Lesson: Allison Smith: What Are You Fighting For?!

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Global History, Language Arts, Studio Art
  • "Muster Portrait," 2004."Muster Portrait," 2004.
  • "Mustering Officer's Campsite," 2004-2005."Mustering Officer's Campsite," 2004-2005.
  • "Mustering Officer's Field Desk," 2004."Mustering Officer's Field Desk," 2004.

Introduction

Written by Marc Mayer and Martine Kelsch, City as School teacher.

Allison Smith is an artist whose artwork is inspired by American history, specifically the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, arts and crafts, and historical reenactments. With The Muster, Smith is very much interested in trench art, that is art objects made by soldiers in the trenches during war, as they many times have been recognized for engaging in the practice of decorating found objects. The artist draws the comparison that contemporary art, much like trench art, speaks to the extraordinary times in which we live. Smith employs trench art as a metaphor. People can and should use any material around them as a material, in order to talk about what is going on in the world, like the war in the Middle East. Utilizing the framework of The Declaration of Independence, Smith was able to transform this historic document to proclaim and express issues important to her as an artist, and to challenge systems of government. Smith wanted to create a platform for free expression to proclaim rather than protest in hopes of sparking discussion and perhaps even change.

Objectives

  • Students will be able to recall their own knowledge regarding the American Revolution and The Declaration of Independence.
  • Students will be able to interpret Allison’s Smith’s Proclamation and will be able to discover how it connects to The Declaration of Independence.
  • Students will be able to create their own proclamations and demonstrate their ideas of what they would want to “fight for” in today’s society.

Vocabulary

Muster is to gather troops for the purposes of battles, inspection, critique, exercise, and display
Proclamation is a public or formal announcement
Impel or to force somebody to do something, or make somebody feel the need to do something
Portentous is very serious and significant, especially in terms of future events
Prismatic is the resembling or relating to a prism
Aesthetic is the sensitive to or appreciative of art or beauty
Arsenal is a stockpile of weapons and military equipment; a supply of methods or resources
Trench art refers to art made or decorated by soldiers in the trenches during war

Materials

The Declaration of Independence
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense
Allison Smith’s Proclamation available here under the section titled “Address.”
Images from The Muster
A soapbox or platform
A Present-Day Proclamation Worksheet

Lesson Strategy

Review The Declaration of Independence and Common Sense

  • In what ways were these documents pivotal in the American Revolution.
  • Ask students to think about the subject, objective, audience, and perspective intended by each document.

Look at Allison Smith’s project The Muster
Many of the topics Smith explores reference history but make real connections to our time. The Muster, created in 2005 on Govenor’s Island in New York City, is an example of one such project. As a military term, muster refers to a gathering of troops for the purposes of inspection, critique, exercise, and display.

This project does not involve enacting a specific war from the past; instead, Smith uses the format to create an occasion and a forum for individual expression of diverse causes. The “troops,” in this case, were artists and activists from Smith’s community. Using performance and installation art they commented on various contemporary issues and causes. Her “declaration” to the participants was, “ The Muster is a polyphonic marshaling of voices—a gathering of the troops in artistic, intellectual, activist, and queer communities—generated by a fundamental question: “What are you fighting for?”

Some causes included:
The Right to Paint
The Pink Brigade – The right to be feminine, talk about emotions, and relationships
The Right to Disco!
The Right to Find Inner Peace in a Warring Nation
Savior Scraps – Recycling scraps for artistic purposes

Read Allison Smith’s Proclamation and show some of the pictures of The Muster

  • What does Allison Smith talk about in her proclamation?
  • What issue or detail do you remember most?
  • Why do you think Allison Smith wanted to create this project?
  • What events do you think the artist is referring to?
  • Is this project art? Why or why not?

Write on the board what issues students mention. Discuss.

  • Are these issues mentioned in artists proclamation important to you?
  • If you had to write a proclamation, what would you say? (RANT RAVE TIME.)
  • What are you fighting for?!

Activity
Write your own proclamation. Create your own proclamation about an issue that really upsets you or stirs the fire in your belly.

  • What is the problem?
  • Make sure to think about who you are addressing. What action needs to be taken to solve this problem?
  • How are you going to get people to fight for your cause?

(Proclamations should read to about a minute long)

Students will read their proclamations out loud on a soapbox while being videotaped, photographed, or audio recorded among their peers. If they are absolutely against reading their work, don’t force them but encourage them to read it aloud after class on their own. As students listen to their peers, have them keep track of what they hear, whose proclamation they support or feel a connection to, and whose they did not really like that much. (warm/cold feedback).

To view examples of this project click here.

Assessment

Students will be assessed on their written work and their presentation of their proclamations.

Extending the Lesson

You can have your own version of The Muster at your school! Have students dress up in costumes or create encampments on campus or in the auditorium.

Standards

New York State: The Arts

Standard 3: Responding to and analyzing works of art. Students will respond critically to a variety of works in the arts, connecting the individual work to other works and to other aspects of human endeavor and thought.

Standard 4: Understanding the cultural contributions of the arts. Students will develop an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape artistic communication and how the arts in turn shape the diverse cultures of past and present society.

New York / World History – Standard 2: Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in world history and examine the broad sweep of history from a variety of perspectives.

  • Study of the major social, political, cultural, and religious developments in world history involves learning about the important roles and contributions of individuals and groups variety of perspectives.
  • The skills of analyzing history include the ability to investigate differing and competing interpretations of the theories of history, to hypothesize about why interpretations change over time, to explain the importance of historical evidence, and to understand the concepts of change and continuity over time.

National Social Studies Standard
Era 7: An Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914

Students will learn:

  • The causes and consequences of political revolutions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
  • Patterns of nationalism, state-building, and social reform in Europe and the Americas, 1830-1914.

Additional Resources

About The Muster
http://www.themuster.com/
http://www.nyfa.org/level3.asp?id=366&fid=4&sid=8
http://publicartfund.org/pafweb/projects/05/IPR/smith/slideshow/muster-s…
http://publicartfund.org/pafweb/projects/05/IPR/smith/smith_05.html
http://weareseven.blogspot.com/2006/07/interview-with-allison-smith-taki…
http://www.bellwethergallery.com/artistsindex_01.cfm?fid=22

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