The Wonder of Nature and Modern Art

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Ecology, Decomposition, Light, Spectrum, Insects

Technology – Computer Coding

Mathematics – Numbers, Measurement, Time

Possible Art Concepts: Modern Artists – John Grade, Patrick Dougherty, Chakaia Booker, Tara Donovan,  Janet Echelman, Maya Lin, Leo Villareal, Gabriel Dawe, Jennifer Angus

Installations, Organic Forms, Abstraction, Pattern

I am amazed by modern artists. Many of them produce art that is not only visually pleasing but also thought provoking. Today’s artists have moved art into that next dimension and make me think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” So, I was really blown away when I visited the Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder Exhibit”.  The Renwick Gallery has just reopened after a two  year renovation. Instead of filling it back up right away, the gallery challenged modern art sculptors to design on sight installations. Nine artists were chosen to bring their designs to life. These works are like the pop up shops and restaurants we find around today. Most of them will only be around for a short. Four are already gone. See a few artist interviews in some of these  videos.

All the artists were inspired by nature somehow. Many want to shine a light on one category of nature. While others transform common objects into organic or natural forms.

Two of the artists, John Grade and Patrick Dougherty work from reclaimed or found wood. Work that eventually ends up decomposing back into nature. Definitely add their names to a decomposition science unit. I have talked about Dougherty before in my post, Autumn Nature Art. You could also talk about these artists in an ecology unit. They reuse or recycle wood and don’t leave much of a carbon footprint. Dougherty leaves none.

Chakaia BookerTara Donovan,  Janet Echelman and Maya Lin (You may remember her as the sculptor who designed the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, D.C.) all used everyday objects to create organic forms in their installations. Booker, Echelman and Lin are all referencing ecology. Booker is recycling rubber tires. Echelman wants us to realize all of nature is interdependent. Lin is promoting water conservation. Donovan transforms multitudes of one everyday object into one organic form. For this installation, she created 10 forms. Find some lessons including Tara here and here.  Her work could also be used as inspiration for a reusing project (i.e.- bottle caps, all those plastic fasteners on bread bags, etc.) .

Two of the artist’s would correlate nicely with a science unit on light. Leo Villareal‘s  sculpture includes numerous LED lights that are controlled by computer codes. I’ve talked about light in art before in this post, Light And Only Light.  Gabriel Dawe‘s work always contains light spectrums and can be mistaken for actual rays of light. Don’t be fooled though, they are actually miles and miles of stretched sewing threads . Find a Dawe spectrum primary lesson here. Dawe’s work reminds me of the string art we used to make back in the 70s. My all time favorite blogger, Cassie Stephens, is crazy about all things retro and created this intermediate level string art lesson found here. This lesson even contains a how to video. 🙂

Last but not least, let’s talk about bugs. Yes, I said bugs. Jennifer Angus covers the walls of entire rooms with patterns consisting of real insects. She is trying to take the “Ick” factor away by showing insects in a beautiful way. They play such an important role in our survival as a planet (pollination, decomposition). She hopes that after seeing one of her works, maybe people won’t be as compelled to “squash a bug”! Add her name to your insect unit.

These artists could also be used in a math unit. The information in this exhibition reference numbers of objects used, an increment of time and measurement. Angus owns over 30,000 bugs, which cost between 50 cents and $25 each. What’s the least amount she could have paid for her insects? What is the most she could have paid? Maya Lin used 54,000 marbles in “Folding the Chesapeake”.  John Grade used 1/2 million wood pieces to create “Middle Fork”.  Tara Donavon used about a million index cards to create her installation. Leo Villareal used 23,000 LED lights in his work. Students could graph these numbers. They could determine who used the most material. Who used the least? Gabriele Dawe used 60,000 miles of sewing thread in his installation. That’s equivalent to all of a human’s blood vessels laid end to end or 2 1/2 times the circumference of the earth. The title of Janet Echelman’s piece, “1.8”, references the 1.8 millionths of a second of time lost during the 2011 Japanese earthquake.

I’ve mentioned in my post, Earth Day, that artists began recycling before it was even a twinkle in anyone else’s eye. They are still out there promoting the care of our earth today. I hope that you will integrate some of these artist’s works into your classroom curriculum.

If you like what you see, how about giving me a like or share this post with a fellow teacher or friend.

I hope you will stop by again real soon!



  1. · June 16, 2016



  2. Pingback: Pigeons/Friend or Fowl (Pun Intended!) | OH THE ART PLACES WE CAN GO

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