Are you up to the TASK?

With fall classes just underway in many schools across the country, the Labor Day break provides teachers and students with an opportunity to catch their breath before plunging headfirst into the school year. Art teachers looking to add something unique to their year’s repertoire of lessons and creative learning experiences should check out TASK.

Created by contemporary artist Oliver Herring, TASK is ‘a collaborative, improvisational art event that can be planned and played by anyone, anywhere, with any budget.’ TASK events generally come in two flavors: TASK Parties, which are open-ended, participatory public events; and TASK Workshops, which are tailored for use in schools or classrooms. Both require a designated area and a variety of inexpensive props, art tools, and found materials. Both are also structured around two basic rules that participants follow:

  1. Write down a task on a piece of paper and add it to a designated task box or pool.
  2. Take a task from the box and interpret it any way you want, using whatever materials are available. When your task is completed, write a new task and place it in the task box.

Herring is one of a number of contemporary artists who are interested in the complex interactions between art, artist, and viewer. Introducing a TASK party or workshop into your curriculum provides an opportunity for your students to explore Art as social interaction and the ways in which viewers’ beliefs and the social functions of art impact how contemporary art practice is seen in our society.

If I’ve tweaked your interest and you want to know more about TASK there are several places you can go on the Web for information and ideas. A key-word search on YouTube with the phrase ‘TASK party’ nets some 40 videos like the following one of a TASK Party at Illinois State University (my alma mater) in 2010 attended by some 300 people.

While some of the tasks mentioned in the video aren’t appropriate for a K-12 event, many are, and viewing the video provides a great opportunity to watch a TASK Party in action.

Another place to go for ideas on staging a TASK Party at your school or in your community is Oliver Herring’s Task Blog, which is filled with videos of past TASK parties staged around the country, lists of TASKS salvaged from past events, suggestions on staging a TASK event, and more. I particularly appreciated reading Sarah Nakano Purgett’s blog entry (March 3, 2011) about a TASK party put on by the Walker Arts Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC) in February and what she learned from the experience.

To further encourage K-12 art teachers to get involved and plan a TASK event with their students, SchoolArts Magazine, Art21, ArtEd 2.0 and NAEA have teamed up with Oliver Herring to make TASK more accessible to educators, teachers and students. The culmination of this collaboration will be a huge TASK Party at the NAEA convention this coming year in NYC. You can keep tabs on the plans and activities of this group and the teachers who join in at Even better, join the TASK Party group on Art Education 2.0, where you can chat with other art teachers who will be planning TASK events in their communities or schools this coming school year.

Lastly, I’ve been brainstorming possible written TASKS to use at a TASK party we’ll be staging here at UF later in the school year. Here is a list of 24 TASKS to start with, not all of which might work at your school. Still, they may help you get your own pool of TASKS started (which I hope you’ll share here or in the TASK Party group on Art Education 2.0).

24 Possible TASKS (more in the works)

  1. Using newspaper, scissors and tape, make the tallest self-supporting sculpture you can in 15 minutes. Have a sculpture-making contest with two other people.
  2. Design a musical instrument out of found materials. Teach someone else how to play it.
  3. Draw a picture of something invisible. Share your drawing with someone else at the party.
  4. Using whatever materials you can find, create an imaginative gravestone with your epitaph on it. Display it in the corner of the room with other gravestones.
  5. Create a creature from found materials and name it. Ask someone else at the party to write a story about your creature and display both in the room.
  6. Make a hat and coat out of newspaper and tape for a companion. Have them wear it at the party.
  7. Working with a partner, create a shadow play using a flashlight, your hands and any props you can make or find. Present it to a small group of people.
  8. Using whatever materials you can find, create a mask that will give the wearer special powers. Give it as a gift to someone else to wear.
  9. Imagine what you will be famous for someday and devise a way to communicate your contribution to others at the party.
  10. Using whatever materials you can find, create a headpiece that exemplifies your importance. Wear it for the remainder of the party.
  11. Draw someone’s portrait on an index card using five lines or less. Give them your portrait as a gift.
  12. Create a work of art about something that cannot be seen. Put it on display.
  13. With a black marker and index card, design a commemorative stamp about an important event in your life. Share it.
  14. Working with 2 other people, create a self-supporting sculpture from cardboard and tape that touches the ceiling.
  15. Create a work of art that will touch someone’s heart. Give it to them as a gift.
  16. Design a hat out of found materials that will help someone think like an artist. Convince someone else that it works and to wear it during the party.
  17. Make art on a post-it note. Create a gallery of post-it art.
  18. Form a musical group with four other people. Sing a chorus of “If I had a Hammer” and then get everyone at the party to join in for a second chorus.
  19. Hug ten people at the party. Ask them to “pay it forward.”
  20. Make a map to get lost. Give it to someone else and ask them to follow it.
  21. Draw a heart on an index card. Fill it in with a color of your choice. Give it to someone else at the party and tell them you love them.
  22. Create rhythm with 3 other people.
  23. Create a zine. Give it to someone else at the party.
  24. Send a status update to your Facebook page. Invite them to the party.