We loved to play “Statue Maker” when we were kids. We’d spin and spin and when the leader called “statue”, we’d stop and try to stand still, still, still so we could continue playing. We re-envisioned this game using the arts integration strategy of tableaux (i.e. frozen pictures.)
Let’s get started by using the Read the Picture strategy with the two sculptures shown below. What is the same about these figures? Both are standing with their arms above their heads. Canova’s figure of Winged Victory looks triumphant, but Atlas looks as if he is literally feeling the weight of the world. How is that difference communicated? How does the material chosen contribute to the mood?
Antonio Canova, Unknown, Atlas, Praza do Toural, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Winged Victory, 1803-06.
Are there any similarities between the two sculptures below? Both seem to be standing quietly and starring off into space. What do you suppose The Little Dancer is thinking about? What is her mood?What do you imagine George Washington is thinking about? What is his mood? How did the artists convey these different feelings?
Edgar Degas, Little Dancer, 1878-81. Jean-Antoine Houdon, George Washington, 1788-92.
The two sculptures below were designed as public monuments. Ernst Barlach (Bar’ – lah) work was designed to honor soldiers who died in World War I. It is a monumental bronze sculpture that is now housed in the Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany. The uniforms and headgear of the soldiers are significant. Why? The two standing soldiers as well as the soldier kneeling in the center wear different styles of uniforms and of headgear to represent German, French, and Russian soldiers. What is the figure on the bottom left showing? He seems to be hiding in fear, afraid to look out at the destruction. The figure on the bottom right is covering his ears to block out the sound of war.
In 1929, the people who commissioned Barlach to create the sculpture expected him to depict only German soldiers, and that the figures would look glorious and heroic. Why? Did Barlach have the same idea? He chose to depict the tragedy of war, no matter what nationalities are involved. As students create a tableaux of Barlach’s figures, ask them to describe the mood they are recreating. What are they doing with their bodies to communicate these moods? How does the pose make them feel?
Frederick Hart created Three Servicemen in bronze as a tribute to American soldiers who fought in Vietnam. How can you figure out which branches of the service are depicted? The figures on the left and right represent the Army, and the figure in the center represents the Marines. Talk about the expressions on the faces of the soldiers who are standing. Ask students to describe the feelings shown by each man. How do their poses communicate their feelings and thoughts? What do their clothes tell you? What else is communicated? How is Hart’s message different than Barlach’s?
Ernst Balach, Frederick Hart, Three Servicemen, 1984.
Magdeburg Cenotaph,* 1929.
Try creating tableaux of various sculptures that “fit” with what you are studying in various subject matter. Divide the class into small groups to create their tableaux. Vary the experience by having one or two students per group act as the sculptors. If the sculptors are the only people who see the art image, they will direct the tableaux-makers (i.e. create the sculpture) by using words to describe the poses and feelings depicted. This definitely helps students hone their skills of observation and communication!
Extend this work with tableaux by having students create their own scenes based on characters or historical events they are studying. When we use games, the learning is fun and has lasting power! With a little research, there seems to be an endless supply of amazing art work to help us connect in meaningful ways to just about any aspect of the curriculum.
Susan and Mary
*A cenotaph is an “empty tomb,” meaning the remains of the people honored in the sculpture are in another place.