Art and Transformation

From Women and Girls Lead, Volume 1 collection, lesson plan 5 of 6

Grade Level: 9-12, College

Estimated Time Needed: 50 minutes + Assignments

Subject Areas: Social Studies, English Language Arts, Women’s Studies, Visual Arts

Purpose of the Lesson: In this lesson, students will develop a working definition for the term "art" and discuss how objects, sounds, movements, and ideas are transformed into works of art. They will consider the impact of the Pictures of Garbage project on the lives of the women from the Jardim Gramacho landfill and the benefits and consequences of implementing art intervention projects. Finally, they will discuss how art projects can be used to effectively address social justice issues and develop their own art-based campaign to raise awareness about or improve an issue in their school or community.

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Develop a working definition for the term "art"
  • Analyze and discuss what transforms an object, sound, movement into a piece of art
  • Understand the context for Vik Muniz’s art project and the socio-economic circumstances in Brazil that contribute to the catadores working conditions at the Jardim Gramacho landfill
  • Discuss how the artistic process transforms the artist, the subject, and the audience, and consider if/how art can transform the way we see an individual, a community, a society
  • Examine the responsibility artists have to the individuals and communities they are representing, and discuss the role of art in addressing social issues, with particular focus on women’s issues
  • Design an art-based community campaign to raise awareness about an issue in their school or community

Materials:

  • Film Modules: Waste Land: Pictures of Garbage (3:47), Waste Land: Human Dignity Film Module (9:27), Waste Land: Art and Transformation Film Module (8:02) (optional)
  • LCD projector or DVD player
  • Teacher Handouts: Waste Land: The Film in Context
  • Student Handouts: Student Handout A.v1: Film Module Worksheet, Student Handout A.v2: Film Module Worksheet, Student Handout B: Postscreening Activity Worksheet
  • Kraft paper
  • Pens and writing paper
  • Whiteboard/blackboard and markers/ chalk
  • Computers with internet access

Writer: Allison Milewski

Allison Milewski is a curriculum specialist and educator with over ten years’ experience in arts and media education. She has developed and implemented primary and secondary school arts integration programs, professional development workshops, and arts and media curricula through her work with organizations such ITVS, Tribeca Film Institute, and Urban Arts Partnership where she managed a broad range of arts-based enrichment programs for over 20 New York City public schools. In addition, Allison launched PhotoForward in 2004 to provide photography and digital media instruction to under-served youth with the goal of encouraging self-exploration and active community engagement as citizen artists. Allison attended the Literacy through Photography Institute at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and received a BA in Liberal Arts from the New School for Social Research with a concentration in Media Studies. She is currently pursuing a certificate in Creative Art Therapy at the New School University.

PRE-SCREENING ACTIVITY

You will need: Pen and paper, white board/black board, markers/chalk, several items of “clean” garbage, and art supplies (optional) Goal: Students will discuss what we mean when we talk about “Art”, and develop their own working definition for the term. They will consider what transforms objects, sounds, movements, and ideas into “art” and work in groups to create their own art out of a piece of garbage.

Part 1:

Write the word “Art” on the board and ask the class to share what that term means to them. Briefly discuss and record the feedback using the following questions as a guide:

  • What do we mean when we say something is art?
  • What are the “qualities” that make something art?
  • What are some examples of art?
  • Who makes art? What makes someone an artist?
  • How do we decide that something is or is not art? Who makes that decision?

Instruct the students that they will have five minutes to work in collaboration with a partner to develop a definition for the word “Art”.

Ask the groups to share their results, and as a class, develop a collective working definition for “Art”. Display the definition on the board and continue to revisit and refine it throughout the activity.

Part 2:

Display a widely recognizable work of art (such as Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, etc.) and discuss, using the following questions:

  • Is this art?
  • Why or why not?
  • If so, what makes it art?
  • How does this piece relate to our definition of “Art”?

Display additional works of art representing a variety of disciplines, cultural traditions, and media, and discuss each. The examples can include music, sculpture, dance, graffiti art, fashion design, conceptual art, public art, architecture, etc., and students can also be instructed to bring in their own suggestions in advance of the lesson. Continue to revise the class definition of “Art” as needed based on the discussion.

There may be some disagreement over which works should be considered “art”. Make two columns on the board with the headings “Art” and “Not Art” and sort the examples accordingly. The class can revisit this list throughout the activity and make changes as necessary.

Next, display an item of garbage--an empty soda can/bottle, a discarded wrapper, a plastic grocery bag, etc.--and ask the students: “Is this art?” Discuss why or why not using the discussion questions and class definition as a guide. Repeat this process a few times with additional items of garbage and discuss and record the results.

Hold up a final piece of garbage and discuss: “Can this become art? If so, how? If not, why not?”

Part 3:

Divide the class into small groups and provide each group with an item of “garbage”. Instruct the groups that they will have 10 minutes to imagine and describe how they would transform their object into a work of art. Ask each group to:

  • Describe and/or sketch the work of art
  • Give their work of art a title
  • Write a brief statement that describes the theme and/or message of their piece
  • NOTE: If time and resources allow, the groups can actually make a piece of artwork from the item of garbage.

When time is up, reconvene the class, have the groups share their work, and discuss their process. Possible discussion questions may include:

  • What role or roles did each of you play as part of the creative team?
  • What are some of the benefits and challenges of working collaboratively? What strategies did your group use to complete the project?
  • What difficulties or disagreements arose during the creative process? How did you address them?
  • How would this process have been different if you were working alone rather than in a group?
  • In addition to the physical changes made to your object during this process, in what other ways did your object change?
  • Is your object still just garbage? If so, why? If not, what is different, and what do you think caused the transformation? Can you discuss a specific moment when the transformation took place?
  • How did your perception of the object change?
  • Did this process transform you in some way? If so, how?
  • What surprised you most about this process?

Complete the activity by asking the class to update their working definition for “Art” to reflect their feedback from the class discussion.

VIEWING THE MODULE

You will need: pens and writing paper, LCD projector and/or DVD player, Waste Land: Pictures of Garbage Film Module, Waste Land: Art and Transformation Film Module, and the Waste Land: The Film in Context handout.

  • Provide students with the handout Waste Land: The Film in Context and discuss briefly as a class. This handout can also be given as homework for students to read in advance of the lesson. Explain that the term catador means “collector” in Portuguese and is the term used in the film and the handout to refer to the workers at the Jardim Gramacho landfill.

  • Building on the group discussion from the prescreening activity, instruct the students to take notes while watching the video and identify the transformations they see occurring throughout the film. Ask them to write down quotes that refer to the theme of transformation, and have them note who and what is transformed through the Pictures of Garbage project.

  • Optional: Provide additional context for the film module by screening Waste Land: Human Dignity Film Module and the trailer for the film Waste Land, which can be found at (http://video.pbs.org/ video/1771965504).

POSTSCREENING ACTIVITY

You will need: pens and writing paper, LCD projector or DVD player, and Student Handout A: Art for Social Change Proposal.

Goal: Using the film module as a jumping-off point, students will discuss the role of art in addressing social justice issues and develop their own art-based community campaign to raise awareness about an issue in their school or community.

Review:

Begin by discussing Waste Land: Art and Transformation Film Module and ask for volunteers to share some transformations they saw occurring in the film. Use the following prompts to guide the class discussion:

  • In the film, Vik Muniz refers to transformation as “the stuff of art, transforming material and ideas.” What do you think he means by that?
  • The garbage used in the portraits of the catadores is still garbage, just like your object from the prescreening activity was still the same object -- what makes it art? What transformed it?
  • According to the women who participated in the art project, what impact did this experience have on their lives? How might their experience have been different if they were just the subject of the portraits and not part of the creative team that made the artwork?
  • After having worked on the art project, Isis says, “I don’t see myself in the trash anymore.” What do you think she meant by this? How did she describe the impact this project had on her perception of herself and her work at the landfill?
  • There was a debate in the film between Vik Muniz and his collaborators about the responsibility they had to the catadores who were participating in the project and the effect this experience was having on their lives. Muniz says, “If I was a catador and somebody said to me, ‘Listen do you want to come work for two weeks in an artist studio … Oh, and by the way, we may take you to a foreign country, but at the end of all of this you’ll be back here collecting garbage,’ I know I’d say yes.” Would you say yes? Why or why not? What concerns did the other members of the creative team raise? Do you agree with their concerns? If not, why? If so, what would you have done differently? What responsibility do you think an artist has to her/his subjects?
  • In the film, Muniz states: “I start thinking about how to help people and all of a sudden I feel very arrogant about it. Who am I to help anybody, because in the end, I feel like I’m being helped more than they are.” What do you think he meant by this statement? How do you think this process transformed him? What role do you think artists can or should play in addressing social issues in their work and improving conditions for the individuals and communities they represent?
  • In what ways can art be an effective medium to address social justice issues? Based on what we saw in the film and our discussion, what are some of the potential challenges or limitations of art interventions? What other examples can you give of art that was made to raise awareness about an issue or injustice or bring about social change? Are there any examples in your own community?

Post-screening Activity:

Instruct the class that they will identify an issue in their own school or community that they would like to improve or raise awareness about and work in groups to develop a proposal for an art-based campaign to address it. (NOTE: To reflect the focus of the film module, students can be encouraged to identify an issue that specifically impacts women in their community.)

To help students brainstorm subjects for their art project, have them fold a piece of paper in half, open it, and label the left side “Brainstorm” and the right side “Candidates.” Give them one minute to fill in the “Brainstorm” half of the paper with all the issues in their school or community that they are concerned about (examples can include recycling, bullying at school, violence against women, cleaning up their streets, teen pregnancy, students’ right to privacy, drugs, and teen homelessness). When time is up, have students select two issues they feel most strongly about and list them in the “Candidates” column.

Divide the class into small groups of three to five students and provide each group with Student Handout A: Art for Social Change Proposal. The groups will share their top candidates from the brainstorming activity, select one issue for their project, and work together to fill out their project proposal.

Students can research examples of community and collaborative art projects, or, if time is limited, the following examples can be provided for inspiration:

  • Groundswell Community Mural Project: www.groundswellmural.org
  • Voices of Hope Productions: http://voicesofhope.tv/about/
  • Alixa and Naima, S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D. Project: http://www.climbingpoetree.com/live/
  • Bayeté Ross Smith, Got the Power Project: http://gotthepower.tumblr.com/
  • Judy Gelles’ Portrait Project: http://www.judygelles.com/portfolio/4th-grade/
  • The Face2Face Project: www.face2faceproject.com

Finally, groups will share their proposals with the class and reflect. If time and resources are available, the class can select one school-based project to implement collectively or each group can implement their own project.

There may be some disagreement over which works should be considered art. Make two columns on the board with the headings “Art” and “Not Art” and sort the examples accordingly. The class can revisit this list throughout the activity and make changes as necessary.

Next, display an item of garbage -- an empty soda can/bottle, a discarded wrapper, a plastic grocery bag, etc. -- and ask the students: “Is this art?” Discuss why or why not, using the discussion questions and class definition as a guide. Repeat this process a few times with additional items of garbage and discuss and record the results.

Hold up a final piece of garbage and discuss: “Can this become art? If so, how? If not, why not?”

Assessment Essays (options included below):

  1. In the film, one of the works of art was sold for $50,000 and the proceeds were given to the community organizers at the landfill to provide resources, services, and equipment for the catadores. If your group’s artwork were purchased for $50,000, how would you use the money to improve circumstances in your community?

    Students will write an individual artist statement about their work, which should include the following:

    • What issue is this project addressing?
    • Why is it important to you?
    • What is the message of the piece?
    • What role did you play as part of the creative team?
    • What materials did you choose to make your project and how do they help tell the story?
    • How do you want this artwork to transform your community?
    • Did this process transform you in some way? If so, how?
    • Did you think of yourself as an artist before the project? As someone who has participated in creating a work of art, do you think of yourself as an artist now? Why or why not?
    • What impact did this process have on your own perception of what makes something art?
  2. If art can transform our perception of an object, can it also transform the way we see an individual, a community, a society? Compare Vik Muniz’s art project from Waste Land with the project your group created. What transformations occurred in each? What was the intended impact for each project? In what ways do you hope your project will transform the individuals involved in making the work, the community or communities represented in the piece, and the audience that experiences it?

  3. Hundreds of people work in the Jardim Gramacho landfill in Brazil, but only seven were chosen by Vik Muniz to participate in this project as representatives of that community. According to the participants represented in the film, how did their relationship to their community change as a result of being selected for this project? If you were the artist, how would you decide who could participate? What steps would you take to ensure that the rest of the community benefited from the project in some way?

  1. In September 2000, the United Nations signed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the aim of halving the number of people living in poverty, reducing child mortality, fighting disease, and improving social and economic conditions in the world's poorest countries by 2015. Have your class examine the MDG campaign’s focus on women and consider how and why improving rights and resources for women and girls is considered key to eradicating global poverty.

    • Divide the class into eight groups, assign each an MDG, and instruct the groups develop a “We Are the Goal” presentation, which should include the following:
    • A summary of the MDG and the campaign’s strategies for improving social and economic conditions for women
    • Information on the public perception and understanding of the MDGs. (Student’s can investigate the public’s knowledge and understanding of the MDG campaign by recording “person-on-the-street” interviews and include the footage in the presentation.)
    • Examples of specific programs that have been implemented and their impact to date
    • How the campaign relates to issues in the students’ own communities
    • A plan of action for the group and their school community to contribute to the MDG campaign
    • The presentations should be multi-media and can include photo essays, video footage, audio clips, animations, etc. using the following websites as resources: Animoto: http://animoto.com Capzles: http://www.capzles.com Prezi: http://prezi.com
    • Information and resources for research on the MDGs can be found at: United Nations Millennium Development Goals: www.un.org/millenniumgoals End Poverty 2015: www.endpoverty2015.org MDG Get Involved: http://www.un.org/en/mdg/summit2010/getinvolved.shtml UN Women: http://www.unifem.org/genderissues/millenniumdevelopment_goals/ MDG Monitor: www.mdgmonitor.org
  2. Have students engage in a deeper exploration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and consider the relevance of each of these rights to their own lives and the lives of young people in their community using the website Youth for Human Rights as a resource: www.youthforhumanrights.org.

    • Play the video Human Rights Defined: www.youthforhumanrights.org/what-are-human-rights.html. Discuss with the class what we mean when we talk about human rights and how the concept of human rights evolved.
    • Assign each student a right, and instruct her/him to watch the corresponding video illustrating that right.
    • Have students write an essay, a poem, or make a video that describes what each of these rights means in their life.
    • Compile the completed works into a Declaration of Youth Rights.
  3. Community-lead organizations such as The Associação dos Catadores do Aterro Metropolitano de Jardim Gramacho (ACAMJG) played an important roll in assuring that the benefits from the Pictures of Garbage project were felt by the entire Jardim Gramacho community, not just the seven catadores featured in the film. Have students engage in a deeper examination of Brazil’s Recyclable Materials Collectors Cooperatives (Cooperativa dos Catadores de Materiais Reaproveitáveis/COOPAMARE) and their role in developing community-based solutions to national issues such as unemployment, workers rights, waste management, urban planning, and environmental protection.

    • Using their research as a guide, instruct students to identify community-lead campaigns in their local area that have organized to raise awareness of a local issue, protect the rights of individuals or groups in their community, or provide services that are otherwise unavailable.
    • They should research the history of the community-based campaign, the issue(s) the organizers are addressing, how they organized, the impact they are having (or hope to have) on the community, and their relationship with local government.
    • Students can approach the project as investigative journalists and examine all sides of the issue by conducting interviews with the organizers, members of the community, and representatives from local government. They can present their completed work as a newspaper article, a radio report, or a television news report.
  4. As discussed, the United Nations Development Program, states that, although women and girls comprise approximately half of the world’s population, they account for 70% of the world's poor. Ask students to examine the factors that contribute to women being disproportionately vulnerable to the threat of poverty, and how these factors impact their lives and the lives of women in their communities.

    • Introduce students to the website for Half The Sky (www.halftheskymovement.org), which “lays out an agenda for the world's women and three major abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape; maternal mortality, which needlessly claims one woman a minute.”
    • Option 1: Have students read the stories of the women featured on the website and write a dialogue between themselves and that woman. They can use the following questions as a guide: What are your dreams? What do you both want to affect in the world? How do each of you she see your community changing if you were given that opportunity? What can you learn from each other? Using Sarah Jones’ TED Talk for reference and inspiration students can perform the work with a partner: (http://www.ted.com/talks/sarahjonesasaonewomanglobal_village.html)
    • Option 2: Have students research the origins of the title "Half the Sky". Using their research as a guide, ask students to sketch/collage a mural that depicts a woman or women holding up half the sky. What is floating in the sky on the woman's side? On the man's side? Do they balance each other? How are they different? Students should complete the work by writing an artists’ statement that describes their artistic process, the message of the piece, and what their artwork means to them.
  • Film module:
    Pictures of Garbage

    http://cdn.itvs.org/waste_land-edu-project.jpgwaste_land-edu-project-1024.mov
  • Film module:
    Art and Transformation

    http://cdn.itvs.org/waste_land-edu-art.jpgwaste_land-edu-art-1024.mov
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