Teaching with Contemporary Art

Teaching with Three Dimensions

June 22, 2021

David Altmejd in his Queens, New York studio, 2011. Production still from the Art in the Twenty-First Century episode, “Boundaries.” © Art21, Inc. 2012.

Three-dimensional (3D) art includes traditional sculpture and immersive installations. Objects with three dimensions—with height, width, and depth—occupy physical space and can be perceived from all directions and angles. Through creating 3D art, students can learn how artists embrace the challenge of working in real space and transforming the viewer’s experience of it.

David Altmejd says, “When I make a sculpture, I deal with the material first; then I try to inject my sensibility in it. I try to give a certain flavor to the sculpture.” To watch Altmejd in the studio is fascinating, such as when he casts his ear and, as he says, lets his hands “think.” Altmejd talks about letting the material speak and then responding to it. He says he does not want to learn languages but rather to create visual languages. In his Art21 films, Altmejd shines new light on materials, ideas, and processes, as he recalibrates his art in three-dimensional space.

Photo by Dennis Greenwell.

Here is a myth about artists: They know exactly what they want to do and how to do it and were born with the ideas, skills, and knowledge to make their work. Art21 films dispel this myth for students by allowing them to witness Altmejd’s inquiring journey in the studio. Altmejd’s work can change students’ perceptions of 3D art, which is my main intent for showing the films in my classroom. In addition, Altmejd’s thoughtful artwork pushes boundaries for students, freeing them from mundane or traditional concepts of sculpture, which can set them on a creative inquiring journey. My students have mentioned that contemporary artists give them new perspectives on the images and ideas of art.

Photo by Dennis Greenwell.

Other artists in this playlist go beyond the idea of sculpture. To show how an artist transformed a public space, I show the Sarah Sze episode, “Designing a Subway Station” for a class unit called “What is Public Art?” John Feodorov calls on his Indigenous heritage and other influences to create intriguing 3D work, and I show his segment to offer a different cultural perspective to my students.

Photo by Dennis Greenwell.

Watch Dennis’s playlist, “Teaching with Three Dimensions”

Dennis Greenwell is a high school visual arts teacher in Kirkland, Washington. This is Dennis’s 23rd year of teaching and has been part of the Art21 Educators program since 2012. “I depend on Art21 as a teacher. Art21 is how I keep my curriculum current, relevant, and challenging for students.”