Arbitrary Arrangements

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Students will observe Daniel Sprick’s painting Release Your Plans and explore the importance of artistic decisions. They will then work as a team to create their own arrangement of objects in unconventional compositions.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 55 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • identify and describe details in a painting;
  • discuss the importance of artistic decisions;
  • work as a team to create their own still-life arrangements using everyday objects; and
  • compare and contrast their arrangements with each others’ and Sprick’s.

Lesson

  1. Show students Sprick’s still-life painting Release Your Plans. Explore what the artist chose to include in the painting by calling on students to identify what they see. What was the first thing they noticed? Give the students three minutes to observe the painting in silence. What do they notice now that they’ve looked closer? What objects are floating? What objects are broken? What objects are reflected in the mirror? How many bones can they find? How many objects were once living? Weave in information from the About the Art section when possible.
  2. After most of the details have been identified, ask students, “If you could change one thing about Sprick’s arrangement, what would it be?” Explain to them that even Sprick doesn’t know exactly why he arranged things in a certain way.
  3. Share with the students that Sprick doesn’t like to look too hard for objects to paint, because even a “cubic foot of the world contains the mysteries of the universe.” Sprick chose objects for this arrangement for a variety of reasons. For example, he placed the skull against a white wall because he wanted to focus on the skull but not make it too “grim reaper.” The skull doesn’t stand out as much against a white background. He liked the broken eggshells for their sharp edges and bright white color. He arranged the leg bones at the right side of the painting in a way that mimics the easel and mirror. Sprick even chose to paint some of his objects like they are floating because the support just didn’t look right. Explore the importance of an artist’s decisions—how does an artist’s decisions affect the final outcome?
  4. Divide the students into groups and pass out identical sets of everyday objects to each group. Instruct students to make their own arrangement like Sprick did. They can tie things together, tear pieces of paper, stack things on top of each other, etc. Have them keep in mind the importance of an artist’s decisions and think about how their decisions are affecting the final arrangement.
  5. Ask students to share their still-life arrangements with the class and explain their artistic decisions. If the students have no particular reason for how they decided to arrange their objects, encourage them to still discuss the effects their arrangements create. Even though each group used the same objects, how did their still-life arrangements differ? How were they similar?
  6. If time and resources allow, have the students take photographs or make sketches of their still-life arrangements.

Materials

  • Several identical sets of the same objects to be arranged in still-life compositions: string, pieces of paper, toys, balls, pencils, erasers, etc. (You could either provide these objects or ask for volunteers to bring in four or five of the same object.)
  • Optional: Drawing paper and drawing utensils
  • Optional: Camera
  • About the Art section on Release Your Plans
  • One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Release Your Plans

Release Your Plans

April - July 2001

Daniel Sprick

Who Made It?

Daniel Sprick was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1953, and has lived off and on in Colorado since the age of five. He now lives and works in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, which gives him a “comfortable and predictable lifestyle that is right for a person to develop as an artist.”

Many of Sprick’s oil paintings, including Release Your Plans, feature an arrangement of objects set up in his studio. Some of his favorite objects show up in multiple works. He carefully selects and arranges the objects, making choices intuitively. “Mostly I paint things because I like the way things look,” says Sprick. “I have mountains of books on iconography, but iconography isn’t substantial enough. The thing has to resonate, have its own visual appeal. However, there could be some meaning in there that I don’t even know about—I’m not saying there is no meaning in there.”

While his style is very realistic, Sprick does make changes to what he sees before him, and he doesn’t limit himself to the laws of nature. He says, “I mostly see the world as a pretty good place. I guess that’s what I want to come though my work—something life affirming or some sense of well being, some optimism, some hope—even though I load it with portents of mortality and so forth. You know, I haven’t forgotten that those things exist, and I don’t think that the world is just a field of puppies romping in the daisies or anything, but it’s a good place, I just realize that there’s razor blades and cigarette butts, too.”

What Inspired It?

Sprick chose the objects in Release Your Plans simply because he likes the way they look. “That’s it. It’s not loaded with importance, it’s just that they satisfy me on some primitive level of the brain,” he says. He doesn’t like to look too hard for subject matter, because even a “cubic foot of the world contains the mysteries of the universe.” For Sprick, all kinds of things affect how a painting develops—“what’s in bloom outside at the time, what’s in the refrigerator.” The skull quickly became the focus in the painting, although he originally had something else in its place (an object that he eventually eliminated altogether). Sprick is drawn to paint bones because of how they look, saying, “I have a hard time leaving them alone because of their inherent beauty.” He tried to “play down the grim reaper a bit” by painting the skull the same color as the background so it wouldn’t stand out as much.

This piece took about four months to paint, and during that time Sprick worked on this painting only. He completed about 90% of it, however, in the first two months. Every square inch of the painting has to work for him. Sometimes he will spend up to a week working on just one part, a part that he thinks should have taken him just one day.

Details

Title
Title

The title of this painting came from an interview Sprick heard on the radio while he was working on this painting. During a fundraiser, someone said “Listen to your destiny, and when it calls, release your plans.” This message is written on the piece of paper tacked on the wall behind the easel in the painting, and the words “Listen” and “Release Your Plans” are repeated on the bottle and the soup can.

Skull
Skull

The skull first belonged to his dad, who made dentures for a living (this one has a good set of teeth). Sprick finds the skull, as well as the leg bone on the floor, visually pleasing. He’s looked at bones so much that he doesn’t associate them with feelings of death the way others might. But he does handle them with reverence, conscious that they were once part of a human being.

Glasses
Glasses

Sprick thinks the glasses add a sense of story to the work, and he sees them as evidence of human frailty.

Kitchen Refuse
Kitchen Refuse

Sprick doesn’t have to go far to find things like eggshells, old cans, and broken bottles to paint. He likes to combine things that are beautiful with things that are not. There are usually visual qualities that appeal to him, like the sharp edge and bright white of an eggshell.

Broken Stuff
Broken Stuff

Sprick finds broken bottles and glasses especially interesting. He rescues things from the trash but says he’d never break something just to paint it.

Floating Objects
Floating Objects

Sprick says that some objects end up floating because the support he was using (a clamp for a rose or a jar propping up a plate) didn’t look right in the layout of the painting. But he admits he also likes a bit of magic.

The Rug
The Rug

How do you make a rug really look like a rug? By laying in the paint the same way the rug was made. Sprick’s brushstrokes followed the direction of the warp and weft (the lengthwise and crosswise threads) of the rug.

Shrouded Table
Shrouded Table

Sprick built this table specifically for use in still-life paintings. He wrapped it several times, adding more sheets underneath for bulk, and still isn’t sure he got it just right. He likes the psychological tension the string adds to the painting, but he still wonders sometimes, why wrap something up?

Cigarette Butts
Cigarette Butts

Sprick says that eggshells, cigarette butts, kitchen refuse, and other debris are “testimonials to living.”

Dead Bugs
Dead Bugs

Look for the bugs on the table top. The artist actually keeps a box full of dead bugs and butterflies just to use in paintings.

Shades of White
Shades of White

To paint a large area with subtle shading, like the white wall, Sprick mixes all of the shades before he starts painting. He lays them out on his palette in an arrangement that reflects where they will go on in the painting. Look for shades of white that are warmer (have more yellow in them) and shades of white that are cooler (have more blue in them).

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.