Skip to content

9: Contemporary Art as Public Pedagogy Curricula – Performance Art Lesson Execution

May 1, 2011

The following clips were shown to the students on the Promethean Board.  The James Franco clip was shown during the warm up, and the Olivier de Sagazan was shown during the last few minutes of class.

In later classes as part of the warm ups, I showed the students the following clips:

Cirque du Soleil – a sort of circus mixed with performance art

Improv Everywhere – a performance art with many people

Student list of kinds of performances during introduction of the lesson

Next, the students were divided into groups that I selected.  I devised a way for each group to select an artwork to make into a performance piece.  Four days instead of the original three were given to the students to develop their ideas, bring in props, and practice their performance.  We had a surprise assembly from Justice Sonia Sotomayor that threw the schedule off a little bit.  Good surprise, but lengthened the lesson.

We talked about finding the meaning, mood, message, or idea of the artwork as a means of making it into a performance.  I encouraged bringing in props, changing the lights, using sounds and smells, using the Promethean Board, and finding objects/materials from around the room.

Here students are preparing a performance piece for a Jackson Pollock artwork

The students performing the Jackson Pollock work decided to take it a different direction.  They brought in silly string and sprayed one boy who was sprinning as they sprayed him.  It’s difficult to see, but he has silly sting on his shirt and in his hair.

Students in another class with the same Jackson Pollock artwork tried something else.  One boy walked around the room throwing torn up paper all around the room from his pockets.  Another boy raised and dimmed the existing spotlights in the room making a flashing effect, and the third boy made a multicolored mess on the Promethean Board.

Students discussing a Cezanne-based performance piece

The same students with their fruit, basket, and clothe preparing for the performance

Student Cezanne Still Life performance.  The students sat around a small table sitting very still and slowly ate the fruit.  There were no words, and they decided to display the work behind them on the Promthean Board.

Students performing Faith Ringgold’s Dancing at the Louvre in the hallway of the school.  It’s hard to see, but there’s a girl with dreadlocks dancing in front of the picture frames just like in the artwork below.

Two girls were the hole in the door for Magritte’s The Unexpected Answer.


I was surprised at all levels how well this lesson went.  The students were extremely responsive to performance art.  The clips and photo examples that were shown got them interested.  And I selected groups of people that I knew worked well together, so they were on board with performance art and on board with their groups.

We discussed that performance art should use the artist’s body, it should have a specific audience (in this case the classmates), it should be a specific amount of time, and it should have an intentional setting.  The students were allowed to use the classroom, hallways, or exterior of the building.  One group selected Monet’s Banks of the Seine, and tomorrow will take the class to a pond at the park that is next to my school for their performance.  Others used the hallway, and one group today performed outside the classroom in the grass.  The performances lasted anywhere from thirty seconds to four or five minutes.

For the most part, the students were respectful as the others were performing.  I had one questionable class that I will move seats before the performance if I have similar problem classes in the future.

The students brought in props, fruit, silly string, baskets, tissue paper flowers, hats, and more.  This surprised me because so often when homework is assigned the students do not do it.

I would absolutely do this lesson again.  The students were engaged and enthralled.  All but a very few participated with little prompting.  This may have been a good change from the usual assignments and lessons.

video clips


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: