The most famous example is Marcel’s urinal titled “The Fountain” Signed R. Mutt and dated 1917. It was submitted for exhibition and ultimately rejected. Jurors were furious, insulted, and vehemently rebuked this “ready-made” work.
With this in mind students were sent throughout the school to photograph four items in public view. They were encouraged to seek out the unusual, the obscure, and the mundane: fountain, brick, gum-wad, cobweb, light switch, etc. Their “work” was then to create a written statement justifying the object or item as art. They could be serious in their writing, poetic, humorous, or nonsensical. We used the thesaurus feature in our writing programs to further obfuscate the meaning of our words or to use words that would make the viewer feel uneasy about their lack of understanding. So words like cantankerous would be used instead of bad-tempered for example. It also helped build vocabulary tying the project to English and writing skills.
All work required a title, the students real name, and credit to the assignment. In this case “Art 3-4 Dada Assignment.” It was important for students to take ownership and credit for their writing. I knew it would tamp down on writing that might be inappropriate.
Our final discussion was about the “finish” of the work. That complex artworks often needed little framing because an active work drew the eyes away from the frame. A simple work needed to be more elegant. The background paper, the tape, all elements that could be seen should be carefully measured and done well because they would be seen and noticed. A large portion of the grade was dedicated to this. Some students took it seriously, others less so, and this was reflected in their grade. Before any work was put in hallways with blue painter’s tape (Pressed onto walls with an eraser for good adhesion)
I had a checklist that acted as their hall pass. The list included the following:
- Appropriate Language
- Inclusion of name and class credit
- Neatly framed and taped
- Free of rips, stains, and folds
When these four were checked, they were allowed to put their work in the hallway, and had to photograph it in position with the item showing. Anyone who did not have a camera phone had to partner with someone who did have one. As they returned I was able to grade their work based on our rubric and a review of their photographs.
I did send information to the administration about the project and that was shared with staff in the weekly bulletin so others would know what these quirky signs were.
I feel this was a successful project and an unusual one. Most students took it seriously, and really enjoyed coming up with written statements meant to creatively prod their audience. The opportunity for subversion is a great motivator in school.