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The Blank Box - Art Room

White Walls

Preparing Students to Learn - INTASC Standards 1 & 3

In the spring of 2007, I visited New York for the first time! After visiting my new graduate program at the State University of New York at New Paltz, in the Catskill Mountains, I ventured into New York City by bus. While wondering through galleries, I encountered White Walls, by Andy Goldsworthing. Preparing for his opening reception, Andy Goldsworthing passed me as pieces of the walls crumbled down around us!

Goldsworthy had covered the entirety of the walls with white porcelain, which at first, must have made the gallery appear to be completely empty. Slowly, porcelain dried, cracked, and came crashing down over the course of the instillation's exhibition.

In an April 6, 2007 press release, Gallerie Lelong explained that,

"the manner in which the clay will crack and, subsequently, fall from the wall is uncertain; unpredictability and probability have remained principal elements in Goldsworthy’s work. The work will, in the artist’s words, move from minimal to expressionistic. What begins as a quiet refuge in the city becomes an alive, active site" (Artnet, 2007).

I had a starstruck moment, surrounded in stardust as the sunlight beamed in through the front gallery windows causing the plums of porcelain dust to sparkle. The experience was surreal and had a lasting affect on me as a young artist and even now as an educator in thinking about space and creativity. The Artnet (2007) press release mentions uncertain change from minimal to expressionistic, with quiet beginnings becoming alive and active. I think about students in a classroom. How do we create a neutral, minimalistic space from which the quiet hint of creativity is fostered into something actively living out in our students' thoughts, solutions, and projects?

Brain-based approach to classroom design: Creating an engaging learning environment

Design influences our brain activity and our responses

Venn Diagram: Constructing Creative Learning Environments, Bockerman, J., 2016.

Each of these components are important because they effect how we teach in our classrooms and how we interact with our students. If teachers, parents, and students understand how and when the most optimal learning will take place, we can all plan and prepare for the needed conditions to be met. How do the 'physical space' conditions affect productivity?

Physical Space

Space and design do matter. Schools must take into consideration proper seating, temperature, lighting, noise, and building design in order to assure the most optimal learning for students. For example, using the appropriate desk arrangements when working in small groups (clusters) versus lecture (rows) (Jensen, 2005).

Linking neuroscience with the design and building industries has transformed from a trend into a permanent cannon. In Robinson & Pallasmaa's book, Mind in Architecture (2015), Melissa Farling takes note of neuroscientist Fred Gage, of the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Gage notes that environments have an effect on our brains concluding that,

"while the brain controls our behavior and genes control the blueprint for the design and structure of the brain, the environment can modulate the function of genes and, ultimately, the structure of our brain. Changes in the environment change the brain, and therefore they change our behavior. In planning the environments in which we live, architectural design changes our brain and our behavior."

Understanding neuroscience in terms of how our brains respond to space and result in behavior is essential to designing appropriate spaces for desired function. The goal is to create a neutral palette so the space recedes and the students' work becomes the focus. Similar to a gallery space, which directs the viewer's focus to the displayed art work, not the room in which it is displayed.

As Andy Goldsworthy's White Walls (2007) created uncertain change with quiet beginnings that became alive and active, we as teachers have the ability to help students focus by altering the physical space of the classroom.

Access Institute to Immersion HERE.

Access The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture HERE.



Artnet. (2007). Andy Goldsworthy, White Walls [Press release]. Retrieved from

Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

New York Out-Takes. (2007, May 22). White Walls. [Photograph]. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from

Robinson, S., & Pallasmaa, J. (2015). From Intuition to immersion: Architecture and neuroscience. In Mind in architecture: Neuroscience, embodiment, and the future of design. MIT Press.


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