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The place of vacuum forming in secondary sculpture and design programs Glen, Barry Willis


The author contends that traditional methods and materials used to teach sculpture and design at the secondary level need to be supplemented with materials and processes which are a part of every student's contemporary experience. The thermal vacuum forming of plastics is an industrial process easily adapted to fulfill many of the goals and learning outcomes of art education. In the first part of the thesis, two questions are posed: "what is sculpture?" and "what is taught as sculpture in the context of art education?" The author arrives at the answer to the first question through an analysis of two divergent views of modern sculpture contained in the writings of Herbert Read (1964) and Rosalind Krauss (1977). The writings of contemporary sculptors are also considered. To answer the second question, the author engages in a historical review of the place of sculpture and design in art education since 1850, with particular reference to three influential factors: the rather pragmatic nature of society's interests which are often more utilitarian than aesthetic; the rise of the arts and crafts movement during the l880's and the on-going confusion between art, crafts, and industrial art; and the profound influence of the Bauhaus on educational thought from the 1920's to the present. Innovation in sculpture and art education are discussed in terms of a phenomenon peculiar to our technological era: the rapid acceleration of change. The impact of new materials and techniques on the evolution of modern sculpture is analyzed in relation to four significant events: Picasso's invention of assemblage, the use of "ready mades" in art, constructivism, and the application of welding to sculpture. The author considers some of the ways in which artists have exploited the unique characteristics of plastics in their sculpture; characteristics such as optical properties, casting and thermoforming capabilities, and reinforced plastic's high strength combined with light weight. The use of vacuum formed plastics in the sign industry is described and illustrated. The second half of this thesis expands upon the role of vacuum forming in the secondary art program. Goals and learning outcomes for the teaching of sculpture and design are discussed, and the creative potential of vacuum forming is assessed in the light of this discussion. Later sections describe vacuum forming in detail, including mold making, forming processes, fastening and glueing procedures, and finishing. Photographs of student work are used extensively to illustrate these sections. Finally, practical considerations and the limitations of vacuum forming are dealt with. The appendix includes notes and technical data on plastics, safety procedures, and drawings and practical suggestions for constructing a "budget" vacuum form machine.

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