The Signing

Image

Reimagines modern-day women and men of color in the place of the Founding Fathers.

Renee Cox, b. 1960 Colgate, Jamaica, Lives and works in New York, NY. The Signing, 2017, Digital color print 52 x 144 inches, Courtesy of the Artist

Subject

Visual Arts

Grade Range

K-12

Skill

Critical Analysis

Motivation

Museum Trip and/or Class Debate

Materials

Personal Connection Worksheet, pencil, paper, and image of Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States

About the Artist

Born in Jamaica, Renee Cox is an artist, photographer, lecturer, political activist, and curator who lives in New York City. She received her Bachelor’s degree in film studies from Syracuse University, Master’s degree at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, and participated in the Whitney Independent Study program. She creates artwork that critiques American social issues, specifically racism and sexism. As a specialist in film and digital portraiture, she celebrates the identities and beauty within her subjects and herself. Cox stated that she aims to “unleash the potential of the ordinary and bring it into a new realm of possibilities. It’s about time that we reimagine our own constitutions.”

Cox created The Signing which is based on the 1940 painting, Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy. Cox confronts the issues of racism and sexism that were prevalent in the 18th century when the country was formed. Wanting to illustrate the monumental work that Black Americans (male and female) contributed at the beginning of the new nation, she flips the tables to illuminate the glaring atrocities committed by America’s Founding Fathers.

Learning Goal

To use critical analysis to describe, compare and contrast the characteristics of The Signing by Renee Cox and Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler Christy.

I Can Statement

I can use critical analysis to describe characteristics of The Signing by Renee Cox and Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler Christy.

Vocabulary

activist, artistic liberty, Constitution, critical analysis, debate, Founding Fathers, inspiration, narrative, racism

Procedure

Disclaimer: Renee Cox has created artwork that is controversial and graphic. Teachers may choose not to have students complete research on the artist.

Lesson 1: Investigation of The Signing by Renee Cox.
Define and discuss critical analysis.
Introduce and review the vocabulary.
Point out the artist was born in Colgate, Jamaica and moved to the US as a young child.
Discuss issues that motivate artists to be activists and create artwork that points out these concerns.
Review Cox’s artwork in detail: 

  • the number of people
  • the type of people
  • which individuals stand out
  • their clothing and the colors that stand out
  • their poses
  • notate any symbols - clear or subtle
  • why are they gathering
  • where does this take place
  • based on clues in the photograph, what is the approximate year in which the work was created
  • does everyone seem to be in agreement or are there any objectors or individuals that are undecided
  • what story is the artist trying to tell

Brainstorm possible reasons for the creation of this photograph.
Provide time for students to research the artist, Renee Cox OR provide biography on Cox and show select works from her website.
Show 2-minute video on The Signing by the Boca Raton Museum of Art as a teaser to the next lesson.

Lesson 2: Investigation of Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler Christy.
Secure digital image of Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States from “Additional Resources” at the end of this document.
Recap Lesson 1.
Point out the artist was born in Morgan County, Ohio and was a nationally recognized portrait painter in the early-to-mid 20th century.
Discuss issues that motivate artists to accurately portray an event.
Review Christy’s artwork in detail: 

  • the number of people
  • the type of people
  • their clothing and the colors that stand out
  • their poses
  • which individuals stand out
  • notate any symbols - clear or subtle
  • why are they gathering
  • where does this take place
  • based on clues in the painting, what is the approximate year in which the work was painted
  • does everyone seem to be in agreement or are there any objectors or individuals that are undecided
  • what story is the artist trying to tell

Brainstorm possible reasons for the creation of this photograph.
Provide time for students to research the artist, Howard Chandler Christy.

Lesson 3: Compare/Contrast the Two Artworks and Preparation for Class Debate.
Put both artworks on the screen and lead students in a compare/contrast review. 
Discuss debate and review debate standards.
Select the topic for debate. Suggestions include:

  • In order to have your school’s student council accurately represent the student population, should the school administration draft and enforce parameters to have good representation?
  • The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and right to petition. Should artists be allowed artistic license in recreating an actual event or can they rewrite history?
  • Select an issue that is important to your school or class.

Select debate teams and judges. Provide ample time for teams to work together.

Lesson 4: Class Debate
Review debate standards. (There are MANY sites that offer outlines and rubrics.)
Implement debate - alternating team members to speak for a specified time. 

Summary

The lessons used artwork to reveal accuracies/inaccuracies of recorded history and the reinterpretation based on current research and developments by artists.

Assessment

Debate members are graded on notes and presentation.
Judges are graded on completion of debate rubric and keeping debate decorum.

Florida Standards

VA.68.C.1.2, VA.68.C.2.2, VA.68.H.1.3, VA.68.H.2.1 VA912.C.1.4, VA.912.C.2.8, VA912.H.1.4, VA912.H.2.3, WL.K12.AH.3.4

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