How to Throw Things at Your Students (and Get Away With It!)

throw things

If I ever get fired from my job, it will probably because of this project. It’s far and away my favorite project I teach every year. It’s unique, it’s a LOT of fun, and it develops my students’ drawing skills. It’s our Robert Longo project.

To start, if you’re not familiar with Robert Longo, he’s an American artist who first gained widespread fame with his Men in the Cities series. He’s gone on to do an incredible amount of impressive work, generally large-scale and done in graphite or charcoal. Below are some pictures of his Untitled (Men in the Cities) drawings.

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In articles and biographies, there are descriptions of people dancing and dying, people gyratingwrite-ups about their general awkwardness, or any number of guesses and explanations about what the subjects are doing.

I prefer, however, the urban legend shared with me by my art history professor in college: Longo would hire models to come to his studio, ask them to dress in formal wear, then do a few inconspicuous figure drawings. After those were finished, Longo would offer the models copious amounts of cash if, you know, he could just throw dangerous objects at them as hard as he could. Look at those drawings again. It makes sense, right?

Is the story true? Evidence tells me it’s not, but I hope I’m wrong. Is it the story we go with when I present this to the class? Absolutely. The idea of throwing stuff at models, particularly after going through a couple weeks of figure drawings, is always appealing.

We pick a day, and everyone shows up in their best clothes, with shirts and ties for the guys (suits if we’re lucky) and nice dresses for the girls. We’ve even had a couple of prom dresses make an appearance. Some of the more ambitious girls will wear heels, and though I get nervous about that when they are jumping and dodging objects, we haven’t had any broken ankles (yet).

From there, it’s just a big game of dodgeball! We line up, nerf balls and stuffed animals in hand, and throw one at a time. The model tries to dodge the throws, over-exaggerating his or her movements for the best poses. We set up multiple cameras, as I’ve found we have a better chance of capturing the best shots when we do so. We never fail to get some great pictures.

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And, of course, I need to take my turn on the receiving end of things.

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After that, students select the photos they want to draw. We make choices about composition when cropping and arranging photos, then it’s just up to our drawing skills. Some grid, some freehand, but I just try to emphasize detail and shading while keeping a blank background (in the Longo style). I’ve done every size and can’t really recommend one more than another. Huge drawings are always impressive if they are done well, but it’s obviously quite a trade-off with the amount of time involved. Whatever you choose to do, it will be a blast for both you and your kids.

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You have at least one student at whom you want to throw things, right? It’s okay to admit it. :)

How do you think your students would feel about this project? How about your administration?

What other “risky” projects do you do in your art room? 

Timothy Bogatz

Learning Team

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.

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