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Lesson Title: Visual Memories Grade Level: High School (grades 9- 12) Estimated Completion Time: 5 to 6 class periods


Students will have full class and small group discussions on the role memory plays in the art making process. They will learn about four artists who use memory as inspiration for some of their work. Susan Rothenberg, Jos iah McElheny, Mike Kelley and Hi roshi Su gimoto all have used their personal past experiences to theme some of their work. All four artists embrace the reaction and interpretation the audience has after viewing their work. After recording a memory from their past, students will write either a short story or poem about the memory and create an image or sculpture of one object that represents that memory.

Enduring Ideas/Essential Questions

Many artists make their artwork based off of emotions, nostalgia, sensations or images from their past. Students will discuss the following questions: “What role does memory play in art?” and “Are there certain materials and media that work best when creating a visual memory?” and “Does it matter how an audience might view or perceive an artist’s personal experiences through their work?” After exploring these areas, students will learn that personal experiences from the past can inspire interesting and dynamic art.

National Core Art Standards

HS Proficient: Students will VA:Cr1.2.Ia: Shape an artistic investigation of an aspect of present- day life using a contemporary practice of art or design. VA:Pr4.1.Ia: Analyze, select, and curate artifacts and/or artworks for presentation and preservation. VA:Re.7.1.Ia: Hypothesize ways in which art influences perception and understanding of human experiences. VA:Cn11.1.Ia:

Describe how knowledge of culture, traditions, and hi story may influence personal responses to art.

Lesson Objectives

In this lesson, students will collectively discuss, inquire and interpret the work of artists Susan Rothenberg, Josiah McElheny, Mike Kelley and Hiroshi Sugimoto. They will individually create an image or sculpture using medium of their choice of a single object to represent a personal memory from their past. They will assess the success and quality of their own work and then collectively analyze and critique the work of classmates.

Too ls and Materials

For this art lesson, a variety of art tools and media should be available for students to use on their pieces. Multiple sculpture materials, clay, adhesives and cutting/carving tools should be

made available as well as a variety of 2- D media options such as watercolors, oil paints, pastels, drawing materials and digital cameras. Students will choose what medium works best to represent their memory. Any safety materials should also be available such as dust masks, ventilation fans and safety goggles. For students using clay, tables should be covered in canvas sheets to help with clean - up.


To get a classroom discussion going and to find out what students already know, write “Why is art important?” on the whiteboard and make a list of students’ responses. This is to get them thinking about the different reasons people past and present have created art and how art helps and is part of our every-day life. Next ask students “Where do artists find their inspiration?” and write responses on the board in a new list. Students may or may not determine that memories play a role in some artists’ work but after listing their thoughts on the previous questions, write “What role does memory play in art?” This question would be followed up with “Why do you think some artists incorporate personal memories into their work?” This will start the discussion on memory. Keep the discussion going by asking a series of questions about why they think we remember things. “What types of things do people remember about their past?” “Why are some events memorable and others are not?” “What makes these memories unique?” “What are some emotions associated with memories?”

After discussions on art and memory, artists who use memories as inspiration for some of their art will be introduced. Slides of Susan Rothenberg’s work will be shown and a short video clip will be shown of her talking about emotional memories that she has portrayed in her paintings. Josiah McElheny’s work will be shown and discussions will be had about how his entire art medium choice, glassblowing, is a memory in itself since the techniques and skills were secretive and only passed on orally from person to person. Mike Kelley’s “The Educational Complex” sculpture will be shown and students will learn that this was a compilation of memories of every school he ever attended plus his childhood home. This will emphasize that there can be gaps in memory, and Mike Kelley puts this to work literally in his piece by leaving holes in the parts he does not remember. Lastly students will see slides of Shinto Shrines from Japan and discover that they were meant to house sacred items. They’ll see some photography and a short video clip of artist and photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto explaining how he keeps memories from the past in his version of a Shinto Shrine, in this case fossils from 159,000,000 years ago to give respect the original life forms of this planet and to keep the memory of times past alive. It will be noted that all four artists wish and appreciate the audience to interpret their work individually and uniquely.


1. Divide students into four groups and assign one of the four artists discussed to each group. Have students discuss their assigned artist in their groups . As they are discussing, walk around the classroom and offer some questions that may help them dig deeper in understanding the purpose of their artist’s work. “ Why might the artist have worked in the medium of choice?” “Were they successful in portraying a memory?” “Does it matter what the viewer thinks or feels when viewing the artist’s work?” “Is the

artist’s work beautiful?” “Does the work have to be beautiful?” Allow time after students have discussed the artist’s work to use the computer lab to look up any information to answer lingering questions they have about the artist that might help them understand the work better.

2. After the students have taken the time they need to discuss and research their assigned artist, they will then present the information to the rest of the class so that others can give their ideas and input. They also might feel connected to one of the other artists discussed and draw inspiration from them for their project. Make sure they know that part of the point of this discussion was to find out that not everyone sees the same piece of art in the same light and that we can all draw different meanings and conclusions from artists’ work. Even an artist’s intention may never be interpreted by the audience of their work and that this is okay and even sometimes welcomed.

3. Next, h ave students think of a memory off the top of their head from their childhood. Let them know it doesn’t have to be significant to anyone but them. As they think about this memory, they should list colors, objects, smells, sounds, voices or anything else that stands out on a piece of paper. They should try to answer the following questions “Where was the location of this memory?” “Was there an emotion attached to this memory?” “Was I alone or with o thers in this memory?” “Is this a memory I want to always have or do I want to forget it and why?”

4. After students make a list of the details they can remember from the memory, have them write a short story or poem detailing anything they can remember in order to let others visualize the event. This may end up being a poem listing a few objects or emotions or it might be a detailed story where others will almost feel as if they experienced the same memory. Depending on how personal the memory is and how much the student feels the audience needs to know will affect the outcome of the written part of this project.

5. Once students have finished the written part of the project, explain that their story or poem will be first used to inspire a visual studio project and then displayed next to the finished project.

In the next part of the lesson , students will be asked to portray their memory visually with one recognizable object. This object might be something that triggers the memory when they see it, or it might be an object from the memory itself. Once they choose the object they’re going to portray, they will be given a variety of media to construct their image. Because this is their personal memory, media choice should not be limited so the student can express their idea freely and appropriately. Students should be encouraged to experiment with a variety of media in this class and can also draw inspiration from the work by the artists discussed at the beginning of the lesson. Something might be said li ke, “You may want to make or paint a model of a place, room or building like Mike Kelley” or “Remembering Hi roshi Su gimoto’s work, you may choose to preserve your memory by photographing something or making a sculpture and

keeping in some sort of shrine”. Students will be given a rubric for how their work will be assessed.

Note: Mini lessons and demonstrations on different media technique will be given to students to help them learn technique and safety procedures as they work. Students can choose which demonstrations they watch depending on their choice of medium.

Clay- Students will be shown how to wedge clay to rid it of air bubbles and also be shown safe clean - up procedures. They will also be shown how to coil, make slabs, slip, and hand build simp le structures.

Watercolor- Students will be shown different techniques they may want to try such as wet- on - wet, dripping, glazing, and masking.

Oil Paint- Students will be shown how to use different oil media including Turpenoid (safer for classrooms) and li nseed oil. They will be told that generally artists work from dark to light with this painting medium on a primed canvas but they are not limited to these traditions. They will also be show how to clean brushes and safely discard rags and used Turpenoid.

Photography- Students will be shown some traditional and digital photography techniques and some editing techniques can be demonstrated.

Cardboard - Students will be shown how to use an X- Acto blade safely on a self- healing cutting board. They will also b e shown how to safely and properly use adhesive.

Multi - media- Students may choose to use found objects to build a sculpture or photograph so they will be shown how to adhere different materials together successfully.

As students are making their visual memories, walk around the room and ask questions like, “ Will this chosen medium help you successfully visualize your piece?” or “Is this going to be a literal object representing your memory?” or “ How will you display this piece once its finished?” and “How do you think viewers will perceive this piece?” Some students may need more time than others depending on medium choice and detail involved. If some students finish early, they will be expected to create another visual memory either using the same medium or using another medium. They will later display the pieces together with separate stories or poems as a series.

Distribution and Clean - Up

There should be a few sections in the classroom dedicated to a certain medium and if time permits, appropriate supplies should be set up in each section.

If working with clay, students should spritz their unfinished pieces with water and cover with plastic bags and set sculptures on shelves until the next class. They should put any tools away in boxes on tables and stack the canvas sheets and roll up. If any clay powder is on floor they should wear dust masks and sweep their area.

If working with oil paint, students should clean brushes with Turpenoid and wire mesh and pour used Turpenoid into large Turpenoid barrel for safe disposal or reuse. They should put brushes (brush - side - up) in cans on tables and remove and fold cloth drop cloths for future classes. Paints should go back into boxes set up on tables.

If working with watercolor, students should wash brushes well and place brush - side - up in cans on tables. Tubes of paint should go back in boxes on tables. Any paint dripped or splashed should be wiped up.

If working with sculpture materials, all tools should be put back in boxes on tables and sculptures should go on shelves.

If working with digital cameras, students should either check them back in to the class library or check them out to take h ome to work with.


Using either the classroom, school gallery, or hallway if there is window space for any sculpture, display student work along with their stories or poems about their memory. Have students talk about their final pieces and creative processes. Ask, “Why did you choose to work with this medium to visualize your memory?” and “ Did you come across any challenges while working with this medium? If so, how did you work through it?” and “What emotion do you feel when you look at s o - and - so’s visual memory? Why?” After the class critique, students should fill out a self - assessment form to turn in.


When assessing student work, consider the following questions: To what depth and breadth were students able to consider how memories influence art? How well did students work together while analyzing and interpreting work by their assigned artist? How successful were students in creating original representations of their memories using only one object? Did students use class time efficiently to create their work? How was the craftsmanship in the pieces students made? How well did students participate in meaningful discussion and group critique of class work? Did they use proper art vocabulary and explain their opinions and suggestions about others’ work? Refer to students’ self- assessment sheets to aid in assessment. Also refer to rubric that students were handed for assessing work.

Artists or Works of Art Studied

Susan Rothenberg is an artist from Buffalo, NY who decided to move to a remote part of New Mexico to create art ( “ Art :21, 2007) . She was originally famous for a series of horse paintings from the 1970’s but has since backed away from making series and instead focuses on satisfying herself with individual pi eces of single moments in time that don’t require additional pieces to represent them ( “Susan Rothenberg,” 2017) . She is highly influenced by personally experienced events such as a pet dying, being seriously injured and memories of her childhood and fami ly. She paints with expressive thick brush strokes and “dirtied- down” layered colors to create moments of remembrance.

Josiah McElheny is an artist from Boston, MA now living and working in New York, NY. He is known for his glass work in both traditio nal forms where he blows pieces to represent objects from old paintings to his contemporary and original ideas where he combines glass work with photography or mirrors to “evoke notions of meaning and memory” ( “ Art :21” , 2007). He loves being able to story tell through his pieces and emphasizes that even the medium and techniques of glassblowing are a memory and story in themselves since they were an orally passed down art form from generation to generation.

Mike Kelley is an artist who was born in Detro it, MI and now resides in Los Angeles, CA. He is best known for his performance pieces and stuffed animal installations but also works with other media. He bases his artwork off childhood experiences and takes his audience’s interpretations literally and bases future work off what they think he is experiencing such as childhood abuse or trauma ( “ Art :21, 2017).

Hiroshi Su gimoto is an artist from Tokyo, Japan and still lives and works between there and his studio in New York, NY. Psychology and history intrigue him and he is highly influenced by Marcel Duchamp ( “ Art :21, 2017) and reinterprets much of his work in his photo graph y. Memories are important to Su gimoto because they are the structure of modern day. He created a Japanese Shinto Shrine, a place to safe keep sacred objects (Schneid, B., n.d.), to hold his fossil collection from over 150 million years ago because h e wants to show respect and keep the memory of original earth lifeforms.


Art:21 Art in the twenty- first century screening guide season three (2007). Retrieved from

h ttps://2yhr3j6imaw4e4zzg38k38ar- wpengine.netdna- - content/uploads/2017/03/art21 - season - 3- screenguide.pdf

Art:21 (2005, September 23). Memory [Transcript from the Art:21 television series Art in the Twenty - First Century Season 3 interview with Hiroshi Su gimoto, Josiah McElheny, Mike Kelley and Susan Rothenberg]. Retrieved from - in - the- twenty- first - century/s3/josiah -


mcelheny- in - memory-

Contemporary approaches to teaching (n.d.). Retrieved from

h ttps:// educators/tools - for- teaching/getting- started - an - introduction - to -

teaching- with - contemporary- art/contemporary- approaches - to - teaching/

Schneid, B. (n.d. ). Religiose Bauwerke in Japan . Retrieved from

Susan Rothenberg Biography (2017). Retrieved from - rothenberg

What role does memory play in a rt? (2015). Retrieved from

h ttps:// content/tate/archives- memory/art - and - memory/a/what - role- does - memory- play- in - art

Pinterest Board Link:


Title of piece:


What this piece represents:

How was this piece successful:

Self- Assessment

Obstacles or problems came about in this piece:

Rubric: Visual Memories

To receive a satisfactory students must:

Work well in groups while researching artists assigned

Create an original piece visually representing a memory using one object

Use class time efficiently to create story/poem and visual memory

Show sturdy craftsmanship in their artwork

Participate in some discussion about artists being studied and thoughts on memory

Use a few proper art vocabulary words when critiquing own work and work of others

To receive a proficient students must meet all criteria for “satisfactory” plus:

Show advanced effort in craftsmanship of artwork

Actively participate in class discussions to reach some depth and breadth while inquiring about memory and its role in art

Regularly use proper art vocabulary while critiquing own work and work of others

To receive an exceptional students must meet all criteria for “proficient” plus:

Show intricate use of tools and media to produce high quality craftsmanship in artwork

Actively and participate in cl ass discussions while showing significant depth and breadth in research and inquiry on memory and its role in art

Always use proper art vocabulary to give clear meaning about opinions and meaningful feedback on own work and work of others


Megan Kounnas Visual Memory Project Sept. 10, 2017

Story/Poem Example

Grape Gum

I must have been around five years old sitting in the car driving through the winding roads on a family road trip in New Jersey. Three things stick out in my head the most: being extremely motion sick, Pet Shop Boys playing from the cassette player and the smell and taste of grape bubblegum that I was chewing constantly to help me not be sick. For some reason that artificially flav ored grape gum would always help just a bit with my queasiness that was inevitable. The deep purple color when I’d unwrap the gum from the paper. The soft, pillow - like texture when I first would pop it in my mouth. The achiness of my jaws as I would try to chew too many pieces at the same time. The juiciness and intense flavor that would explode in my mouth with every new piece. I can honestly say I haven’t had that gum in years and years, but just the thought of it or that overly sweet artificial sme ll of someone else chewing it automatically brings me back to that car ride, those songs playing and that satisfied feeling.

of someone else chewing it automatically brings me back to that car ride, those songs playing