As second semester approaches, I need to start pulling together my curriculum for my online classes.  Ideas for Arts History have been stewing away for weeks, and where I approached first semester chronologically from the Middle Ages through turn-of-the-century Realism, second semester will be broken down by function of the arts.  The unit I'm most inspired to explore right now is the idea of "Art as Play."  I've already reflected on this some with artists Oliver Herring and Leo Villareal.  But because this is an arts history class, I need resources from across the spectrum, and here's what's stewing as of now:


Oliver Herring: Using TASK to construct a creative, productive play time.  Interactive, ever-evolving.  It's never the same experience twice.  The people involved set the tasks and choose how to execute them.  I also want to look at his paint splat portraits.  Who's playing in that situation?  Herring?  The participant?  In what way is the viewer playing by viewing the artwork?  Because it draws out a chuckle?  Because the narrative told by the portrait is so spontaneous and silly and absurd?  Is it about the inter"play" between the artist, the subject, the work, and the viewer?
Oliver Herring
Leo Villareal: His works are a feast for the eyes.  They’re spectacles.  Why view them?  Because they’re fun, indulgent, transporting, etc.  They draw you in.  Sharing a space with a Villareal work is like playing.  It’s like a circus or night club or light show.  And all his works are are lights and colors and shapes and the sequence that things light up.  But they’re so much more than that.  It makes me question our emotional attachment to light and color and how Villareal “plays” to that.  His works definitely create a mood, but he seems deliberate in creating a fanciful, playful mood for his viewers to frolic through.  
Leo Villareal
assume vivid astro focus – This team uses bright, bold colors and neons.  It uses sexually imagery in a playful, cheeky way without it being offensive or obscene.  They “play” with taboo much like Shakespeare and other wordsmiths “play” with language and innuendo and puns and double-entendres.  avaf creates works that are festival-party-show-events and bring in the public to participate and bask in the spectacle of colors, lights, sounds, and performances.  They create these worlds for people to play in.  The viewer moves from spectator to player in these universes avaf creates.
assume vivid astro focus
assume vivid astro focus
What about artists who make more political statements…who play with norms and turn them on their heads?  In other words – artists who work in the carnivalesque.  How about Walton Ford who takes Audobon imagery and “corrupts” it with violent imagery?  He’s playing with traditional depictions of nature that are so sterile or neutral or peaceful and turns them on their head by inserting Hobbes-like references to the brutality and savagery of nature.
Walton Ford
Walton Ford
Kara Walker does something similar with her depictions of the Antebellum south.  She takes this traditional imagery of charm and grace and genteelism and inserts violence and troubling sexual imagery.  Her images play – though darkly – with how media “remembers” Southern history.
Kara Walker
Cao Fei is another artist who deals with play, though she did so literally by playing Second Life and creating this other, virtual life for herself.  Looking at video games as play is something to think about as well…
Cao Fei
Next, I need to consider literature, architecture, and music.  Things to keep cooking in that brain of mine: Shakespeare; puns and slippery language (look at book titles and propaganda); Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead; Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me (rhymes, news quiz); and John Stewart and Steven Colbert and how they play with politics.
I often use visual art to teach concepts like symbolism, mood, motif, tone, metaphor, and other literary devices. Once they have a gist for defining the concepts, they begin applying their learning by analyzing both images and written text. While at ArtPrize, I viewed a work whose title got me thinking about more innovative ways to teach about puns and wordplay...and using art and images to teach these literary concepts.
"Old Tired Crow" by Nick Jakubiak is a pun on the material, tires, used to make the crow. If it wasn't made of tires, the title wouldn't be a pun, as the viewer would just assume the crow was tired, or sleepy. But because puns have a double-meaning, we assume the crow is both tired and made of tires. Haha!
I am an avid NPR listener, so much so that I even stay tuned during the pledge drives. During this most recent one, one of their donation gifts was the "Nina Totin' Bag." Horribly cheese-a-rific, it's a pun on NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. It's a pun, because with Nina's face on it, it's her in bag form. And it is, in fact, a tote bag. Unfortunately for her, I heard that gift name so many times during that pledge segment, that I now misspeak and call her Nina "Totenbag."
This is a screenshot of a story I heard yesterday whose title was an excellent example of wordplay. The title is "One for the Books." Like any good play on words, the title has various meanings, all of which are well-suited to the content of the article. The title could refer to the article's subject, an avid reader and writer named Joe Queenan. His love of literature makes him "one for the books." The title could also refer to the 7,000 books he's read in his lifetime, a number that's so impressive it's "one for the books."

You can read the entire article here:

What I'm envisioning for a lesson on puns and wordplay is assembling a collection of contemporary artworks, current news stories with playful titles and passages, and other pun-ny pop culture references, and rolling it out as a whole class, talking through each one, one-by-one. It would generate a lot of discussion, and, once they get a feel for it, laughs. The students will be impressed with how clever they are for getting the joke, and it might make reading more enjoyable as they'll be on the lookout for playful, slippery language. This activity could prep you for identifying and analyzing wordplay in the texts you read and inspire students to start using it in their own writing and speech.

    About Me

    A lover of literature and the arts and an advocate for global awareness and active citizenship, I spend my days with high school English and Social Studies students exploring why it all matters and how they can have a voice in the world.  This is my space to document and reflect on my practice, note happenings in education, and share my appreciation for the arts.


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