AD 160: Physical Structures
Goals and Objectives
- Comprehend physical structures as elements that are fundamental to the artistic process. The physical forces that influence the creation of art and design are an unavoidable aspect of the process of creation. Unlike visual structures where one can choose not to use hue, on cannot choose not to use gravity. Particularly with volumetric forms, forces such as gravity and balance become immediate structural concerns as well as concerns for composition and intent. The structures that compose the physical experience should be understood not merely as forces that must be controlled during construction, but also as forces that provide a basis for design. A sculpture may require a large base to support the weight of its form and, as a result, the base becomes part of the design of the sculpture.
- Understand the physical, visual, and social aspects of art and design as separate yet interrelated. Each of the first three cognate courses emphasizes a specific structure of art and design: physical, visual, and social. But while the three aspects are treated separately, virtually all art and design includes components from all three aspects – one cannot build a piece without consideration for what it looks like and consideration for why it is being built. It will be understood that AD 160: Physical Structures focuses on the physical aspect in all projects but the visual and social domains will be addressed to some degree.
- Experience a variety of techniques and materials. Specialized disciplines tend to run counter to the notion of the cognate experience. Students may know their intended discipline and exhibit little or no motivation to explore other forms of expression. Exposure to a range of art and design processes not only allows students to make better decisions about their choice of major but enables students to be knowing participants in the interrelationship of art and design: there is a difference between seeing a photo of what scratched plaster looks like and knowing what scratched plaster looks like. The range of techniques and materials must include both planar and volumetric processes with an awareness of how the student could potentially use the process in the future, whether the student is a sculpture major or a digital cinema major.
- Analyze and solve problems. Making decisions about construction and design are inherent to every art and design discipline. Students must be able to encounter a problem and determine a course of action to solve the problem. Problem-solving extends to the domain of physical structures and forces, such as determining how to keep a sculpture from collapsing or concluding which stylus would create the intended line. Problem-solving also extends to the domain of visual structure and design, such as correcting an ambiguous figure-ground relationship or modifying hue to create further emphasis within a composition. The emphasis within AD 160: Physical Structures is on problem-solving in the domain of technique and materials, though it will, by necessity, extend somewhat into the domain of visual structures.
- Establish the common set of visual structure concepts. The School of Art and Design relies on a common set of concepts that cumulatively describe the visual experience. While these concepts are not at all unique to the School of Art and Design, there is a core group of concepts that has become the standard for discussion and allows sculpture majors to easily discuss their work with human centered design majors and graphic communication majors to discus their work with metals majors. While the concepts of visual structures are discussed in depth in AD 175: Visual Structures, the use of these concepts will serve to reinforce what will be occurring in every art and design course. Repetition provides reinforcement. The concepts are intended to provide a level of specificity in describing visual phenomena to avoid generic description or vague lengthy explanation. Concepts that would arise in AD 160: Physical Structures would be figure-ground, color, and grouping, to name a few. See the Master Concepts List for other concepts.
- Develop creative discipline and artistic experimentation. Many students have little or no experience with the process of art and design. There is often the impression that it is easy or that it follows a formula for success. Many of the current design textbooks reinforce this notion – “follow these simple rules and you too can be an artist.” Students must be encouraged to experiment with methods and materials as well as their design, but to do so in a deliberate manner. Discovering what a medium can create is one of the many facets of art and design and the discovery through experimentation should be fostered as an ongoing endeavor, not an early phase of development. Such ongoing experimentation requires discipline – to explore some of the marks that can be made in clay with the thumb is not necessarily the most enticing exercise for many students, but the knowledge and results of the experience are irreplaceable. Projects should exhibit a level of methodical process.
- Understand craftsmanship and apply an appropriate level of craftsmanship. While many processes used in AD 160: Physical Structures may never be used by students again, it should be emphasized that appropriate craftsmanship is always important. In this sense, craftsmanship is the quality of technique – cutting very clean, straight edges; drawing with ink and not allowing excessive bleeding; bending wire elegantly (if appropriate) without binding; gluing surfaces without visible “squeeze out.” Craftsmanship applies to all disciplines, though the exact aspects of craftsmanship will differ. If students gain the habit of always executing with a high level of craftsmanship regardless of medium, this will directly translate to a high level of craftsmanship in all of their coursework. A high standard of execution must be set for all projects completed in AD 160: Physical Structures.
- Cultivate the ability to be self-critical. Core to the success of any artist or designer is the ability to evaluate one’s own work. The critique support structure that is present within the classroom is atypical of the world beyond academia and the pursuit of art and design as a professional field will require the ability to analyze the successes and failures within one’s own work. Students must be able to critically evaluate not only the work of peers, but also the work that they produce themselves. This self-critique can be developed as a very directed process or can be an implied process through stages of revision or modification.
- Expand upon initial concepts. The creation process seldom is completed in a direct path from the starting point. Ten, twenty, perhaps a hundred design permutations are explored, refined, and either implemented or discarded. Students must understand that design is often an iterative process in which initial ideas are changed, modified, expanded, and re-examined in order to arrive at the strongest possible solution. Students must be able to take an initial concept and through both direct and indirect guidance, develop a series of solutions based on the same initial concept. (an example of direct guidance would be to have specific steps to expand an idea: 3 design versions, then take the best and make 3 versions of that in color, take the best and make 3 versions adding gradients; and example of indirect guidance would be requiring sketches before a project begins: the sketches are not reviewed and there is not a specific process used to create the sketches) The iterative process extends to the domain of physical structures, such as using pen/ink to create design using only line and finding alternative methods of line creation such as graphite, charcoal, acrylic, chalk, wire, tape, string, and cracks in the ground. The iterative process extends to the domain of visual structure and design, such as creating ten thumbnails of a design before beginning execution with ink.
Required Methods and Concepts
- Understand and utilize space
Understand and apply force
- Space: height, width, depth, change (time)
- Velocity, acceleration, momentum
- Growth and progression
Understand and apply gravitational force
Understand and apply compressive force
and apply tensile force
- Tension: stretching, bending
- Torsion: twisting
- Stress and release
Understand and apply energetic force
Understand and utilize planar, volumetric, and motion-based interpretations of physical structures
- Potential energy – elastic, mechanical, electrical, thermal, gravitational, chemical
Physical structures may be understood and exhibited through a variety of methods ranging from drawing to sculpture to animation. Students must experience a variety of approaches to understanding physical structures in order to experience a multitude of interpretive methods with the goal of understanding that physical structures are not restricted to any particular medium but rather affect all art and design. Projects must expose students to planar interpretations of physical structure, volumetric interpretations of physical structure, and motion-based interpretations of physical structure. The specific ratio of materials is left to the instructor but it is recommended that at least one third of the projects are planar in nature.
Understand materials and methods can require specific steps
Many art and design processes can only be completed through a specific order of events. A clay vessel cannot be created without first preparing the clay, constructing the vessel, treating the surface of the vessel, and firing the vessel. The order of events cannot be changed. Knowing this, students must be able to anticipate the steps required for a project and work within the confines of those steps for the success of the design solution but also for proper time and materials management. It only takes one experience of starting a project over from the beginning to emphasize the critical nature of understanding the order of events.
Begin to use a common set of visual structures concepts
It is not expected that all of the concepts of visual structures are addressed nor is it expected that the concepts be explained in depth. However, as part of any discussion of design, the common concepts of visual structures will be used. For example, in speaking about color, students should begin to become familiar with the hue/saturation/brightness (HSB) method of describing color and in speaking about shape relationships, students should begin to become familiar with the terms of figure-ground. See the Master Concepts List.
Participate in group critique
Group critique may take the form of an entire class critique and may take the form of smaller group critiques. Using small group critiques and then having the groups summarize the critique to the class as a whole is often a good starting place for discussion. Providing a structure for small group critique is recommended as many students have never participated in a critique prior to AD 160: Physical Structures. It should be made clear to the students that critique is not an evaluation of the person; it is a tool for growth and improvement by hearing the views and interpretations of others in reaction to the work. Common critique models include cause and effect, compare and contrast, greatest strength and unrealized potential, add and subtract, and the more basic descriptive critique.
Discussion of design strategies
Design strategies could be discussed in the thumbnail stage of a project, while the project is in process as students are working, as part of a general lecture, or as part of critique. The goal to is provide an overview of common design approaches for student consideration. Symmetry, asymmetry, radial symmetry, unity, balance, emphasis, rhythm, gestalt, and depth are possible strategies for discussion.
Effectively iterate ideas
- Idea iteration could be done as a required part of a project in the form of thumbnail sketches that are reviewed and discussed prior to undertaking the final version of the project.
- Idea iteration could be done as part of an ongoing project – upon completion of one version, a ‘revision’ of the project is required
- Idea iteration could be done as part of a group brainstorming session in the initial stages of project development.
Many of the listed examples fulfill criteria in several categories. Many projects could be developed through thumbnail stages first to emphasize the concept of iteration and discuss design strategies. It is expected that all eight methods and concepts are addressed.