Lisa Wax, art teacher, at Whitney Young High School, developed this project for the Contemporary Community Curriculum Initiative 2000.

Life's Deal: Deck of Cards

We are often drawn to cardplaying because of the element of risk and its metaphorical associations to real life. Many of the decisions we make in life involve risks and chances. What risks have you taken to create new pathways? What obstacles do you face on those paths? How do you feel about the card you have been dealt in life?

This project uses playing cards as the basis for visual, emotional, and spiritual exploration. Using mixed media, the students use familiar 20th- (and 21st) century art techniques such as layering, juxtaposition, and chance. (Fluxus, Dada, and Surrealist techniques)

Oil pastels drawn on shiny magazine images may seem like an odd combination, but oil pastels are one of few media that have the intensity to interact effectively with the vibrant magazine collage images. The oil pastel drawing overlaps, surrounds, and partially exposes the magazine images and text. The results are often strong and surprising juxtapositions.

In the Deck of Cards project, layering and chance act as metaphors for the numerous influences and factors that determine our lives--our family, gender, religion, society, geography, etc. The project encourages students to critically examine the kitschy school career day slogan that "students can be anything they want to be." The Deck of Cards project doesn’t diminish the role of goal setting and personal agency, but it does contextualize ideas of choice and possibility within personal, social, and political givens. Does the message "You can be anything" have different meanings in a working class urban school than in a wealthy suburban public school or an exclusive private school?

The work of Chicago artist, Hollis Sigler, was the inspiration for this project. Since 1992 much of Sigler’s work dealt with the reoccurrence of her breast cancer. One political project she organized as a fundraiser for breast cancer research invited fifty-two other artists to each design one playing card in a fifty-two-card deck. This project not only highlights the therapeutic significance of art, but also the educational, social, and political importance of the role of artists