Lesson: Paul Chan: "Score for the 7th Light"

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Art, Global Studies, New Media Studies, English
  • "Score for the 7th -Light-," 2007."Score for the 7th -Light-," 2007.
  • "Score for the 7th -Light-," 2007."Score for the 7th -Light-," 2007.


Paul Chan's exhibition The 7 Lights engages with imagery that alludes to media and current events. The artist's relationship with media is much more torturous than one might think. The artist is interested in progress and how new technologies become obsolete. This lesson plan pays close attention to Chan's work on paper, specifically the Score for 7th Light. Students will investigate the artwork of Paul Chan and reflect on the relationship between this work and music and poetry. This lesson will also introduce the Fluxus art movement and make connections between Chan's work and the artwork of Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, John Cage, and Tacita Dean.


  • Students will explore Paul Chan's works on paper specifically Score for the 7th Light
  • Students will investigate conceptual artwork that makes strong connections to music and poetry
  • Students will create and write concrete and visual poetry
  • Students will examine the history of the Fluxus art movement


Concrete Poetry refers to poetry in which the poet's intent is conveyed by the shape formed by the letters, words, or symbols that make up the poem rather than by the conventional arrangement of words. This is sometimes referred to as visual poetry.
Happenings refers to a performance, event or situation meant to bridge the gap between art and life.



Lesson Strategy

Begin with a discussion of Score for the 7th Light, 2007. Mixed media on paper. 15 works, each 14 × 11 in.

The exhibition opens with 15 mixed media pieces on paper. Have students view this work in its entirety. Assemble students to start a discussion of the work.

  • Looking very closely, what is it that we see?
  • How does this work appear to be made?
  • Does Chan cut the pieces or does he tear the black construction paper? How can we tell? What affect does tearing the pieces have versus cutting the pieces?
  • How does Chan create chance or change in this work?
  • Is this work a drawing? If so, how? Is it something else? If so, what?
  • What is a musical score? If it is a written representation of music, how does this score represent music without notes? Can this music be played? Is it something that can be heard?
  • If this score of music were to be played, what might it sound like?
  • What would its mood, tempo or instrument be?
  • How does the creation of his musical notes read? Is it from right to left or left to right?
  • Does creating a musical score as a work of art contradict our normal ways of seeing or experiencing artwork? How? Can this artwork be read as symbols or language? How?
  • Looking closely, on the first page in the upper left hand corner there is a notation, "7 a.m.," and on the last page in the lower right hand corner there is another notation, "6:59 a.m." What is the significance of these times? How does it relate to the score? How might it relate to the rest of the 7 Lights?
  • Why do you think the exhibition begins with the end of the 7th cycle?

The 7 Lights makeup a cycle, though incomplete. The cycle seems incomplete because the 7th Light isn't a projection, but a musical score, a representation of a projection, a somber piece, as if God took the day off. If Chan's projections are about light and shadow, than this might be thought to be about absence of light.

Have students view John Cage's 4'33" music

  • How does Chan's musical score relate to Cage's 4'33"? Both works seem to share an absence, an expectation. What other commonalities or differences can you measure?
  • How does cage's 4'33" represent chance?
  • If Chan's 7th Light had ambient sounds, what would they be?

Discussion of the Fluxus art movement
Fluxus, a name taken from a Latin word meaning "to flow," is an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s. Fluxus encouraged a do-it-yourself aesthetic, and valued simplicity over complexity. Fluxus favored a more artist-centered creative practice as opposed to a economy driven creative practice.

The origins of Fluxus lie in many of the concepts explored by composer John Cage in his experimental music of the 1950s. Cage explored notions of chance in art, through works such as 4' 33", which influenced Lithuanian-born artist George Maciunas. Maciunas (1931–1978) organized the first Fluxus event in 1961 at the AG Gallery in New York City and the first Fluxus festivals in Europe in 1962.

Event scores such as George Brecht's Drip Music are essentially performance scripts that are usually only a few lines long and consist of descriptions of actions to be performed rather than dialogue. Fluxus artists differentiate event scores from "happenings". Whereas happenings were sometimes complicated, lengthy performances meant to blur the lines between performer and audience, and performance and reality, event scores were usually brief and simple. The event performances sought to elevate the banal, to be mindful of the mundane, and to frustrate the high culture of academic and market-driven music and art. Other creative forms that have been adopted by Fluxus practitioners include collage, sound art, music, video, and poetry—especially visual poetry and concrete poetry.

4'33" (four minutes, thirty-three seconds) is a three-movement composition by American avant-garde composer John Cage (1912–1992), which is a good example of Fluxus art. It was composed in 1952 for any instrument (or combination of instruments), and the score instructs the performer not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece. Although commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence", the piece actually consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed. Over the years, 4'33" became Cage's most famous and most controversial composition.

View High-Brow Knock-Knock Joke for Electroacoustics Types

  • Ask students to relate it to Cage's 4'33"
  • Why did these artists riff on Cage's 4'33"?
  • What is the historical significance of Cage's piece?

Examine Paul Chan's Texts from 2005-2008 | A Dialogue About the Moving Image; Since 2005
Chan has produced a series of texts that responds to and calls forth what he calls "the negative space of the Lights". Enigmatic and playful, the texts evoke the images, events, and ideas that made the works possible by "being present in their absence." Visit
Texts 2005-2008

  • How does this work represent negative space?
  • How does it discuss absence?
  • Ask students to examine meaning in Chan's text.
  • Is there humor in this piece? Where? How?

View Vito Acconci's RE

  • Ask students to examine the meaning in Acconci's RE.
  • Ask students what they think about this as a visual poem.
  • As a visual representation of art, how does it relate to drawing?
  • What is its relationship to objectness?
  • How does it compare to Chan's Texts 2005-2008 | A Dialogue About the Moving Image; Since 2005

More examples of Concrete Poems
Have students examine different formalities of concrete poems.

View and comment on Baldessari's work I will not make any more boring art
More on Baldessari's artwork

  • How do Baldessari's actions deliberately contradict the point of the lesson?
  • How do they relate to what Paul Chan does when he uses the Strikethrough?

View the film by Tacita Dean

After discovering that the Kodak factory in Chalon-sur-Saône, France was closing its film production facility, Dean obtained permission to document the manufacture of film at the factory using the soon-to-be obsolete medium itself.

  • Paul Chan is also fascinated by "progress" and "the soon-to-be obsolete," how does this fascination make its way into Chan's practice?
  • Which technologies does she employ?
  • How does Tacita Dean use formal elements in her work?
  • How does the film appear like a living object? How does it represent fluidity?
  • How does it act like an abstract painting?
  • How does it use the language of abstraction?

Creative Assignment
Ask students to create a drawing and their own visual or concrete poem either using the strikethrough method that Chan employs or inspiration from the visual poems by Vito Acconci, Grarvna Nowicki, J.P.Ward, Gail Corney, or Helen Archer.

Keywords: death, desire, music, poetry, politic, war