Activities for Interpreting Sandy Skoglund's
"Revenge of the Goldfish"
Department of Art Education
Ohio State University and
Getty Center for Education in the Arts
The following teaching ideas are intended to encourage interpretive
discussions about "Revenge of the Goldfish." We are using the
interdisciplinary lenses of the psychology of dreams and art historical
information about Surrealism. Try these ideas yourself and invent new
teaching activities for your classes. Then please share your best ideas
through the online discussion group, ArtsEdNet Talk by sending an e-mail
message to artsednet.
Dreams and Revenge of the Goldfish
Skoglund uses dreamlike images to ask questions about life. What
questions is "Revenge of the Goldfish" asking? Is it asking about parents
and children, mothers and sons, youth and sexuality, modern society and
Critic Nan Richardson described "Revenge of the Goldfish" as "a boy's
dream fantasy of flying fish." Columbus Public School second graders
interpreted "Revenge of the Goldfish" as "kind of like a dream. I think
maybe the boy just woke up and had a dream about the fish." An
Ohio State undergraduate student remarked, "I think of daydreams in all
of Skoglund's photographs. There is a fine line between consciousness
and unconsciousness." A different class of students at Ohio State
interpreted "Revenge of the Goldfish" as involving the boy's sexual
awakening. Critic Marge Goldwater suggests that "Revenge of the
Goldfish" has a nightmarish quality as though the sleeping and sitting
figures are having bad dreams.
The artist says she never dreams about her work. What does she dream
about? "I think my life is completely upside down because I dream about
ordinary life...going shopping, to the hairdresser."
Questions about dreams
Below are a number of questions to consider about dreams and
"Revenge of the Goldfish." If any of you have expertise in contemporary
dream theory and can suggest additional questions as interpretations
from this perspective, please submit your suggestions to the online
discussion of Skoglund's work taking place on ArtsEdNet Talk.
What are dreams like?
How is dream time unlike real time?
What happens to gravity in dreams?
How do objects and people come together in dreams?
How is "Revenge of the Goldfish" dreamlike?
Whose Dream Is This?
What if this were a fish's dream? The mother's? The boy's?
What are they dreaming about?
Is the mother dreaming about the boy? Are the fish dreaming about being
people? What would the boy dream about?
What are the dreams about?
Write the dream that you think a fish might be having, or the mother, or
the boy. Feel free to submit examples to ArtsEdNet Talk.
Psychology and Dreams
Some psychologists say dreams are a way of dealing with conflicts in
our lives. Can you find any evidence of conflict in "Revenge of the
Floating and flying are common occurrences in dreams. Three Skoglund
installations, "Revenge of the Goldfish," "Maybe Babies," and "A
Breeze at Work," have floating fish, babies, and leaves. What does
floating connote? Release? Freedom? Escape? Is that what these works
Freud declared the dream to be "the royal road to knowledge of the
unconscious." Do you think Skoglund's work is influenced by the
subconscious? Are there other psychological theories of dreams that
you think can be applied to Skoglund's work? If so, how?
The artist said that the idea for "Revenge of the Goldfish" began with her
childhood memory of going to her parents' bedroom and waking them up
Strongly influenced by Freudian teachings, artist Andre Breton, the
unofficial Pope of Surrealism, considered dreams and the subconscious
as superior to reality and consciousness. Breton believed that combining
reality and dream states would result in an absolute reality which he
named "Surreality." In his 1924 "Surrealist Manifesto," Breton asked,
"Can't dreams also be used in solving the fundamental questions of life?"
Skoglund said that after she had sculpted the 126 fish, they reminded her
of flames, and she painted them a vivid orange for a "hot" look, and thus
they became goldfish.
Magritte believed that "there are secret links between objects and when
you discover them you will be able to create a new image which will be
absolutely right." To illustrate this principle, Magritte described his
experience of waking up in a room with a bird cage and, in a
semi-conscious state, he imagined seeing an egg in the cage rather than
a bird. Magritte created similar secret links in his paintings. For example,
he replaced the bowler-hatted man's head with an apple in the "The Idea"
(this image is found on the Magritte Art Gallery web page) or he fills the
lens of the eye with white fluffy clouds in "The False Mirror." (this image
is found on the Magritte Art Gallery web page)
Can you find such secret links in "Revenge of the Goldfish"?
What secret links can you find in other Skoglund installations? Between
the bright blue leaves and the dismal office setting in a "A
Breeze at Work"? Between the graying humans and the energetic
crimson foxes in "Fox Games"?
Create A Surrealist Poem
Combine items from Skoglund's artworks and produce a five line
Surrealist poem. Such peoms involve the juxtaposition of realistic and
nonrealistic images; disrupting the viewer's or reader's expectations; and
privileging illogic over logic. Free your mind to engage free association.
Here is an example of a Surrealist poem:
In the TV room, 20 lime green babies knitted Astro-turf blankets.
WHILE TWO TEEN-AGE BOYS AND A YOUNG MAN GATHERED
94 cheese puffs and 48 middle-aged squirrels. it was not raining cats,
Below are elements from Skoglund's work that might trigger new
associations for your surrealist poems. Select elements from each of
the categories to prompt ideas for your poems. The elements are drawn
from Skoglund's works.
ANIMALS and OBJECTS:
Create A Skoglund Dream
Skoglund consistently uses rooms, duotones, actors, an excessive
number of animals or objects and unusual media to create dreamlike
scenes. Create a new Skoglund dream. Choose a room, two colors, an
animal or object, several actors and a medium.
Describe your Skoglund dream. Give it a title. Is it more fantastic than
"Revenge of the Goldfish"? Is it a nightmare? Skoglund's dream-like
images make sense. Does your dream make sense or is it a random
combination of senseless images?
Even though you used Skoglund items, would Skoglund have created this
dream scene? Why or why not?
Participate in the online discussion of teaching Skoglund's work
If you or your students have written answers to any of the questions or
activities posed above, we invite you to send examples to the
ArtsEdNet Talk online discussion group for teachers. Your responses
and those of your students will help teachers gain insights into the
process of teaching students to understand contemporary art. To send
examples to ArtsEdNet Talk, send email to: artsednet.
We also invite you to join the ArtsEdNet Talk, the ongoing online
discussion over email of issues in teaching the arts to K-12 students.