American Guernica Used as A Class Project

chalkboard guernica

Illustration by Blackboard Design Buenos Aires

The following entry and comments are excerpted (a little bit) from a post at Oedipa’s blog. I’m reproducing it below because it just totally made my day to read about how American Guernica had been used in the classroom, especially the student’s and observer’s positive reactions to the idea.

So today I had another observer come in to take notes and evaluate my skills.  This went really, really well.  After the sting of yesterday’s news (that I’m too nice to my students), I went for broke. I crafted a lesson plan around “Reading Images as Text” and brought in several books.  A few of them were Paul Klee, some Giacometti, some photos of New Orleans spiritual communities, and so forth. If anyone of them even so much as whispered out of turn during class, I stopped everything and let my narrow eyes settle on them until they really got the message.  I’m mean.  Cut the shit. Watch the hell out.

Then I had them split up into groups of three and each group had to work with the images in the book they had to find one that they would put on a billboard on a highway to send a message about something.  I got this idea from John T. Unger who is proposing a simple open-source street art project, American Guernica. He wants people all over the country to put up billboard-sized reproductions of Picasso’s famous painting of the carpet bombing of Guernica. He says, “[I]f the painting is all that’s seen, it forces the viewer to make an interpretation instead of being told what to think. Being told what to think is exactly what got Americans in trouble in the first place, no?”

Anyway, I was impressed with this and I hope it catches on.  In the meantime, it made for a GREAT excercise for the class.  Each one got up and gave a presentation on the painting or photo they selected and went into great detail about how they thought it supported a theme or a message in a similar vein to the above project.

The observer approached me after class and told me how impressed he was.  This made me feel much, much better after my slight tailspin yesterday.

Comments from Oedipa’s entry:

I totally understand the stress of observation days…I hate them. But this exercise sounds wonderful–I may have to try it myself soon!


Wow, this sort of story always makes my day. I *love* teaching, but rarely get to do it in a classroom situation (something to do with not finishing college and refusing to play by the rules. sigh). Anyway, glad to have been of service.

You might be interested in a little write-up I had to do of one of my teaching projects. It discusses some of my basic strategies for getting students involved way over their heads, which I’ve found to bring good results. Check it out here, if you like.

Anyway, thanks for the post. It’s been interesting to see how many different interpretations the Guernica idea has brought forth. Keeps me
honest. heh.

So glad this post brought you to my website. One of my students proclaimed about your endeavor, “oh my god! that’s brilliant!!!”. It takes a lot to get him interested in learning something new. Bringing your project in did it for him. So thanks!!!!

Actually, if any of you are morbidly curious, my class blog/website is here.

By going there, you can actually see or download the class exercise I had the students do around John’s project. Also, if any of you have any other interesting suggestions for class projects where it helps them interpret images as text, well, lemme know. I’m open!

Nice one. I might use that myself, with a little modification.