My objective for this lesson was for students to each construct a 3D television in a pop art style. Students had to include a self-portrait and demonstrate their understanding of background, middle ground, and foreground. Creating playful televisions was a logical way to reference important concepts behind the pop art movement, such as pop culture, mass media, advertising, and consumerism.
We began this lesson by defining background, middle ground, and foreground. Students viewed photographs of landscapes and cityscapes and worked together to locate the three areas in each scene. From here, we explored the pop art movement and discussed key characteristics and techniques used by artists working in this style. Artist Nam June Paik’s work utilizing televisions was a great connection to explore. (See more about Paik at the Resource at the end of this article.)
During our next class, students each brought in a shoebox or cereal box. They cut a rectangular opening in the lid or side of the box and painted the exterior white to cover any existing marks or logos. Once dry, students painted over the white with a color of their choice. I had many neon colors of paint available because pop art is bright and bold. We looked at images of old televisions for inspiration, which sparked some conversation about how technology has evolved over time. Students proceeded to create knobs and dials from colored paper and cardboard and antennas from pipe cleaners.
Next, students began self-portraits to place in their TVs. For homework, they were to take a photo of themselves. I encouraged them to “get into character” and experiment with a variety of poses, costumes, and props.
We printed the photos at school and students traced their portraits using a light box. Typically, I don’t permit a lot of tracing in middle school, but students spent a considerable amount of time perfecting their photo shoots and wanted to retain the likeness of their photos. Aside from the portraits, all other components inside the TV had to be drawn freehand.
The final step was to assemble the layers inside the televisions. Backgrounds were glued to the inside back of the box first. Students then played with the positioning of the remaining layers to ensure they had a balanced composition. They used glue, along with pieces of cardboard and Popsicle sticks, to prop up and support the middle and foregrounds.
Throughout this project, students were given many opportunities to make personal choices in their art. They were able to choose which type of show they wanted to “star” in, how their self-portrait looked, and which media to use for the interior layers. We brainstormed options together, but students were ultimately allowed to run in any direction that spoke to them. Some show ideas included: sitcom, soap opera, infomercial, music video, news broadcast, game show, sporting event, old western, and documentary.
I believe having a level of choice in every project is important for middle-school students. Encouraging them to make their own creative decisions is a sure way to captivate and engage them, and also to enable them to develop essential critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Also—let’s face it—the unique ways they’ve gone about interpreting this project is really what makes it so interesting!
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.