Contemporary Art

Organized Chaos

By Sue Liedke, posted on Mar 8, 2022

I was pleased to take students to see Sol LeWitt’s 2003 sculpture Splotch. Students examined the colorful towers from all sides and sketched it. I asked them for words to describe the work. “Maze,” “colorful,” and “dripping” came up, but they landed on versions of “random” many times. There’s something special about a work of art that truly gives the feeling of being both intentional and disorderly. This work has been described as “organized chaos,” and students were quick to pick up on the oxymoronic feeling in this piece.

SchoolArts magazine, April 2022, The Contemporary Art Issue, Early Childhood art lesson, Alcohol ink ceramics
SchoolArts magazine, April 2022, The Contemporary Art Issue, Early Childhood art lesson, Alcohol ink ceramics
Some students utilized a carefully selected palette of inks for their bowls, while others experimented with every color available and “let fate decide the outcome.”

Students loved counting how many colors LeWitt used and guessing how many separate pieces the work is composed of. The piece is intriguing and engaging—they loved both talking about it and later drawing what they saw with colored pencils.

Moving to Ceramics
When we returned to the studio, I presented students with their canvases: white ceramic bowls. These bowls are the epitome of basic: cereal bowl–sized, unmarked, not notable in any way. We would soon change all that!

I told students we’d be using a new medium: alcohol ink. These highly concentrated inks come in tiny squeeze bottles, in brilliant colors reminiscent of LeWitt’s sculpture. I demonstrated how students could use the inks to create drips and puddles. By moving the bowl as the ink dripped, they could mix colors. By adding rubbing alcohol with an eye dropper, they could dilute and mix the colors even further. After this quick demo, students were free to share the colors and experiment.

Working with Ink
The feeling of organized chaos we were striving for quickly emerged. Students gasped in surprise as the colors worked their magic. Because the colors are dripped onto already glazed ceramics, they don’t immediately absorb into the bowl— they sit on the surface and move until the alcohol evaporates, leaving the color behind.

Students worked on both the inside and outside of their bowls, experimenting with different color combinations and ways of directing their ink flows. It was difficult to determine the perfect stopping point, and some bowls became “muddy” inside, which was easily remedied with an alcohol wipe. (As you can imagine, all of this rubbing alcohol and alcohol ink becomes quite fragrant. I recommend a well-ventilated space.)

Chaotic Vessels
Once the bowls were finished, we left them to dry completely for twenty-four hours. I sealed them with a spray clear coat (again, find a well-ventilated space). Before students took their bowls home, I reminded them that these bowls were not for eating out of; they should instead be used for storing special collections or for display. The bowls’ trickles of color and drops of metallics shimmered, inviting the viewer for a closer look into this chaotic vessel.

Sue Liedke is a teacher at the Music Settlement School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

National Standard
Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.

Sol LeWitt’s Splotch

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