Time - Art and Permanence
Grades: 4, 5, 6
Related Subjects: English - Language Arts, Visual & Performing Arts
Medium: Mixed Media, Sculpture
Class time required: 3 X 50 minute sessions
Author: Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Download an editable Lesson Plan
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In this three-session lesson, the students will use natural and recycled objects arranged in a plastic container to create a gelatin cast of the objects and the negative space around them. The project includes the study and documentation of gelatin changes over time. The gelatin casting will deteriorate over time, but the process of change is documented with photographs and journal entries.
- 2 lbs. granular gelatin (see Teaching Tips
- Measuring cup
- Hot plate
- Wooden spoon
- Natural objects: small rocks, twigs, etc.
- Recycled materials: plastic forks, styrofoam, newspapers, etc.
- Shallow plastic containers (disposable Tupperware works really well)
- Digital camera
- Photo printer
- Glossary terms: balance, composition, disintegrate, negative space, permanence, positive space, sculpture
- Print the above images onto overhead transparencies or use a document camera.
- Set up a station where the gelatin will be boiled on the hot plate and poured into the students' containers. This area should be well lit, away from anything that could fall, and have an outlet for the hot plate.
- Next to the gelatin station, have a table where the students can place their gelatin-filled containers and take a photograph of the liquid stage of their sculpture.
- Set aside a few tables where the students can place their gelatin-filled containers to let the gelatin set.
- Students can collect interesting objects/containers that are discarded in the lunchroom to use as recycled materials.
- Gelatin is an organic substance, and is sensitive to temperature and humidity. It is important that the idea of non-permanence is understood by the students. Repeat that they will not keep their project, but photograph it and record the process.
- Objects may stay embedded in the gelatin, and be trapped once the gelatin returns to a hardened stage. Take this into consideration if using any natural objects that are important to the students.
- Granular gelatin can be purchased at any art supply store or online at Enasco.
1. Introduce the idea of time-sensitive artwork. Does art have to be permanent? Can something be considered art if it does not last forever? Why or why not? Give an example.
2. Show the students the transparency images. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:
• Do these works change over time? How?
• Why do you think the artist would make something that doesn't last forever?
• Why would he/she choose a medium that isn't permanent?
• Many artists use materials that are not permanent. To capture what their artwork looked like, artists often use photographs to document and make records of the projects that they are working on and have completed. In this case, what is the artwork: the impermanent piece, the photograph, or both?
• Would you ever create a piece of artwork that wouldn't last for more than a few days? Why or why not? What materials would you use?
3. Introduce the objectives of the lesson: the students will create a piece of impermanent artwork using gelatin. Gelatin is an organic material. Like Muniz's chocolate and Mendieta's sand, gelatin will not last forever, and is a temporary medium. Explain that it is currently a powdered solid, and we will turn it into a liquid to use for the artwork. As it cools, the gelatin will become a soft solid, and then over time it will change into a hard solid once again. Because it is organic, it will start to grow mold and smell. We are going to take photographs of each step in the process to record what happens, because in the end the students will have to throw away the gelatin casts.
4. Show the students a sample of arranged natural objects in a shallow container. Talk briefly about composition, arrangement, and balance. Just like drawing a picture, the students will have to think about the sizes, lines, and shapes of the objects that they choose for their artwork and how they plan to arrange them.
5. Hand out the shallow dishes and natural/recycled materials to the students. Have the students create their compositions inside the shallow dishes. Then, take a photograph of each of the students' compositions.
6. Talk about the space around the objects that the gelatin will fill up. These are the negative shapes that exist in the containers. What would these negative shapes look like? Will they be bigger or smaller than the objects? How will these objects shape the gelatin?
7. Measure in advance the amount of water and powdered gelatin you need corresponding to the number and size of gelatin plates you wish to make. One cup of cooked gelatin will make a plate approximately 6x8 inches. One cup of cooked gelatin is made with 1 cup of water and 2 rounded tablespoons of powdered gelatin.
8. Pour the room temperature water into the pot and heat it to a boil. Slowly stir in powdered gelatin. It is normal for gelatin to swell and thicken; during the cooking process the viscosity of the gelatin will become uniform.
9. Cook the gelatin over a medium heat, stirring gently to make as few bubbles as possible. Keep the gelatin from burning; the smell of burnt gelatin is quite strong and difficult to get rid of. When foam appears on the surface, skim it with a spoon and discard. Remove the gelatin from the heat, and allow it to cool slightly.
10. Have each student bring his/her container to you and pour a thin layer of the liquid gelatin into the container slowly and steadily, making an effort to keep bubbles to a minimum and to not disrupt the student's arrangement.
11. Once the gelatin has been poured into their containers, have the students use the camera to take a photograph to record the gelatin in its liquid stage.
12. Place the gelatin aside to set up. Gelatin should turn into a soft solid, resembling the firmness of Jell-o, within a few hours.
13. Have the students answer the following questions in their journals:
• What steps did you follow to create your gelatin sculpture?
• How did you choose your natural/recycled objects and their arrangement?
• How do you think the gelatin sculpture will look different from your original arrangement? Why do you think it will look different?
• Do you think your gelatin sculpture will stay soft or will it turn hard? What makes you think that?
• What do you think the gelatin will look like tomorrow?
1. The next day, take a photograph of the gelatin in a soft solid stage with the objects still embedded in it.
2. Carefully pull the containers apart from gelatin. At this stage, the gelatin is still flexible, and if any of the objects can be removed from the gelatin casts, students may choose to do so.
3. Place the gelatin molds in a dry place, uncovered, and let set for a week.
4. Have the students answer the following questions in their journals:
• Did the gelatin look the way you thought it would? Why or why not?
• How has your sculpture changed since yesterday? What do you think caused this change?
• Do you think your gelatin sculpture will stay soft or will it turn hard? What makes you think that?
• Does your sculpture look the way you thought it would? Why or why not?
• What changes would you make to improve your sculpture?
1. Within a week, the gelatin will start to dry out and the shape will change as it does so.
2. Have the students examine the evolution of their gelatin-cast sculptures, photograph their gelatin casts for the final time and note the results. How did your sculpture change once it hardened? How did the negative and positive spaces change? Did the gelatin capture your arrangement the way you had hoped? Why or why not? Does it look like what you expected? Would you consider this gelatin sculpture art, even though it is beginning to disintegrate? How is this sculpture similar to the pieces of artwork you looked at from the museum?
3. The students can answer the above questions in their journals or they can write a multi-paragraph essay answering the following prompts:
• Write a narrative essay describing the process you used to create your gelatin sculpture. Why was this experience memorable? Do you think art has to be permanent to be considered art? Use descriptive details.
• Write a persuasive letter to an art museum describing why your art piece should be shown in one of their galleries. Would you ask them to display your sculpture, the photographs, or both? Why should your art be chosen?
• Write a persuasive essay that convinces your reader that even though your artwork will disintegrate and not last forever, that it should still be considered a piece of art.
CA Content Standards
Fourth Grade Visual Arts
1.2 Describe how negative shapes/forms and positive shapes/forms are used in a chosen work of art.
2.6 Use the interaction between positive and negative space expressively in a work of art.
4.3 Discuss how the subject and selection of media relate to the meaning or purpose of a work of art.
Fifth Grade Visual Arts
1.2 Identify and describe characteristics of representational, abstract, and nonrepresentational works of art.
1.3 Use their knowledge of all the elements of art to describe similarities and differences in works of art and in the environment.
2.5 Assemble a found object sculpture (as assemblage) or a mixed media two-dimensional composition that reflects unity and harmony and communicates a theme.
2.7 Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.
4.4 Assess their own works of art, using specific criteria, and describe what changes they would make for improvement.
Sixth Grade Visual Arts
1.1 Identify and describe all the elements of art found in selected works of art (e.g., color, shape/form, line, texture, space, value).
1.2 Discuss works of art as to theme, genre, style, idea, and differences in media.
2.5 Select specific media and processes to express moods, feelings, themes, or ideas.
3.3 Compare, in oral or written form, representative images or designs from at least two selected cultures.
4.1 Construct and describe plausible interpretations of what they perceive in works of art.
Fourth Grade English-Language Arts
2.1 Write narratives.
Fifth Grade English-Language Arts
2.4 Write persuasive letters or compositions.
Sixth Grade English-Language Arts
2.2 Write expository compositions (e.g., description, explanation, comparison and contrast, problem and solution).
2.5 Write persuasive compositions.
Beardsley, John. Earthworks and beyond: Contemporary art in the landscape. New York: Abbeville Press, 2006.
Clearwater, Bonnie and Ana Mendieta. Ana Mendieta, a Book of Works. Miami Beach, FL: Grassfield Press, 1993.
Hanor, Stephanie, et al. TRANSactions: Contemporary Latin American and Latino Art. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 2006.
Mendieta, Ana, et al. Ana Mendieta. Rizzoli, 1998.
Muniz, Vik. Reflex: a Vik Muniz primer. New York: Aperture, 2005.
Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: earth body: sculpture and performance, 1972-1985. Washington D.C.: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, 2004.
Art Lex: Earthworks
A comprehensive description of Earth Art, or Earthworks, with multiple examples of artwork in this style.
Guggenheim Museum: Ana Mendieta
Lesson plan using Ana Mendieta's artwork that includes downloadable images, discussion questions, and art activities.
Vik Muniz's Web site, which includes an extensive gallery of his work broken down by project.
National Gallery of Art: Andy Goldsworthy (PDF - 296 kb)
Brochure for children, written by the National Gallery of Art, about Andy Goldsworthy, an artist who creates non-permanent pieces of artwork.