Visionary Studio - Art Education


Anna Alfredson, Géraldine de Haugoubart, Sarah MacWright

Grade Level: 9-12

How does the body serve as a site for broader personal and social meaning?

  • How is the body a physical and social site?
  • How is the body a biological site?


In the 21st century, the body is represented in many different ways and for many different reasons. Law enforcement agencies incorporate new technologies for biometric scanning into both safety and surveillance programs that often target immigrants, youth, people of color, and the poor. The media uses computer software to alter images of the body that in turn influence cultural standards of beauty and success. Advances in scientific imaging technology allow the inner workings of the body to be viewed and recorded with increasing detail and accuracy. Images of tissues, cells and gene patterns are presented without acknowledging the individuals whose bodies served as the source for the resulting scientific discoveries.

Examples of these new representations of the body are found in the pages of magazines, subway cars, bus stops, and even schools; they are sent directly to our phones and computers, and pumped into our homes through televisions, video games and the Internet; they are carried in the form of a fingerprinted green cards, welfare identification and criminal records. A conscious examination of how institutions and people in power represent the body often reveals self-serving messages behind the images, and often targeting teenagers. Teens are deeply engaged in the process of trying out new ways to visually express their identity and are often deeply self-conscious about their own bodies and social representations of bodies.

In this unit students take a closer look at images produced by law enforcement agencies, the media, and the scientific community and the messages they convey. Students will be introduced to contemporary artists who reference and reclaim the messages embedded in body representations and will offers students an opportunity to investigate, reclaim or rewrite messages about the body in their own artwork.

Class Sessions

PART 1: The Body as Physical and Social Site

Week 1: Fingerprints: Evidence of the Individual

Students will explore the theme of the fingerprint as both a marker of unique identity and a tool co-opted by social institutions through the process of making a drawing inspired by their own experiences with and ideas about fingerprinting.

Week 2: Reclaiming the Body

Students will explore the theme of the body as represented by mass media and advertising through the process of looking at the works of artists that address the effects of advertising and its use of digital technology to manipulate the public and more specifically, teenagers.  Students will then create mixed-media artworks to express their thoughts on this theme.

PART 2: The Body as Biological Site

Week 3: Microscopic Landscapes

Students will explore the theme of the body represented by medical science by investigating artists whose work is either inspired by medical representations of the body or addresses ethical concerns arising from advances in scientific medicine. Students will further investigate this theme by creating miniature landscapes of the body’s interior.

Week 4: Collaborative Bodies

Students will explore the idea of collaborative representations of the body through the process of working together to create three temporal projects that reflect on topics from past lessons: namely, The Body as a Social Site and The Body as a Biological Site. Students will engage in an exercise that mirrors how diverse representations of the body can be combined to shape new ideas and representations.

PART 3: Final Project

Weeks 5-8: Representing the Body

Students will explore the theme of imaging the body through the process of making a self-directed project in the medium of their choice for exhibition.

Week 9: Final Exhibition