SchoolArts Room

Big Thinking about Structure

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Nov 9, 2016

Several years ago I had the opportunity to teach Chinese students at a winter camp in Beijing. We only had one day free for sightseeing and our hosts were determined that we would spend it seeing the Great Wall (It was January and bitterly cold). Though it is a myth that the Wall is the only human-made structure that can be seen from space, it is well-deserving of its recognition.


At the Great Wall of China
UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Chinese are justifiably proud of it. Stretching for about 4,500 miles, the Wall is considered to be the world’s largest military structure. It was built from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD on the northern border of China to serve as military defense. Many of our Chinese students were eager to use it as a subject in their artwork.
Though your students most likely won’t find any nearby human-made structures on such a massive scale, the concept of structure, an arrangement or organization of interrelated elements in a system or material object, can be found in every aspect of life: in the built environment, in the natural world, in the abstract, and in everyday life. Structure provides consistency, predictability, and stability, and orders our days, especially those of teachers.
I can’t think of another profession where the entire day is structured in blocks of time, down to the minute (who else has a timed bathroom break?). Teachers are also guided by the structures of state and district requirements, prescribed curriculum, scope and sequence, lesson plans, and the like.
I believe art teachers, with our emphasis on interdisciplinary content, are in the best position to help students learn about structure in both abstract and concrete systems, on both a small and large scale. Our articles in SchoolArts Magazine this month are offered in support of that belief.