Today, students will learn of one compromise made when the Committee of Fine Arts decided to move forward with Maya Lin’s design. This compromise was to build another monument on sight, one with a more traditional design. Before they look at this monument, I explain a little about the purpose of public art. I have been talking about the wall as a piece of public art, but have not explained any specifics of public art. It is very helpful to understand the purpose of public art in order to understand the power of a piece like the wall.
I give students a brief overview of public art by making the following points:
I then explain to students that when the Committee of Fine Arts decided to move forward with the creation of Maya Lin’s design, one compromise was the creation of a second monument, one with a more traditional design, titled “The Three Servicemen.” This statue was placed so that the men are directly facing Maya Lin’s wall. I project this image on the wall for them. Like I did with the projected image of the wall, I moved the LCD projector as far away from the wall on which I was projecting the image in order to make the image cover a good amount of the projecting wall so that they could get a sense of scale. Also, like they did with the image of the Vietnam wall I projected the day before, I want students to get a sense of the experience the viewer may have when standing in front of the real one so I ask students to walk up to the image and pretend they are in front of the real statue, like they do in this video. I also ask them to jot down some notes on what they imagine they would experience in front of the real statue.
Standing in front of the image, students ask questions like: What is it made of? What is their race? What is the guy on the right holding? I actually don’t have concrete answers to these so we all get closer and try to come up with answers. Here are the notes two students wrote about this statue.
I now introduce students to the writing assignment they are going to be working on for the next several days. I introduce it as being part of the Op Ed genre. Specifically, they are to respond directly to Tom Carhart’s article by agreeing or disagreeing with him. What I have in mind is not a straight Op Ed article that would have been published during the time this controversy was unfolding because that would suggest that they could take the position that the wall should not be built, which seems pointless to me given that it was build and it has become a central national monument. What I have in mind is a modified Op Ed where students respond to Carhart from present time, knowing what we know about these two monuments. This requires that students think about the meaning of the wall and the meaning of the statue in order to evaluate the validity of Carhart’s argument.
For this task, they need a bit more information on the monuments as they stand today. I have several images of both monuments I found on google and put them in a powerpoint. I share this powerpoint with images of people visiting both memorials with students. These can later be cited as evidence in the paper they will soon start writing. It is clear that the vast majority of images are of the wall. This is because there are vastly more images available of the wall in comparison to the three soldiers as much more people are drawn to the wall. I make this point clear to students. It is a detail they may be able to use in their written response. I worry that I may be guiding the entire class to make a single conclusion, that Carhart was completely wrong. However, the power of Maya Lin’s design is undeniable and I need to present it as is. Students ask questions about the photos such as “Are they tracing the names?” They also express liking for some of the paintings. However, they mostly watch intently without speaking, which is an indication to me that they are digesting the images.
I now give students time to begin to organize their thoughts by creating an outline of their written response to Carhart’s argument. They need time to gather their thoughts so I let them work on their own. Once in a while they ask a question and I answer it. I do take time to look over their shoulder and get a sense of the position students are taking. These are a couple of outlines students are working on.