Conduct an exercise in cross-cultural communication while exploring the language-inspired work of Chinese American artist Xu Bing. Students also will learn about animation by creating a flip book.
Language Arts (from the National Council of Teachers of English)
- K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding: Students develop an understanding of, and respect for, diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
- K.-12.12 Applying Language Skills: Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Visual Art (from the National Art Education Association)
- Content Standard 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
- Content Standard 6: Making connections between visual arts and other arts
History (from the National Center for History in the Schools)
- Topic 4, Standard 7: The history of peoples of many cultures around the world
- Students will learn about the work of Chinese American artist Xu Bing.
- Students will learn about animation by creating a flipbook.
8.5" x 11" sketch paper
2" x 2" card-stock cards (16 per student)
Drawing tools in an assortment of colors
Xu Bing's Monkeys Grasp for the Moon: photograph 1 (PDF), photograph 2 (PDF), photograph 3 (PDF) (or click here for an interactive version)
"Monkey" English by Xu Bing (PDF)
"Monkey" Japanese by Xu Bing (PDF)
"Monkey" Chinese by Xu Bing (PDF)
"Monkey" Arabic by Xu Bing (PDF)
Xu Bing (born 1955) left his home in China in 1990 to live in the United States. He is very interested in cross-cultural communication. His artwork almost always involves some form of written language.
Monkeys Grasp for the Moon, at the Arthur M. Sacker Gallery, is based on a Buddhist folktale from China. It is an installation of word shapes, each one a representation of the word monkey, rendered in more than a dozen languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and English.
The words resemble monkeys with long tails and arms that link together. The linked monkeys stretch more than eighty feet, from the skylight to the gallery’s lowest floor, where the final monkey hangs poised above a still pool, hoping to catch the moon.
One day, a group of monkeys were playing in the trees. Suddenly, one monkey looked down into a well and saw the reflection of the moon in the water. He became worried that the moon had fallen, so he called his friends to help him get the moon out of the well.
The monkeys linked themselves together with their arms and tails until they formed a long chain. When the monkey at the bottom of the chain reached into the water to grasp the moon, he was startled. The water rippled. There was no moon to grasp!
Watching this, another monkey looked up into the sky and saw the moon there. The monkeys realized that the moon had not fallen into the water at all. The moon in the well was just an illusion.
1. Introduce students to the art of Xu Bing using the information provided above and what is found at www.xubing.com .
2. After reading the folktale above, distribute copies of the reproducibles of Xu Bing's Monkeys Grasp for the Moon, or view the artwork online.
3. Ask the students why Xu Bing depicted the tale in this way. Discuss the artist’s interest in cross-cultural communication and how it comes across in this work.
4. Have the students assemble in small groups or pairs and give each a copy of the English version of Xu Bing's "monkey" word shape. Ask them to examine the image and to try to identify and label the letters of the word. Also have them identify any embellishments to the letters and what these might represent.
5. As a class, discuss each group's discoveries. (There may not be agreement on where each letter appears.)
6. Return to the small groups and provide each student with sketch paper and a pencil. Give them time to brainstorm together about how they could develop a word or single letter into an image. A review of some of the following picture books might help launch their ideas:
- Alphabatics by Suse MacDonald
- Gone Wild by David McLimans
- The Graphic Alphabet by David Pelletier
- The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
- The Z Was Zapped: A Play in Twenty-Six Acts by Chris Van Allsburg
- Z Goes Home by Jon Agee
1. Provide the students with a brief introduction to animation. For example: In animation, still pictures seem to become moving pictures when a series of images rapidly flash before the eye. A flipbook is a simple animation technique. It is a booklet containing images that, when thumbed through, quickly appear animated (or in motion). Individual drawings in a flipbook are called cells.
2. Have each student fold a piece of 8.5" x 11" sketch paper in half four times to create sixteen sections. The sections will be the cells of their flipbook.
3. Referring to their sketches from Part One, Step 6, students will draw the sequence of their letter's evolution in the sixteen cells of the paper.
4. After the evolution has been translated into sixteen parts, students will make the final drawings on individual 2" x 2" cards. The drawings should be placed close to the right edge of the card so that the images are not obscured when the cards are bound on the left.
5. After the cards have been bound, have the class sit in a circle and pass the flipbooks around for everyone to enjoy.
Scan the students' work (or have students draw digitally) and then create a movie instead of a flipbook, using iMovie, PhotoStory, or Moviemaker.
- For further discussion, have students watch the interview with artist Xu Bing.
- Use discarded books/magazines to create flipbooks. See this example.
For additional teaching resources visit www.SmithsonianEducation.org