Teaching Ideas

Encouraging Dialogue

For Students K-12

  • Why do you think Constantin Brancusi named this sculpture Beginning of the World? What about the sculpture suggests beginnings or origins?

  • Describe the three basic shapes and materials that comprise Beginning of the World. What does each shape look like to you? What associations do you have with each shape and material?

  • Brancusi believed that if artists would simplify their subjects into basic forms expressing the essence of the subject, their work would achieve a kind of truth not possible through more literal or complex depictions. What do you think? How does Beginning of the World reflect these ideas?

  • Brancusi once said, “I never seek to make what they call a pure or abstract form.” What does it mean for an artwork to be abstract? Is Beginning of the World abstract? Why or why not?

  • Brancusi thought that sculpture should be lovely to touch and friendly to live with. Before making Beginning of the World, he made a similar oval entitled Sculpture for the Blind (1920, Philadelphia Museum of Art), which was enclosed in a bag that had two sleeves so that people could feel it instead of looking at it. Imagine understanding Beginning of the World through touch instead of sight. Describe what you think the sculpture might feel like to you.

Making Connections

For Students K-12

  • Constantin Brancusi chose these forms to suggest the creation of the world. How would you choose to represent this subject? Create a work of art which shows how you imagine the world began. Consider how a literal depiction might differ from Brancusi’s symbolic sculpture.

  • Brancusi believed that a sculptor could achieve a kind of truth by simplifying forms. Choose a subject and draw it as realistically as you can. Then, draw it again with its forms simplified. Do this as many times as it takes to achieve what you consider an image of the essence of your subject. What did you learn about your subject through this process?

  • In 1927, a historic trial took place in the United States to determine whether Brancusi’s sculpture Bird in Space, imported to the photographer Edward Steichen from Europe, was liable for duty as a manufactured object. At first, tariff officers, baffled by the sculpture, classified it under “Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies.” The trial concluded that the sculpture was a work of art and therefore not subject to taxes, but it raised the question of what it means for an object to be a work of art. Though Beginning of the World was not the subject of the trial, it carries many of the same qualities of Bird in Space that created confusion. Act out a mock trial in which two groups of students discuss whether or not Beginning of the World is a work of art. Consider the following questions: Why might someone not believe Beginning of the World to be a work of art? How does Beginning of the World differ from other sculptures you are familiar with? What does it mean for something to be a work of art? Has this definition changed?

  • A number of poets around the world have written about Brancusi’s egg sculptures. Make your own poetic response to the Beginning of the World. Write an acrostic poem that uses the title of the work, some quality about the work, or the artist's name. An acrostic poem is one in which the initial letter of each line has a meaning when read downward. Example:
    E ngaging my attention
    G rasping the complex through the simple
    G iving a form to thoughts