories
• Memory is elusive and incomplete
• Art can be used in a public setting to memorialize events
• Specific events can be remembered very differently by people who experience them together
• Objects can trigger involuntary memories and associations

What are the overarching “essential” questions that support this unit?
• Is it possible to remember things exactly as they happened?
• Are our memories shaped by our point of view or vice versa?
• Can memories ever be trusted?
• How can artists share memories with a viewer?
• How is truth subjective or objective?

As a result of this unit, what will students be expected to demonstrate an understanding of?
• How to transform abstract memories into tangible objects
• How to appropriate and manipulate source material to create new meaning
• How to develop and execute a plan for an object commemorating a collective memory

What “essential” and unit questions will focus the discussion and activities of this unit?
• What is metaphor and how do artists utilize this concept in their work?
• How do artists manipulate source material to create new understandings?
• In what ways can artists create objects that capture a collective memory?

Key Vocabulary and Concepts: Memory, Nostalgia, Experience, Monument, Commemorate, Metaphor

Major Learning Activities: Students completing this unit will engage in three art-making activities dealing with the subject of human memory, its uses, and its limitations. Artworks will take the form of sculpture, drawing, painting, and model-making.

Curriculum Resources:

Art 21
Art 21 video segment on Memory
Notes on memory drawing lesson

Louise Bourgeois
Maman Sculpture
Art 21 Video Segment

Ursula von Rydingsvard
Art 21 Video Segment
Frost Art Museum Exhibition Review

Luc Tuymans
Video Interview
Exhibition Review

Peter Doig
Artist Profile

Marlene Dumas
Video Segment
Artist Profile

Maya Lin
Artist Website
American Treasures of the Library of Congress

Peter Eisenman
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Michael Arad
Reflecting Absence (The National September 11 Memorial)

Summative Assessment:
As a final assessment of understanding for this unit, students will write an essay of 1000 words in response to the following essential question “How do contemporary artists frame the past in their work?”

Lesson One: Memory as Metaphor

“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.” — Louise Bourgeois

The above quote from seminal French artist, Louise Bourgeois sets the stage for this lesson. In her work, Maman, Bourgeois employs the concept of metaphor to unite the memory of her mother with the image of the spider. Students in this lesson will employ this same method to approach a specific personal memory of a place, person, or thing. They will utilize metaphor to transform the memory into a tangible object.

Big Ideas and Essential Questions:
• How can objects stand in for memories?
• Artists use metaphor to make associations between memories and images.

National Core Art Standards or State Standards:
VA.912.O.3.1 - Create works of art that include symbolism, personal experiences, or philosophical view to communicate with an audience.
G.K12.7.2.2a - Metaphorical Promotion - Know: Create a statement or product using two related ideas to strengthen the message.
VA:Cr2.1.IIIa - Experiment, plan, and make multiple works of art and design that explore a personally meaningful theme, idea, or concept.

Lesson Objectives:
• Understand how artists use metaphor to create objects that reference personal memories
• Demonstrate ceramic hand-building techniques to create an original objects demonstrating metaphor

Tools and Materials: low-fire white clay, ceramic glaze, kiln, clay tools

Instruction: Utilizing the attached curriculum resources, students will begin the lesson with an introduction to the works of two artists drawing upon personal memories to shape their practice: Louise Bourgeois and Ursula von Rydingsvard. The work of both women can be traced back to early formative experiences. For Bourgeois it was her family life and the relationship between her mother and father that came to shape her work. For von Rydingsvard, born in Nazi Germany to Ukrainian and Polish parents, the living conditions of her youth played a crucial role in what form her later artwork would take. In the words of the artist, "I grew up in displaced persons camps that were barracks built by soldiers that were most expedient, the most pragmatic. It wasn’t even a lumber construction. It was plank construction that wasn’t very warm in the winters because there was no insulation. It was just me, sleeping against a plank, and on the other side of the plank was the outdoors." (2010) Today von Rydingsvard almost exclusively uses cedar beams to create her psychologically and emotionally abstract sculptures.

Students will also be introduced to the concept of metaphor in visual arts. In this sense a metaphor describes one thing – the primary object – in terms of another – the secondary object (2008). For Bourgeois’ Maman the primary object is her mother, described through the secondary object of the spider. For Ursula von Rydingsvard it is the spaces of her youth told through the wooden structures she creates.

Learning Activities: Individually students will reflect on a formative experience from their own lives. This could involve a person, place, or object that holds some sense of significance for the student. Once each student has established a memory to work from, they will utilize metaphor and determine the secondary object through which they will describe the primary object. For this lesson students will use clay to sculpt the object of their choosing to demonstrate metaphor.

Assessment: Upon completion of project, students will complete the rubric found here. Points will be determined by both self evaluation and teacher evaluation.

Artists or Artworks Studied: Louise Bourgeois, Ursula von Rydingsvard

Diehl, C. (1995) Memory and Meaning: Louise Bourgeois Reflects on Yesterday and Today, Art & Antiques, February, p. 39.

Marshall, J. (2008). Visible thinking: Using contemporary art to teach conceptual skills, Art Education, 61(2), 38-45.

Sandler, Irving, and John Yau (April 2010). Urusla von Rydingsvard with Irving Sandler & John Yau,
The Brooklyn Rail

Lesson Two: Pictures of the Past

"If you ask people to remember a painting and a photograph, their description of the photograph is far more accurate than that of the painting. Strangely enough, there is a physical element intertwined with the painting. It shakes loose an emotional element within the viewer” – Luc Tuymans

Students in this lesson will appropriate photographic source material as the basis of a painting.

Big Ideas and Essential Questions:
• Artists manipulate source material to create new understandings and interpretations
• Artists work from photographic sources to undermine the dependability of memory

National Core Art Standards or State Standards:
VA.912.F.3.6 - Identify ethical ways to use appropriation in personal works of art.
VA.912.O.1.3 - Research and use the techniques and processes of various artists to create personal works.
VA.912.S.3.6 - Develop works with prominent personal vision revealed through mastery of art tasks and tools.

Lesson Objectives:
• Understand how artists reference and manipulate photographic material to undermine reality
• Create a painting based on a photographic source

Tools and Materials: acrylic paint, canvas, brushes

Instruction: Photography is a medium traditionally associated with record keeping, memory, and reality. However, when artists alter photographic sources it can undermine their veracity in the eyes of the viewer. It can also serve to change the meaning of the original image or to highlight a previously overlooked association. Luc Tuymans, Peter Doig, and Marlene Dumas are all contemporary artists who address memory, both personal and collective, in their work. Students will begin the lesson by being introduced to the art of these three painters, who utilize photographic sources as they approach their subject. Students will learn about the ways in which these artists manipulate their source material to create works that highlight the elusiveness of memory.

Learning Activities: For this lesson students will first select a photographic reference that has personal significance for them. For example, a picture of a place or family member or of themselves at an earlier age would be appropriate. Students will then think of ways in which they can recreate the photograph, through painting, which will deviate from the source material. This could be carried out by altering colors, obscuring or heightening certain details, or experimenting with composition or scale. Students will work in acrylic paint on canvas to execute this project.

Students will write a 500 word essay reflecting on the following prompts. "How do artists utilize photographs to highlight the elusive nature of memory? Describe how you demonstrated this concept in your own project."

Artists or Artworks Studied: Luc Tuymans, Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas

Searle, A. (June-August 1994), False Memories Frieze Magazine Issue 17 www.frieze.com/issue/article/false_memo?

Solomon, D. (June 15, 2008), Figuring Marlene Dumas New York Times Magazine

Lesson Three: Monumental

“Two black granite walls, placed below grade, engraved in chronological order with the names of the men and women who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. At the apex where the two walls meet, the dates 1959 and 1973 (marking the beginning and end of the war) "meet" thus closing the circle of the time span of the war. A returning veteran can find his or her own time upon the wall, making each one's experience of the memorial very personal and individual. The siting of the piece is directly related to the presence of both the Lincoln Monument and Washington Memorial, tying it physically and historically to the site.” – Maya Lin

In this lesson students will work in groups to create a design for a monument to a collective memory.

Big Ideas and Essential Questions:
• People create and interact with objects, places, and design that define, shape, enhance, and empower their lives.
• People develop ideas and understandings of society, culture, and history through their interactions with and analysis of art.
• How do artists, designers, and architects create works of art or design that effectively communicate?

National Core Art Standards or State Standards:
VA:Cr2.3.Ia - Collaboratively develop a proposal for an installation, artwork, or space design that transforms the perception and experience of a particular place.
VA:Re.7.1.Ia - Hypothesize ways in which art influences perception and understanding of human experiences.
VA.912.H.2.4 - Research the history of art in public places to examine the significance of the artwork and its legacy for the future.

Lesson Objectives:
• Understand how and why monuments are conceived, designed, and built
• Work in groups to create a design for a new monument

Tools and Materials: chipboard, acrylic, glue, paper, pencil, colored pencil

Instruction: The lesson begins with a class discussion around what a memorial is, its purpose. Students will view and discuss contemporary examples of public memorials focusing on Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. In 1981, at age 21 and while still an undergraduate, Lin won a public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, beating 1,441 other competition submissions. Lin’s proposal initially faced opposition due to its’ unconventional design and in part to her Asian ethnicity. Since its completion the monument has become iconic and an important pilgrimage site for many veterans and their relatives. Maya Lin later sat on the selection jury for the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition, a commission that went to Michael Arad and Peter Walker's design Reflecting Absence. (2006)

Learning Activities: Working in groups, students will brainstorm ideas for events they feel are worthy of commemoration. Once the group reaches consensus they will work together to determine what form their monument will take. Students will work out possible designs in two dimensions in dry media and address issues of size, scale, dimensions, building materials, and site. Once a group has determined all essential criteria for their monument they will create a small mockup out of chipboard and paint to demonstrate a model of the final monument.

Finished projects will be presented to the classroom for a group critique. Students will present their proposed designs to the class and receive feedback and constructive criticism from the students and teacher. Projects will be assessed on clarity of concept, creativity, and presentation.

Artists or Artworks Studied:
• The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall - Maya Lin
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe - Peter Eisenman & Buro Happold
Reflecting Absence (The National September 11 Memorial) - Michael Arad & Peter Walker

Hagan, J. (May 22 2006) The Breaking of Michael Arad, New York Magazine nymag.com/arts/architecture/features/17?

American Treasures of the Library of Congress – Maya Lin, Vietnam Memorial Proposal www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm022.h?

Lesson Unit: Memory