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Studio Art: 3-D Design Course Perspective

by Raúl Acero
AP Studio Art Chief Reader
Sage College of Albany
Albany, New York

Please note: The official College Board® Course Description is available below in "More."

I'd like to offer some thoughts on teaching and appreciating 3-D Design. Teaching this subject is a great opportunity for teachers and students to explore the physical world around us. We are physical creatures, after all; we make decisions all the time that relate to space. We drive cars and figure out how far away objects are so as not to hit them (most of the time). We have certain movements that identify us to other people, and we can tell at a distance who a person is simply by the way they walk or by their build. We walk, run, jump, stretch, and move in a great ocean of air, but we are bound by gravity.

In that description lies the essence of traditional sculptural principles. The subject can be approached as you would any 2-D Design course. Lay out the basic principles of design and then tailor exercises to illustrate them. I use inexpensive materials such as plaster, wooden coffee stirrer sticks, cardboard, aluminum foil, and natural found objects like rocks and branches. I use glue and string a great deal to bind things together. The great thing is that you get to teach these principles and apply them to real objects that use space. Like so many things, we often take space, weight, gravity, and other sculptural elements for granted. Once we begin to help our students focus on them, we help them apply this insight to making 3-D objects. For example, I have two students stand side by side, holding hands. They draw their feet together, move close to one another and -- still holding hands -- lean as far away from one another as they can. They both have to give and take until they find a point of balance. They learn right away about weight and balance.

Students can repeat the same exercise facing one another toe to toe and holding hands while leaning back. Ask the class to observe what kind of forms are made when they bend their knees, or when their legs are straight? Heads back? There is usually a lot of laughter at this point, too, and I think that's good. It helps me to help them approach making art as a natural experience. By way of more traditional use of materials, many teachers cast plaster in a carton and then have the students carve forms. This is a great way to learn about mass and reduction. I take it further by having them cast another form and carve it into a simple, smooth organic shape. They then build a clay wall around one end, grease the plaster and cast plaster into the area bounded by the clay division. After it sets up they can carve the new addition, separate it from the original, add more, split it, or place them in close proximity to see the negative shapes that are formed. Since the two were cast from each other, they mate and that opens up lots of possibilities for them.

Teaching 3-D Design and sculptural ideas using simple materials and even our own bodies opens up the students to a whole world of possibilities for objects that exist in and use space somehow. It is a terrific vehicle to help teach self-expression and even more importantly, to help the students observe the physical world more closely and maybe appreciate its wonder even more.

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