Cornell Box Project

An end of the semester final project that allows the student to select one of the 7 plays/musicals discussed in class and create an assemblage/sculpture on the major themes/motifs of the selected play. The assemblage/sculpture is not titled, allowing for the class to see if they can identify the play by looking at the composition of the object. The student is discouraged from creating a defacto scenic design, rather, the purpose is to create a sculptural composition of the play they specifically selected within the “box” they have chosen/designed, as a way to think “outside the box” as it relates to design (pun intended). All objects chosen wants to have some significance. The student is also told to write a one page artist statement that is read at the end of the critique.

Activity Objectives

  • Using composition, scale, color, specificity of the objects themselves in selecting the objects in the box as it relates to the major themes of the play
  • Selecting/Designing the box that contains the objects and how the box itself relates to the play
  • Larger discussion on what the student has identified as the significant items/themes of the selected play
  • Is the sculpture easily identified by the other students in the class OR is it more obscured by how the sculpture is composed?
  • Artistic skills in the implementation of the sculpture
  • Is the sculpture interactive or static? How is that important to the overall composition?

Activity Goals

  • Allows for critique to be about specific questions asked to the student regarding the box and the objects within the box on how the student sees what the significant themes are of the selected play
  • Can critique sculpture itself on composition, scale, color, line, etc. regarding what the student is trying to state
  • Allows students to practice how to participate in a critique as an evaluation tool for their own artistic growth



  • Student chooses one of the plays/musicals discussed during the semester (ie, other students in the class needs to have some familiarity with the play)
  • Student chooses/designs a “box” to contain their assemblage/sculpture. Only limitation given is that the box needs to be bigger than an Altoid tin and no bigger than the door it needs to go through
  • Student is told to fill the box with items/objects that is significant to the play, and how they compose it within the box as also significant either as a storytelling device or as a way to identify significant moments/themes to the chosen play
  • Students are given leeway whether their sculpture is static or active (does the viewer need to open said box) as long as the action itself is a significant idea to their interpretation
  • Students are highly discouraged from creating a scenic design, rather the assemblage/sculpture needs to be more an artistic reaction to the play itself, so there should be differing scales represented

 Time Required

This is a final project, so as little as two weeks and as much as the full semester depending on whether the student has already chosen their play. Work is outside class time to maximize time in being able to discuss the plays in class.

Required Materials

  • Student’s creativity, as in the student can either scavenge/find the box and objects and embellish them OR create from scratch. Either approach does lend itself to how it is interpreted by the viewer and the student deciding the best approach to convey their sculpture.


Although intended as an individual project, can also work as a group project of designers assigned to work on one play and allowing them to find out as a group what as designers they find to be the important themes of the play.


Sculptures are brought in on the final exam and the class goes around each sculpture to do a critique – specific questions brought up on the composition of the sculpture and the objects themselves. Student reads their artistic statement to see if the class hit on those themes and an explanation to why they did what they did.

Note on evaluation from author:  Although more concrete evaluation criteria is usually preferred, for example – if students’ craft skills are counted as a part of the evaluation if students are very beginners.  My fear is that by having those be concrete things to evaluate that I will inadvertently create a “checklist” for the students to use that may ultimately undermine any risk taking they would make within the project.  My intent is not to solely comment on the craft of the project, but to foster discussion on the questions/themes raised in how they choose to use  scale, objects, composition directly correlates to the major themes play/musical they picked out as their subject, that the concrete choices they make inside the box can be interpreted in many different ways by the observer, and whether those observations are the intent of the student.

Submitted by

Czerton Lim, SUNY Fredonia