In 1968, Sol LeWitt began to create guidelines of simple diagrams for two-dimensional works drawn directly on the wall by someone other than himself. Even after his death, people are still making these drawings. Though the drawings are made from precise instructions written by Lewitt, he observed that “each person draws a line differently and each person understands words differently” so the very same set of instructions can be interpreted differently in different locations. The discrepancy in personal gesture and comprehension don’t even take into account the variations such as wall size and juxtaposition, lighting, physical space, floor color reflection, and many other variables that can happen in museums across the world. Track lighting in a museum may give a very different effect than a wall that is located near natural lighting.
The Group Project
This is a copy of one of Sol Lewitt’s works of art. If you buy one of his wall drawings, you only get this paper to certify that this is a Sol Lewitt original and then you hire a crew to follow the directions and install it.
I got the idea for this lesson (and this copy of a Sol Lewitt conceptual work of art) from the San Diego NAEA convention a few years ago. The directions are “Lines not short, not straight, crossing and touching, drawn at random using four colors, covering the entire surface of the wall.
Red, yellow, blue, black pencil”
I had 5th grade attempt these directions. I introduced the concept to them and then showed them different wall drawings with their accompanying directions. Then I showed them some wall drawings without any instructions and had them try to come up with what the directions might be (It was here I had to walk them through getting very specific and using more mathematical terms such as diagonal, various geometric terms, quadrant, etc.)
Then they followed the above directions of my copy of wall drawing number 65.
I’d say 90% of the kids ended up liking it and felt like they were able to express themselves.
In between the discussion and the art making I asked them if they thought this was art. A lot of them were undecided or didn’t really know the answer but after they followed the directions and made the art they were quite emphatic that yes, this was indeed art.
That’s when I had them write what they thought art is and what art isn’t on a sticky note. I wanted them to do this while their minds were wide open because the point of conceptual art had just clicked with them.
The Individual Projects
For their individual projects I had them draw a small thumb nail of what they wanted their art to look like and then write the instructions for how to make it. Once I edited, made suggestions, and then told them it looked good, they could fill out this certificate template that I made myself. On it they write their name, title of the art, a thumb nail of what the art will look like, the directions, then sign it at the bottom.
Some kids would have really involved drawings and then be at a loss for how to describe how to draw it and quite frankly I couldn’t really help with that. I did help out quite a lot otherwise though. I walked around the classroom with my red pen and added in helpful descriptors.
A common problem the 5th graders had was using certain words as placeholders instead of actually describing how to draw something. They wrote “draw an eye” or “draw a football” instead of describing the shape. Not everyone knows how to draw an eye or a football.
Some kids had trouble writing complete sentences.
They would write “put blue on it” or they would have three triangles lined up right next to each other in a tight row and just write “put three triangles” as directions. The above paper says “make 100 polka dots” as instructions. That could mean anything! What he really meant was make 100 polka dots in the top center triangle.
One of the interesting things was, just like with Lewitt’s works, each student’s interpretation of the directions was different. These three hearts were drawn by three different students all following the same instructions.
I displayed the art work by putting up each individual classes interpretation of Sol Lewitt wall drawing #65 lined up next to each other. I also put up an explanation about what students were doing with the specific instructions they were following.
Above that I mounted the directions that each student wrote with all (or at least most) of the accompanying art work done by other students for comparison.