What do You Need to Know?

Title:  What do You Need to Know?

Site:  Lowell School
3320 W. Hirsch Street, Chicago

Artists: Olivia Gude and Juan Angel Chávez

Assistant: Salim Hurtado

Community Participants: Yesenia Arroyo, Lissette Colon, Luis Colon, Raul Hernandez, Keisha McKay, Yahaira Rodrguez, Aracelia Torres, and Melissa Warren

Sponsors:  Chicago Public Art Group and Youth Service Project

Year:  1998

Scale:  140 square feet

Materials: Glass tile

Information:  Above the doorway is a mosaic inscription that reads, “What do you need to know?” The question suggests that each student take personal responsibility for his or her education by asking, “What do I need to know in order to live a successful life? What do I need to know to survive and prosper? What do I need to know to better myself and my community?”

The larger-than-life size images of children are adapted from drawings by the first and second grade students. The “girl’s column” includes two value scales. In art teaching, value scales are used to arrange colors in varying degrees of lightness and darkness. Contrasting a value scale based on flesh tones to the glowing copper and bronze faces of the children suggests that the spirit and beauty of children transcend classification and division by such things as race and ethnicity.

A girl holds a white square with the letter “L.” The magician in the other column can perform the magic trick of making the “L” jump from one column to another. If you stare without blinking at the black spot on the “L” for 120 seconds and then stare at the white square held by the boy, you’ll see the “L” reappear in blue on the other column!

This phenomenon is known as the “after image.” Many of the diagrams on both columns make use of this phenomenon. By staring, blinking, and staring again, you can make a green apple ripe, bring a smile to a face, build a house, and even put a chicken back in its egg.

Two other characters at this doorway give us an important message about children’s education. The dinosaur speeds along a fast truck to knowledge, the snail’s on his way to knowledge too; he’s just taking a little more time. It’s important for all teachers and students to respect each child’s own pace as he or she achieves his or her goals.