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Joseph Cornell: An Art Activity for Students

In this activity, students will create a work of art in the style of Joseph Cornell.

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was an American artist who produced fascinating works of art in boxes. Cornell's works contained sets of everyday objects that were carefully positioned behind glass. His work transformed ordinary objects into works of timeless art.

Joseph Cornell's works were truly original, nostalgic, and mesmerizing. He roamed New York City's second-hand stores and dime stores to purchase his materials.

Supplies:
supplies
  • A box (like a shoebox or a cigar box)
  • Old magazines, greeting cards, maps, and catalogs (to cut up)
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick or white glue
  • Hot glue
  • Markers or paint and brushes
  • Various small, inexpensive objects that would otherwise be discarded (like empty spools, tiny plastic toys, bottle tops, used stamps, small plastic bottles, film canisters, corks, broken toys, twigs, driftwood, dried leaves, seashells, nut shells, acorns, buttons, marbles, beads, feathers, or bits of plastic, fabric or wood)
  • Paint
  • String or yarn

Instructions:

Show the student pictures of some of Joseph Cornell's works (check your local library for a book of his works, or visit the Webmuseum website, where you can view many of his works).

Explain that Joseph Cornell's works often consisted of wooden boxes that contained sets of fascinating objects carefully positioned behind glass. He transformed commonplace objects into beautiful assemblages in boxes.

In order to create a work of your own in a box in the style of Joseph Cornell, first, think of a theme for the work (spring, earth, the city, plants, school, animals, outer space, a hobby you enjoy, or something else). Not everything in your box has to be directly related to your theme, however - let your imagination run wild. If you cannot find a theme, start with some objects that you find, and see if they can tell a story or make an interesting picture.

Working in a box, glue in the back layer and sides of the box first (you may want to finish the outside of the box also). Glue on cut-out photos (from magazines, catalogs, or cards) and/or draw a background on the box.

Next, experiment with the items that you want to have in your box. You can glue them to the sides or the back of the box (or to each other), or you can hang them from the top of the box using string.

Give your work a title and sign it.

For a page on Joseph Cornell's life, click here.

For a page on Joseph Cornell works in the Guggenheim Museum, click here.

The Webmuseum page on Cornell.



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