During a recent session, my Art in Education class created foil sculptures as a means of better understanding the learning experiences of young students. What happens when a student is faced with a challenge that might initially feel daunting? How can an educator create an atmosphere that allows for experimentation, discovery, and even the possibility of failure?
I gave each student a roll of aluminum foil and a randomly assigned word with simple instructions: create a foil sculpture to represent the word. Words included “Strength”, “Family”, “Power”, and “Conflict” (among others.) I then asked the class to take note of what they were feeling at certain points along the way so that we could discuss the process after the project was complete.
The range of finished sculptures was impressive and visually striking, but the emphasis of the project was less about the product and more about the deconstruction of the sculpture process.
I asked them to consider and discuss: How did you feel when you found out your word? Why? How did your initial idea change and/or develop during the course of working on it? Did you feel like you had the freedom to make changes or adjustments? Why or why not? What did you discover about aluminum foil that you had never known before?
In our discussion, we determined several factors that helped to create an atmosphere of exploration: having time to experiment with the materials and see what the options are; being allowed to break rules or guidelines when necessary; allowing for students to bring in personal meaning or connections to the project.
This project took on even more meaning when we visited the Guggenheim Museum the following week to see the sculptures of John Chamberlain. He also worked in foil as means of figuring out ideas for larger sculptures.