Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Object Theater: Finding Meaning In Everyday Objects

Last November I attended at two day workshop about puppetry sponsored by Arts Fusion at SUU. Our instructors were Loren Kahn and Isabelle Kessler. We learned a lot of interesting ways to make regular puppets and shadow puppets. My favorite was an interesting exercise in object theater.

I chose to use the object theater exercise in my 4th and 5th grade visual art classes. In October these classes spent three weeks working on their observational drawing skills. I felt that this exercise would be a great way to help them understand that their still life drawings could be more than just drawing practice. They can also hold and express meanings.

I started by showing the classes a light bulb and I asked them what meanings came to their minds when they saw it. We talked about traditional meanings for the light bulb, like knowledge and guidance. Then through more questioning and discussion of individual experiences, we came up with even more meanings. We did this with a few other common items, like a mixing beater and a glove. Finally we put the objects together to form a “sentence” or a combined meaning. They came up with some pretty unique meanings. Finally I asked them to assign a title to the grouping of objects. “A Mother’s Guidance,” “A Light in the Confusion” and “Blending Ideas” were some of their excellent titles.

Next I broke each class into four groups and gave them several common items. I asked them to choose about five of their objects to create a message. Then they were to develop a title and set up the objects in an interesting still life arrangement.

When the groups were finished we tried to guess the meanings and titles as a class. Then we all drew the still life arrangements for the remainder of the period.

This exercise was a great transition to the next 4th grade project. We are going to develop collage portraits which express our hopes for the future. I asked the kids to find images of objects that symbolize their hopes. It’s a reverse of the object theater exercise. Instead of starting with an object and giving it meaning, we’re now starting with a meaning then finding an object to convey that message. When I presented the new project, the students started brainstorming in their sketchbooks before I even told them to. I am sure that the object theater exercise really prepared them to think in these abstract ways.

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