Symbols to Sculptures



Designed by the Museum Educators at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada, this lesson encourages students to consider shapes as a construct for symbol making. The project proposes a transformation from 2-dimensional drawings to synthesized, 3-dimensional forms.


To learn about Keith Haring's art, specifically his art-making methods and his use of line and shape to create a symbolic language.

To understand that line may be used expressively to represent emotions.

To understand that shapes may be used as symbols, representing meanings.

To translate two-dimensional symbols into three-dimensional forms.

To participate in group discussions, contributing personal ideas as they relate to symbolic language.

To create lines that represent emotions.

To create a visual language by assigning personal meanings to original shapes.

To design and construct a free standing three-dimensional sculpture.


Chain Activity
Corrugated card (each student needs 4 pieces of varying sizes up to 12" x 24")
Utility knives
Large black markers with wedged end
Symbols to Sculptures
35 Boards and Chains 3'
Newsprint (each student needs a few pieces 10" x 14" approx.)
Mayfair Coverstock Doubleweight (cut each piece into 6 pieces- each student needs up to four pieces)
Metal scissors
Sets of coloured markers with wedged end
Plastic bags


Slide List
1. Haring in front of electronic billboard image he designed, Times Square, 1982.
2. Lamppost graffiti by Haring and others, 1982.
3. Tower of people. Chalk on paper, 1984.
4. Baby. Baked enamel on metal, 1981.
5. Pyramid and Spaceship. Acrylic, spray enamel & ink on paper, 1980.
6. Face. Enamel on incised wood, 1983.
7. Barking Dogs. Ink on vellum, 1983.
8. Dogs jumping through person. Vinyl ink on tarpaulin, 1982.
9. Monkey King. Vinyl ink on tarp, 1984.
10. Statue of Liberty, Day-Glo sculpture, 1982.
11. Maquette for Schneider Children's Hospital sculpture, 1987.
12. Sculpture installation. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. Sculpture Garden. New York, 1985.

Slide Presentation (emphasis on symbols)
The slides are listed above in the Line and Expression section. In this presentation the emphasis will be on symbols and their meanings.
Ask the students what they think symbols mean? Crawling baby=life, energy, happiness. Radiating lines=energy, glowing power (originally came from the spaceships). The spaceship and pyramid are connected to an unknown force. Haring considered the 3-Eyed Face like an icon and gave stickers of it away at the opening of his art shows. Of what do the barking dogs make you think? Discuss how symbols can have different meanings in different contexts. Haring created a visual language using his symbols in two-dimensional and three-dimensional artworks.

Symbols and meanings
Chalk drawings
Materials (the great variety Haring used)

Video Presentation (emphasis on symbols)
The video presentation will show the students some of Haring's symbols and shapes. Before the presentation, ask the students to make a mental note of some of the symbols that Haring repeatedly used.
After the presentation, discuss the symbols. Ask the students to name an image and think what it might mean. The Radiant Baby is probably his most popular image. What do you think the baby means? Crawling baby=life, energy, happiness. Radiating lines=energy, blowing power (originally came from the spaceships). The spaceship, pyramid, baby, three-eyed face and barking dogs appear in drawings, paintings, public murals and sculptures. The spaceship and pyramid are connected to an unknown force. Haring considered the 3-Eyed Face like an icon and gave stickers of it away at the opening of his art shows. Of what do the barking dogs make you think? Haring made buttons with the barking dog and babies on them. Discuss how Haring created a visual language using his symbols.

Symbols and meanings
The Symbols to Sculptures section encourages students to look at, respond to and create symbols. Ask the students what a line makes when it begins and ends at the same point. A shape. The students will list the geometric shapes and then discuss irregular shapes. Haring drew both shapes like the pyramid and irregular shapes like the barking dog. Hold up cards to illustrate these. The class will now watch either the video or slide presentation, whichever one they have not yet seen.
Chain Activity
The Chain Activity encourages students to make their own language symbols. Each student will find a partner. It may be necessary to have one group of three. Give each pair a chain, a board, about 6 cue cards and a marker. Demonstrate the symbol-making process. One student from each pair will move the chain around the board and then let go. The other student will have three or four moves to manipulate the chain into a shape. Together they will discuss what the shape looks like and what it may stand for a or represent. A shape may have more than one meaning. One of the students will draw the shape on the cue card and write the meaning on the back. Then the partners will reverse roles and continue the exercise until they have made approximately 5 symbol cards. The younger students may take more time to create fewer symbols.

Symbols to Sculptures Art Activity
Have the students move to the tables. Here they may each present one of their symbols to the class. Give each student a piece of newsprint. The students will choose a symbol and sketch it onto the newsprint. Each student will cut out their newsprint symbol and then trace around the shape on a piece of board (grade 4-6 students will use a piece of white Mayfair coverstock and grade 7-9 students will use colored corrugated card). The students will then cut out their tag and draw other symbols and signs with marker all over their symbol card. The students will draw another symbol and this process will continue until each student has made three or four shapes.
The students will then plan how they will change their sculptures into three-dimensional forms. Demonstrate how to make slots to attach the symbols together. Once the pieces are attached the students will draw other symbols and signs with marker all over their symbol sculpture.

It is important that the students know that an important part of any art activity is the clean-up. Ask the students to start the clean-up ten minutes before the studio program is to end. They must roll up the chalk drawing and gather the sculptures so that they are ready to take back to school. When everything is organized and the students are ready to go, gather the class. Ask the students what they remember most about Keith Haring's work and which of the art activities they liked the best. Let the students know that the studio is open to the public on Family Sundays.


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