How would you enhance your space?

Minimum Grade Level: 6th grade
National Core Arts Standards:
VA:Cr2.3.6a Design or redesign objects, places, or systems that meet the identified needs of diverse users.
VA:Cn10.1.5a Apply formal and conceptual vocabularies of art and design to view surroundings in new ways through artmaking.

Fernand Léger, Untitled (Fireplace Mural), 1939, oil on canvas, 287.3 x 189.2 cm (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

Fernand Léger, Untitled (Fireplace Mural), 1939, oil on canvas, 287.3 x 189.2 cm (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

Fernand Léger was one of a number of artists and designers hired by Nelson Rockefeller in the late 1930s to help decorate his large New York City apartment. For the living room, Léger and fellow French artist Henri Matisse each created a mural to surround one of the two fireplaces at either end of the long space. Matisse’s mural shows four women singing and listening, as if they are gathered around the fireplace below them. Léger’s mural features a combination of architectural shapes, plant-like forms, and still life objects such as shells, which appear as if they were sitting on the fireplace mantle. Léger was most likely inspired by the varied building heights and numerous gardens of the newly completed Rockefeller Center, a multi-building complex developed by the Rockefeller family. 

The designs for these two murals and the other artworks and furnishings of the Rockefeller apartment reflect the family’s particular interest in modern art and architecture, as well as suggest the broader social and cultural activities in which they took part.

In this activity, consider your own surroundings and how you might enhance the experience of them through the decoration of a particular space, just like Léger’s and Matisse’s murals did for the fireplaces in the Rockefeller apartment. 

1. Select a space.

Individually or as a group, identify an area of your classroom or school that could be improved by designing or redesigning the decoration around it. For instance, it could be a wall that needs a mural to more clearly emphasize the purpose of the space or the identity of your local community. It could be a doorway that could be more inviting by adding decoration around the frame. Or, it could be a set of windows that could better enhance the view of the neighborhood by adhering patterns or motifs to the glass. 

2. Start your plan.

Once you have identified a space, decide how you want to add decoration to it. In creating your plan, make sure to consider: 

  • Who uses the space (or who do you want to use the space more than they do now)? 
  • For what purpose is the space used?
  • What decorations for the space will best relate to the needs and interests of people who use it (or who you want to use it)?
  • Which design principles will inform your plan? You may find it useful to give special attention to balance, emphasis, and movement.

It’s possible that you will come up with multiple answers to these questions. Many spaces are used by people with different needs and interests, whether they be physical, educational, cultural, or otherwise. It is a good idea to ask some of the people who use the space (or who you want to use the space) what they need. Once you have this information, see if you can come up with a design that meets as many needs as possible. This might be hard, but it’s important to try! You might even have to create a few plans to explore different ideas until you find something that you think will work best.

3. Share your ideas.

Whether you have one plan or a few of them, present them to people who already use, or will use, the space you want to decorate. Also show the plans to your teacher and principal. Ask everyone to tell you what excites them about your ideas or what questions they have.

4. Update your plan.

Based on what you learn from sharing your ideas, make adjustments to your design. If you have space in your school, create an exhibition of all the designs from your class. 

5. Put your plan into action.

Invite your teacher or principal to consider using one or more of the ideas from your class to actually redecorate the space you selected. With their support, you can acquire the necessary materials and tools and enhance your school!