Since the Skoglund material first came on line, I have been
interested in trying it out with students. Last week I had the
opportunity to present an art criticism lesson on Sandy
Skoglund to a class of Cynde Riddle's fourth graders at North
Hi Mount Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas. I felt that it
was a successful experience and thought you all might like to
read the student's comments.
Since the ArtsEdNet Skoglund material doesn't really suggest a
specific approach, I used the material as content and tried an
approach that seemed logical to me.
I started by asking the students questions: "What is a
detective? What does a detective do? Responses (the art
teacher took notes for me) included "detectives use deductive
thinking to solve crimes; do experiments to find results; solve
problems; use what they learn then make what they learn
Then I asked them what they thought an "art" detective would do.
Answers included: "try out experiments and learn; look to
learn; look for stolen art work."
I next told them that we were going to be art detectives today
and that I was going to show them a slide and wanted them to
look at it very carefully for a few minutes, and to look for
clues to its meaning. I projected a slide of "Radioactive Cats"
(I also had a number of the cards sent out by ArtsEdNet that
showed the image and let each student use one to see more
Some of the questions I asked during the following discussion
Do you think this art work was created recently or long
ago? Why or why not? Responses: All decided it was contemporary;
some of the reasons given: the people are wearing modern
clothes, there is a refrigerator and a radiator and they have
electricity; the date on the back of the card (somebody peeked).
The students weren't sure of what type of art it was so I
explained installations and photography. I then asked them to
create a title for the work. Responses include: "Copy Cats,"
"Toxic Cats," "Cats Green with Envy," "Twenty-five Green Cats,"
and "Poison Ivy Takes Over."
I asked why artists title works; one girl answered, "so if you
have never seen the art before it gives you an idea of what the
Now that the students were interested in the image, I began
giving them more information about the artist and her work. We
talked about why the artist used green and gray (looks like the
two colors go together; shows that they glow in the dark,
wouldn't be as interesting in other colors), why she called them
radioactive (they turn green when hungry; are moldy, they don't
have any eyes).
What is the message the artist is trying to convey to you: "it's
a dream," " warning about nuclear power - cats live through an
attack, but not people," "trying to warn us about social
issues," "her husband was in a nuclear attack and this was her
response," "cats wanted to take over the world."
Other questions we discussed were: What is the artist like? "she
likes cats, likes the color green." What steps did the artist have to
go through to create this installation? "have idea, find props,
make cats, decide on placement, take photograph." Did the work
look more like Disney or a Sci-Fi movie "sci-fi because it
doesn't look like a cartoon."
The students thought that the use of Sandy's neighbors as models
was a good choice and pointed out that they were not looking at us
and that they "looked weak and old and that the cats were taking over."
They thought Sandy picked the right number of cats and that if
she had used 500 cats, "you wouldn't be able to see the scenery."
We talked about point of view and Sandy looking at the world as
if she were a cat. I was going to have them each choose a person
or cat in the work and write a paragraph from that point of
view, but we ran out of time.
Though we spent most of the 45 minute class talking about
"Radioactive Cats," I did show slides of "Revenge of the
Goldfish" and "The Green Room." I asked what is the same about
all three images? "all three included two people," "all three use two
contrasting colors," "all show a three-dimensional space," "not realistic
colors," "reminds me of dreams," and (my favorite) "all the
animals are types that people have mostly as pets" (which is true
about all three I showed).
I asked the students what they thought would be a good
art-making activity to follow our discussion. Their suggestions
included: "using complementary colors," "using animals," "making
installations," "draw animals with neon markers," "building your
I should mention that this school is within walking distance of
three major art museums and have repeat visits all throughout
the year. To me, the students' rich responses reflect the benefits of
continual, comprehensive experiences with works of art.
I would like to know if anyone else has used the Skoglund
material in a classroom, what approach they used, and their
I do think focusing primarily on one image, then comparing it
with two others of the same artist was very helpful. I think
Terry Barrett suggests this approach and I think it makes sense.
I was fortunate to have slides and extra postcards to use, in
part because we had a Skoglund exhibit here several years ago
(I also heard her talk about her work).
It is difficult to teach with an artwork if you have no image to show,
so I encourage the Getty Center to consider developing additional
materials on the study prints that are commercially available.
I apologize for the length of this message, but I really wanted
to include the students' comments. I did try to break it up into
paragraphs to make it easier to read.
Regards to all; I look forward to meeting many of you in San
Nancy Walkup, Project Coordinator
North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts
PO Box 5098, University of North Texas 76203
817/565-3986 FAX 817/565-4867