I felt that my high-school students really needed a change from the tedium and monotony of their daily school schedules. I wanted to come up with a lesson that would give students a chance to unwind and create something visually exciting. When students arrived in class, I announced that their assignment would be to “play for a day.” I had an assortment of puzzles, card games, and board games spread out in corners of the room for students to choose from. During the next phase of the project, students selected the game that was most memorable to them to use as inspiration for a play-themed artwork.
It was that time of year when students are stressed out about state testing, exams, and grades. I felt that my high-school students really needed a change from the tedium and monotony of their daily school schedules. I wanted to come up with a lesson that would give students a chance to unwind and create something visually exciting.
When students arrived in class, I announced that their assignment would be to “play for a day.” Several students exclaimed, “To play? What do you mean?” Students were surprised but welcomed a change to the expected class routine. I had an assortment of puzzles, card games, and board games spread out in corners of the room for students to choose from. Laughter and chatter filled the art room as students spent the entire class period joining together to play the different games.
The following day, I told students that by “playing,” they had already begun the necessary research for their upcoming assignment. I asked students to collaborate to brainstorm a list of games that they were familiar with and had experience playing. Then we combined all of the responses into a master list to be used as inspiration.
Next, we discussed how play had been a topic of interest used by artists throughout the centuries. We focused specifically on discussing and analyzing The Card Players series of paintings by Paul Cézanne. Students were shocked to learn that one of these paintings was, until most recently, the highest grossing painting ever sold in history.
Gadgets and Gizmos
During the third class, our focus shifted to the details and mechanisms of the games themselves. We discussed the various parts and components of the games and the processes in which they were played. Students practiced taking photographs of the game pieces, game boards, and each other interacting with the games in the classroom.
To personalize the lesson more, students were given a homework assignment to photograph at least five different viewpoints of their favorite game at home.
Development and Process
During the next phase of the project, students selected the game that was most memorable to them to use as inspiration for a play-themed artwork. Students sketched their ideas in pencil, then transitioned into their choice of materials and preferred size of paper. Students worked from imagination, or used their own photographs or the games themselves as a visual reference. Some students also brought in their own games from home.
Students exhibited their play-inspired art around the room and completed a written reflection. As part of the reflection, students were asked to describe in detail the game that their artwork was inspired by to someone who had never seen or played it. This helped students to reflect on what influenced them and on their own personal experiences playing their chosen game.
Feedback and Response
The most common responses I received from students were, “Can we do this project again next year?” and “I liked that we got to play games and pick our own game to make art about!” Students truly appreciated the opportunity to take a break from their busy routines and enjoyed adding a bit of play and whimsy into their artwork.
Keri Reynolds is a secondary art educator and fine arts department chair at Elsik High School in Houston, Texas. KeReynol@ga.aliefisd.net
Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
Art teachers incorporate humor, play, game creation, and imagination into their lessons. Young students assemble surreal imaginative photomontages, elementary students create pinch-pot monsters and 3D environments to film in stop-motion animation, middle-school students reference pop culture in playful pop art television sculptures, high-school students interpret their social media personas through photo collage, and more.