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Objects in Excess: Material Culture & Consumerism

A High School Photography Unit


“Some of the most engaging, meaningful, and poignant experiences we have encountered in our teaching have occurred through the study of actual objects – the material culture of our lives.” Blandy & Bolin, 2012

The study of objects from our consumer society is a source for creative expression, artistic media, and social awareness that gives students an opportunity to connect to their own lives. The learning gained from these connections is unmistakable and lasting. This unit explores consumerism and consumption as the medium and the message for creative works.


Table of Contents

Unit Overview


Artist Reference Sheet




Artist Info Worksheet


Project Sheet


Project Rubric






Additional Resources


Project Examples



Objects in Excess Material Culture and Consumerism Enduring Idea: Consumerism Grade Level/ Course: High School Grades 9 – 12 / Photo Design Rationale: As consumers, students need to explore the roots of what, why, and how they buy things in addition to the consequences of those choices for other people and the planet. Essential Questions: How do objects promote consumerism? How are contemporary artists using objects to make social comments on consumerism? What is the difference between using objects as an artistic medium versus using objects as the subject matter of a work of art? Objectives:  Investigate the meaning of material culture through exploration of objects and how they relate to the concepts of consumerism and excess.  Examine contemporary artists working with objects found in excess and concepts of consumerism  Develop an awareness and understanding of consumerism and products of consumer culture as well as the social and environmental implications of objects consumed in excess.  Create a work of art that conveys a social or environmental concern related to consumerism using objects found in excess in our society as the medium. AKS Standards: Photo Design A - Creation and Performance o Employ creative solutions in producing photographs using variety of approaches to composition and subject manner o Apply knowledge of elements of art and principles of design in creating photographic artworks o Display work habits and craftsmanship appropriate to the photographic process and specialized equipment being used o Make independent decisions and evaluate judgments during creative process and in resolution of specific photo design problems o Use photographic technology to organize and convey thematic content, ideas, feelings, or moods B - Perception and Analysis o Use specialized photographic media vocabulary to critically analyze and evaluate artworks and relate knowledge of frequently used processes and equipment o Recognize and identify various visual forms created using photographic media o Explore relationships between visual arts and other disciplines o Discuss aesthetic issues related to photo design o Select, present, and display photographic images in an aesthetically appealing manner


AKS Standards cont.: C - Cultural and Historical Context o Explore contemporary and historical developments related to photographic design o Describe and analyze distinguishing characteristics of photographs of various artists and styles o Describe and analyze career opportunities related to photography

Tools/Materials/Resources: Objects, Consumerism, & Art Artist Reference Pack & Artist Info Worksheet Group Activity Guideline Project Information Sheet Project Plan & Rubric Project Reflection / Self-Evaluation Handout Lesson 1: Bell Ringer: What is consumerism/consumer culture? In what ways are we influenced to buy/ possess objects? - Have each student scan magazines for images of consumerism – objects marketed towards him/her (by age, ethnicity, gender, etc.). - In small groups, have students organize their images into a collage. Discuss the nature of consumerism and society’s need for “things”. - Within the small group (table mates), create a list of objects we buy/use in excess (daily or repetitively), and in turn, dispose of in excess (creating waste). Discuss how the objects on this list have changed the way we live. How do these objects impact our daily lives? Ticket Out/Home Work: What’s in your room? Inventory all the objects in your room. Lesson 2: Bell Ringer: What were the strangest, funniest, most excessive, most valuable, most cherished, grossest, dirtiest objects in your room? - Randomly assign students one of the artists from the Artist Reference Sheet. Have students with the same artist work together to compose a one page “article” for an imaginary newspaper. The page should include at least one image of the work, as well as pertinent information about the artist and the work itself and will be printed and posted in the classroom for student inspiration/reference. Ticket Out/ Home Work: Keep track of everything you throw away from now until class tomorrow. Which of these things do you use and then dispose of daily? Ex. Plastic cutlery, notebook paper, pencils, contact lenses, food packaging…. Lesson 3: Bell Ringer: How do you participate in or resist consumerism? - Revisit the work of Chris Jordan. Discuss the statistics and have students discuss how these images make an impact on society. What message is the artist sending? 5


As a class, have all students pull the following from their belongings (Have tape ready for them to label objects with their name): cell phone, mp3 players, pens, markers, headphones, erasers, calculators, key chains, cosmetics – class can add to the list if they choose. - Allow students time to label each item, then have the class begin sorting the objects into groups by type. Having large sheets of white paper ready, in small groups have them neatly arrange each group into a geometric shape on the white paper, then photograph from above. - Ask students to respond to questions about the objects, the quantity, similarities, differences, etc. (Why do you think this activity was about? What did you notice about the objects? Where were there similarities/differences? Were there more of some objects than others? If so, why do you think that was the case? Ticket Out/ Home Work: What social concerns are raised with the images taken in class? What do the objects in excess say about our class? Lesson 4: Bell Ringer: What social and environmental concerns are raised from consumerism? - Class should discuss bell ringer and create a list of social concerns raised when thinking of consumerism, consumption, and waste? - Introduce Objects in Excess Project. - 3-5 days for photographing and Photoshop work. - Display and class critique.

Assessment: Formative assessments will take place throughout the unit with observations, collection, and completion of assigned tasks. Summative assessments will take place after the completion of the project and reflection using the rubric provided to students.


Objects in Excess Artist Reference Sheet

Claire Fontaine, “Consumption”, 2011, match sticks

Guerra de la Paz (Alain Guerra & Neraldo de la Paz), “Martyr”, 2007, recycled clothing

David LaChapelle, “Couture Consumption”, 1999, chromogenic print

Pascale Marthine Tayou, “Plastic Bags”, 2010, plastic shopping bags 7

Hassan Sharif, “Spoons & Cable”, 2006, spoons and cable

Andy Warhol “Brillo Boxes”, 19641969, screen print and ink on wood

Gabriel Kuri, “Untitled (superama II)”, 2003, tapestry

Subodh Gupta, “Line of Control”, 2008, stainless steel structure & stainless steel utensils


Petr Motycka, “The Shoe Christ”, 2011, used shoes

El Anatsui, “Peak”, 2010, aluminum (from cans) and copper wire

Jean Shin, “Chance City”, 20012009, $32,404 worth of discarded scratch & win lottery tickets


Ai Wei Wei, “Bang”, 2013, 886 threelegged wooden stools

Chris Jordan “Plastic Bottles”, 2007, 60”x 120” photograph depicting two million plastic beverage bottles (the number used in the US every five minutes) Stuart Haygarth, “Drop”, 2007, plastic water bottles .


Wang Zhiyuan, “Thrown to the Wind”, 2010 recycled plastic containers

Objects in Excess Vocabulary List

Activism – a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue Consumerism – the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also: a preoccupation with and inclination toward the buying of consumer goods

“The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.” -Ross Perot

Consumption – the utilization of economic goods in the satisfaction of wants or in the process of production resulting chiefly in their destruction, deterioration, or transformation Ecology - branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environments Economic – of, relating to, or based on the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services Environment – the complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors (as climate, soil, and living things) that act upon an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine its form and survival Excess – the state or an instance of surpassing usual, proper, or specified limits; undue or immoderate indulgence “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” -Ansel Adams

Medium – material or technical means of artistic expression Social (concern) – of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society Slogan - a brief attention-getting phrase used in advertising or promotion

Source: 11

Objects in Excess Artist Info Sheet Name: ____________________________________________ Period: _______Date: _______ Complete the following information. Sketch the work of art on the back of this page. ARTIST NAME: ______________________________________________________________ Born/Died: _______________ What country/region is the artist from? ________________ Title: _________________________________________________ Date: ________________ Medium: ____________________________________Dimensions: ____________________ Describe the work in detail. List objects, images, etc. ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________

What statement is the artist making about consumerism in this work? ____________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________

How do the objects present in the work help the artist make the statement? ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ 12

Objects in Excess Project Info Sheet Goal: To create a photographic work of art based that highlights an an issue of social or environmental concern related to consumerism. Objectives:  Acknowledge and respond to social and environmental concerns related to consumerism.  Explore creative solutions to awareness and activism on issues of social concern.  Compose an original social awareness ad that raises questions about a specific social or environmental concern of consumerism. Materials/Supplies:  Rubric for Project  Project Reflection and/or Evaluation  Digital Camera  Photoshop Process:  Step 1: Using the inventory you created of objects in your room as a starting point, expand the inventory to the rest of your home. Focus on, and begin collecting, disposable objects used in excess. 

Step 2: Once you have collected disposable objects; compose an interesting arrangement that suggests a specific issue of social or environmental concern for the viewer. You need to consider the following during the creation process:

What issue are you focused on?

Do the objects in the image portray that issue?

How does your composition amplify the issue?

Step 3: Edit your image using Photoshop. Image should be saved with 200 dpi or higher and a minimum of 8.5”x 11” print size (max of 11” x 14”).

Step 4: Create a Social Awareness poster using your image and a creative slogan. The poster should include a researched statistic (must cite source) relevant to the objects in the photo and the issue you have focused on.


Project Rubric






(F) 69 – 0%

(A) 99-90 %

(B) 89-80%

(C) 79-70%

Creative, original design idea. Objects, arrangement, and slogan are inventive and interesting.

Somewhat original design idea. Objects, layout, and slogan are predictable but interesting.

Very little originality in design idea and objects. Arrangement is dull and uninviting. Slogan is uninventive.

Objects, arrangement, and slogan lack creativity.

Photograph and poster are composed in a unified, wellplanned design. Design choices exhibit strong knowledge and use of Elements & Principles of Art.

Photograph and poster are composed in a relatively unified design. Design choices exhibit some knowledge and use of the Elements & Principles of Art.

Photograph and poster exhibit very little unity in composition and there is little evidence of knowledge or use of the Elements & Principles of Art.

Photograph and poster are unorganized and displays little to no signs of the knowledge or use of Elements & Principles of Art.

Relation to issue of social concern is clear and evident in finished piece.

The issue of social concern is somewhat evidenced in the finished piece.

The issue of social concern must be explained to become evident in the finished piece.

The finished photo is unrelated to the issue of social concern.

Poster is complete, clean, and skill is evident in editing.

Poster is complete and shows some effort in editing.

Poster is partially complete but shows little effort in editing.

Poster is incomplete and shows no effort in editing.

Objects in Excess Project Reflection Name: __________________________________Class: ______________Date: ___________ In the space provided, reflect on the “Objects in Excess� project by considering the following questions: o How do the objects I chose as a consumer affect the society I live in? o How do my choices as an artist become my voice as an activist? o Why is it important to consider the objects we buy and the effects of consumerism? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 15

Objects in Excess Self Evaluation Evaluate yourself and your project by answering the following questions.

1. Would you consider the final project successful? Why or why not? ____________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 2. How does your photograph make a social or environmental comment on consumerism? Defend your choices as an artist. ________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3. What was the best, most interesting thing you learned from this assignment? ____________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 4. What would make this project better? (more enjoyable, interesting, educational, creative, etc.) _______________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________


Objects in Excess Additional Resources Books Attfield, J. (2000). Wild things: The material culture of everyday life. Berg. Harvey, K. (Ed.). (2013). History and material culture: a student's guide to approaching alternative sources. Routledge. Tilley, C., Keane, W., Kuechler, S., Rowlands, M., & Spyer, P. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of material culture. SAGE Publications Limited.

Articles Doss, E. (1991). Catering to Consumerism: Associated American Artists and the Marketing of Modern Art, 1934-1958. Winterthur Portfolio, 26(2/3), 143167. Duncum, P. (2004). Visual culture isn't just visual: Multiliteracy, multimodality and meaning. Studies in Art Education, 45(3), p. 252-264. Jackson, P. (1999). Commodity culture: The traffic in things. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 24(1), p. 95-108

Videos Art 21: Season 1: Consumption, 2001 The Mona Lisa Curse, 2008 Consumed: The Human Experience, 2011 Mark Dion on Ecology ADBusters "Buy Nothing Day"

Websites Consumerism/Artsy Objects & Consumerism, Pinterest Board Teen Activism Links 17

Project Example: This is one solution to the design project. Photographs were taken of plastic spoons arranged as flowers. The photos were then layered with an image taken of the sky. The design is meant to imitate a postcard. The verbiage is a spoof on traditional postcards to draw viewers in to read more.

Objects in Excess: Material Culture & Consumerism  

A high school photography unit exploring the connection between objects of material culture and the enduring idea of consumerism.

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