Audiences negotiate meaning

 In Blog, Lessons and Ideas, Secondary

A sculpture of a man sleep walking in his underwear has disrupted life at a women’s university.

Man in Underwear Statue

The sculpture provides great opportunities to consider context and to explore the key concept, “Audiences negotiate meanings.”

As described in a Washington Post article, the sculpture was placed outdoors on the Wellesley College campus to help promote a sculpture exhibition at the university’s museum.

Good art disrupts, compelling audiences to think, and this sculpture has succeeded wonderfully. One response has been a petition requesting that the sculpture be removed because it has creeped students out. Of particular concern is that the sculpture may trigger traumatic recollections by students who have experienced sexual abuse.

And this is where “Audiences negotiate meaning” enters. Take a look at the sculpture and imagine how it might be a trigger for people feeling threatened by males.

maninunderwear0602 walker3

What codes and conventions of the sculpture might make it threatening?

Is it that the sculpture is life-like, especially in terms of skin tones and details? I.e., might the interpretations change if the sculpture were bronze?

Is it the context of seeing a man in underwear in a public place?

Does the weather add to or detract from the effect?

Might it be that he is wearing briefs rather than pajamas?

Might pajamas more clearly signal sleep walking and diffuse the threat?

Might the pose seem threatening?

Is the context of an underwear-clad man on a women’s university campus relevant?

Might the responses be different if the sculpture were placed on the campus of an all-male or co-ed university?

Would you sign a petition requesting the removal of the sculpture? Why?

Where else, e.g., in your community, might this sculpture be placed so that its context/environment influences the ways its audience might perceive it?

(The ideas in this post are applicable to Secondary level classrooms – particularly Civics, Social Sciences, English, Art – ed.)

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