Posts Tagged 'games'

Once Upon a Time at the DMA

Portrait Party

“Once upon a time” is one of my favorite phrases—it almost always precedes a magical beginning, the possibility of slightly harrowing adventures, a lesson or two learned, new friends, and a “happily ever after.” I’m not afraid to admit, I’m a sucker for any ole fairy tale!

As we’ve been exploring Art and Nature in the Middle Ages over the past few months, I’ve found plenty of fairy tale inspiration in the art. From stained glass windows I imagine would have fit in just fine in Sleeping Beauty’s castle to beautifully illustrated manuscripts that Belle would surely be found reading in the library, this medieval art has the same fairy tale magic as the stories.

Are you a fairy tale fan too? Even after we say goodbye to Art and Nature, there are still plenty works of art in the DMA’s collection that speak to a fairy-tale loving heart. To find the perfect match for your inner fairy tale hero, take our quiz here!

And be sure to come to this Friday’s Late Night, which will be filled with medieval magic and fairy tale wonder!

Leah Hanson
Manager of Family and Early Learning Programs

Surreal Play: Group Exploration with Surrealist Games

1982_28_FASurrealism is typically regarded as an art movement dedicated to personal exploration by tapping into a person’s subconscious. This was certainly an important component, but Surrealism was also focused on group activity, ranging from the creation of Surrealist journals, to collectively written statements, to unfettered discovery through group play and games.

Many of the games the Surrealists played together were derived from the types of parlor games they learned as children or still enjoyed as leisure.  Such activities, while fun, were also meant to spur creativity and subvert the psychological conditioning of society. Sometimes these games resulted in finished works of Surrealist art and writing.  As the movement’s self-proclaimed leader, André Breton, described their game playing in 1954: “Although as a defensive measure we sometimes described such activity as ‘experimental’ we were looking to it primarily for entertainment, and those rewarding discoveries it yielded in relation to knowledge only came later. […] It is clear that to shut oneself off from game-playing […] is to undermine the best of one’s own humanity.”  (Brotchie and Gooding, 1991, 137-138)

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits for educators using Surrealist games in the classroom is how the activities offer a set of tools to get learners conceptualizing critically and playing with images, words, and ideas where the purpose is surprise, delight, and creativity. For the Surrealists, the fact that games had rules or instructions that mandated how they were played, but the end-goal was itself unstructured, illogical, and messy, was representative of their own world-view.

Let’s briefly explore two games the Surrealists used in group settings that might be fun to apply to classrooms and museum teaching. My descriptions of these games has been adapted from Alastair Brotchie and Mel Gooding’s delightful Book of Surrealist Games (Shambhala Redstone Editions, 1995).


The Exquisite Corpse
Perhaps the best known Surrealist drawing game, the Exquisite Corpse was actually born out of a writing activity. Surrealism’s roots are in writing and poetry; its earliest practitioners and founders were all writers.  Games like the Exquisite Corpse (the name is taken from the poetic results of the first game played) were later modified into a visual variant.

Exquisite Corpse by Breton-Knutson-Hugo

























Group size: Typically three-to-four players, or any size up to how easily one sheet of paper can be folded.

Instructions: A piece of paper is folded so that the number of creased sections matches the number of players, usually horizontally or in quarters for four players.

The first player takes the folded paper with the top fold exposed and draws anything that comes to mind. (Note: In it’s purest incarnation, as a reference to the name of the game, the players are to base their portions of the drawing on the portions of a human body, but this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule!)

She then extends some of her drawn lines across the fold into the next blank section, and refolds the paper so only the second section is exposed, and the next player cannot see what she drew in the first section.

The re-folded sheet is passed to the second player, who bases his drawing on the few exposed lines provided. After completing his section, he also extends a few of the bottom-most lines across the fold, refolds to hide his portion and expose the next, and passes to the next player.

This process continues until all players have a turn to draw a section, when it is unveiled and unplanned, group-designed drawing is revealed. An added variation involves the last player handing the folded drawing to the first player again, who must conceive of a title before the full drawing is shown.

Outcome: An example of an Exquisite Corpse can be seen above, created by André Breton, Greta Knutson, and Valentine Hugo, where the “head” is a florid, calligraphic design, the “torso” is an hourglass, and the “legs” are heart-footed compasses. The surprising and seemingly unnatural conjunctions of objects in these drawings are similar to the visual juxtapositions presented in many Surrealists’ work.  Examples include the René Magritte’s Persian Letters, and Surrealist objects, such the one below by Sonia Mossé, both in the DMA’s collection.

Magritte - Persian Letters - 1958

Gaston Paris - Photograph of Sonia Mosse mannequin from International Surrealist Exhibition - 1938













The Game of Variants

This is essentially the traditional “whisper” game of Telephone. The group sits in a circle, and the first person conceives of a phrase, then whispers it to her neighbor. The second person whispers the same sentence to his neighbor, and so on, through the entire group. By the end, the beginning and ending phrases are compared.

An example:
Starting Phrase: “You must dye blue the pink bags fathomed by orange parapets.”
Ending Phrase: “At all costs forget the fifth paragraph of ‘Paradise Lost’.”

While not practiced by the Surrealists, I have used a fun visual variant of this game in teaching.

Group Size: Best suited for groups between ten and thirty players.

Instructions: Take a piece of paper and fold it horizontally then vertically in an accordion-style (front-over-back) into quadrants that add up to the number of players. (So, with twenty-five players, fold a typical sheet of paper four times horizontally, then four times vertically.)

Present the folded up paper so only one folded quadrant is visible, then have the first player draw a small simple, linear image.

She then presents the drawing to the next player, who looks at it, folds the paper over to the next blank quadrant, then redraws the image from memory. He then passes his version of the drawing on, and the process is repeated until the last player finishes her drawing.

Once finished, unfold the entire sheet, and marvel at the evolution of the image as it transforms from one recognizable thing into something else altogether!

Outcome: Just as the results of the Telephone game are remarkable for the dissimilarity between starting and ending phrases, the results of this visual variant are similarly startling, but the sheet also becomes a visual record of the transformation of starting image into something else entirely.  In the example below completed during a class I taught in 2009, the starting image of a shoe transforms multiple times, into a cigarette and ashtray, a frying pan, a robot, and a bug.

Successive Drawing In-Class_Page_1_2009

Game of Variants Drawing (recto), 2009

Successive Drawing In-Class_Page_2_2009

Game of Variants (verso), 2009


Have you tried using Surrealist games like these in your teaching or for fun?  Please leave your experiences and ideas in the comments below!


Artworks shown:

  • Ferdinand Léger, Composition with Tree Trunks, oil on canvas, 1933, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the James H. and Lillian Clark Foundation.
  • André Breton, Greta Knutson, Valentine Hugo, Untitled (Exquisite Corpse), Colored pencil on black paper, c. 1929, Private Collection.
  • René Magritte, Persian Letters, oil on canvas, 1958, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of J.B. Adoue, III.
  • Gaston Paris, Untitled (Mannequin by Sonia Mossé), Gelatin silver print, 1938, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Junior Associates and an anonymous donor.


Brotchie, Alastair and Mel Gooding.  A Book of Surrealist Games.  Boston & London: Shambhala Redstone Editions, 1995.


Josh Rose
Manager of Docent and Teacher Programs

Community Connection: Sport as Art

We first met artist Tom Russotti in July, after he contacted us about working together during his time at CentralTrak, The University of Texas at Dallas’ Artists Residency program.  We were immediately intrigued by his interest in combining art and sport, and have collaborated with Tom on multiple programs including the Art & Games Teacher WorkshopC3 Artistic Encounters, training for docents, Thriving Minds After-School program, Booker T. Washington Partnership Learning Lab, and Late Night Creativity Challenges.

Art & Games Teacher Workshop

Describe what you do.

I’m interested in the connection between art and sport, the idea of sport as an art form, and how all the different elements can be combined to have individual expression.  I’m also interested in my own history of playing sports and games, connecting that to other people through playing, and using play as an educational tool.

How did you get into games?

I invented a sport as a way of getting more active and more social in my artmaking. I was a documentary photographer previously, so I was driving around by myself and taking pictures, and editing alone in the darkroom.  I hadn’t played sports in a while, and thought it would be fun to get out and play and make sports fun for me again.  I also realized this could be an art form, something I could pursue artistically, and I could get other people involved by creating events.

My first invented game was called Wiffle Hurling, a new version of the sport of hurling, one of Ireland’s national sports. Hurling is a dangerous sport – it looks like rugby with large baseball bats.  I lived in Ireland for a year, and tried to join the hurling team at University College Dublin.  They said I would lose all my teeth and wouldn’t let me join the team.  Fast forward seven years: I had all these wiffle ball bats, and happened to walk by a practice football field with the same lines as a hurling field.  It dawned on me to put the two together and make it a social event with uniforms, cameras, and friends.  It turned into spectacle and was really fun.

What motivated you to contact us?

I was involved in a project in England, where kids made up their own sports and played them in a festival.  Since I couldn’t go to England, I told them I’d work with some youth groups here and have these groups invent sports and send them over.  They would have this international festival/competition, and bridge the gap between England and Dallas.  I started by calling the YMCA, and they said I should talk to the DMA because they do all sorts of afterschool programs, and they’d probably be into this.

What has been your most memorable project?

Every time an event works, it’s memorable.  In Sweden this past August, we had an amazing game of forty people playing soccer with ten balls in this old forest that once was a soccer field.  The first Wiffle Hurling was amazing.  The first Drinking and Dancing Competition was amazing.  The first Straitjacket Softball was amazing.  (You can view all these projects on the Institute for Aesthletics web site.)

MegaSoccer in Dals Langed, Sweden

Where do you see yourself in five years?

One of the reasons I’ve become an artist is so I can avoid answering that question.  I go where projects take me – five years ago, I could never have imagined  the projects that I’ve done.  Every time I try to over-rationalize what I do as an artist, the projects get boring. When you tap into something you’re doing naturally, that’s when you really create a project that has legs.

Take part in Tom’s upcoming gallery exhibition Hatchjaw and Bassett LLP at Conduit Gallery, open from November 19-December 31.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

Art and Games and Docents

A few months ago, Tom Russotti contacted Nicole to see if the DMA might want to partner with him on any projects.  Tom is the founder of the Institute for Aesthletics, and is also an artist-in-residence at the CentralTrak Gallery.  Much of Tom’s work combines art with game playing, and I was eager to have him lead a session for our docents that might help them incorporate games into their tours.

Artist Tom Russotti talks with a small group of docents in the contemporary gallery

Tom began his session by telling the docents about his projects, including his upcoming CIncArt exhibition at CentralTrak.  He also spoke about why games matter, and it’s not just because they’re fun.  Games are experiential and allow us to learn by doing.  They provide a structure for learning but don’t cause us to feel pressured to participate or come up with a “right” answer.  Games are also social and enable us to interact with works of art and with each other.

Docent Carol Placido ponders whether this Lichtenstein print matches her state of mind while playing Muse

We also spent time in the galleries playing four games that Tom created for the docents.  The games included:

  • Emotikonst, which asked docents to write down their emotional responses to a work of art on a piece of paper.  They then switched papers with another docent, who had to figure out which work of art was being described.
  • Action! allowed docents to select one Abstract Expressionist painting and use movement to re-create how that painting was made.
  • The Cubism Game called for one or two docents to pose like a sculpture while the rest of the group sketched them.  The group was told to sketch the “sculpture” from as many viewpoints as possible to illustrate the different perspectives one sees in a Cubist painting.
  • Muse asked docents to respond to a set of questions and prompts to identify how they were feeling at that exact moment.  They then selected a work of art that described their present state of mind.

Docents Pat Altschuler and Susan Behrendt pose like a sculpture during the Cubism Game

Each of Tom’s games had a defined goal and set of rules that went along with it.  Docents, like students, sometimes have a hard time following rules.  And as the old saying goes, rules are meant to be broken.  Many of the groups altered the rules to create new variations of Tom’s original games.  Tom encouraged the docents to give him feedback on his games, and he plans  to use their feedback to made additional tweaks to each of the games.

Docents brainstorm ideas for a new game that can be played in the galleries

Towards the end of training, docents were given an opportunity to invent games of their own using a set of guidelines that Tom provided.  Some of the guidelines included creating a game that was easy to learn but hard to master, designing games for the site in which they will be played, relating games to works of art, and creating cooperative games – everyone participates, and everyone wins.    Our docents came up with really great sparks for games, and I’m looking forward to working with Tom and the docents to flesh out their ideas.

Tom Russotti talks with docents in front of Device by Jasper Johns

If you would like to have an opportunity to experience the world of art and games with Tom Russotti, I encourage you to sign up for the Art & Games teacher workshop on November 12.  Teachers will play games that Tom has created, but you will also have an opportunity to invent a game of your own.  Our docents loved learning from Tom, and I’m sure that you will, too!

Shannon Karol
Manager of Docent Programs and Gallery Teaching

DMA Teacher Workshops: Top Ten Reasons to Attend

10.  Experience something new.

9.  Spend time in special exhibitions.

8.  Share and learn new strategies for teaching and learning with art.

7.  Collect CPE hours.

6.  Explore ideas across cultures and times.

5.  Connect with DMA staff, visiting artists, and scholars.

4.  Gather with educators and dive into rich conversations.

3.  Participate in creative thinking and making.

2.  Take long and close looks at works of art.

1.  See art, teaching, and life in a fresh way.

French Cancan collection, women’s prêt-à-porter, fall/winter 1991-1992, © P. Stable/Jean Paul Gaultier

Scorched Earth, 2006, Mark Bradford, billboard paper, photomechanical reproductions, acrylic gel medium, carbon paper, acrylic paint, bleach, and additional mixed media on canvas, 94 1/2 x 118 inches, collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl, photo: Bruce M. White

Whether it’s your first or fifty-first workshop, we invite you to join us for several teacher workshops occurring this Fall and Winter at the Dallas Museum of Art.  Each workshop begins with an introduction, creative warm-up, and browse of resources.  Gallery experiences include sketching, writing, independent reflection, and group discussion with peer educators, artists, and experts.  K-12 teachers of all disciplines are welcome!

Join us on Saturday, October 22 for Layered Materials, Layered Meanings: Mark Bradford to take a close look at the work of L.A.-based artist Mark Bradford.  Artist Tom Russotti will lead an Art & Games workshop on Saturday, November 12, emphasizing play, problem-solving, and games in relationship to works of art.  Spend a full day exploring Art & Fashion in the exhibition The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier and throughout the DMA collections.  Teachers may register for workshops online.

Visit the DMA this Friday, September 16 for the monthly Late Night.  Educators receive half-price admission ($5) after 5:00 p.m. on September 16 when they show their school I.D.  Drop by the Educator Resource table, talk with staff about upcoming teacher programs, and win door prizes.

Nicole Stutzman
Director of Teaching Programs and Resources


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