HomeEducational StagesHigh SchoolFrom Couture to Classroom: “The Garden of Time” at the Met Gala...

From Couture to Classroom: “The Garden of Time” at the Met Gala – Laura Randazzo – Solutions for the Secondary Classroom


This week, the Met Gala took an unexpected turn toward literary analysis. The celebrity-studded event’s dress code, “The Garden of Time,” was inspired by J.G. Ballard’s short story of the same name, a work that touches on themes of decadence, wealth inequality, and the inevitable victory of death over us all – heavy topics, I thought, for an event wrapped in chiffon and tulle.

After staring far too long at Tyla’s sand and crystal hourglass gown, I realized we could use this pop culture moment to connect the fleeting world of high fashion to the timeless themes in Ballard’s text. Let’s plant some seeds with these free materials I just posted!

Note: Everything mentioned below is gathered into a free download available here in my blog shop and here in my TpT shop.

Suggested lesson procedure:

When students arrive, have a slideshow running on the board of Met Gala participants and Mozart’s Rondo in D major (it’s referenced in the story) playing quietly in the background. Due to copyright law, I can’t provide the celebrity photos from the event, but you can search “Met Gala 2024” online to find images or grab photos from this collection gathered by Vogue.

As the parade of beautiful people scrolls on your projection screen, students will likely voice strong opinions about the celebrities and their fashion choices. There’s also a brewing TikTok trend called #blockout2024 connected to the Met Gala that’s sure to be filling their feeds this weekend. When you’re ready to begin class, ask students what they know about the Met Gala, often called “fashion’s biggest night.” The event also serves as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and it raised $26 million this year.

Let students know that this year’s Met Gala dress code, “The Garden of Time,” was inspired by a 1962 short story of the same name. The story’s theme, however, skewers the very people the Met celebrates, causing viewers to wonder if event organizers actually read the story? And, if they did, what are they saying about themselves – and us?

So, let’s read the story and then have a chat. It’s a not-too-long entertaining parable.

Click here to access a full-text PDF version of the story to print and use in class:
https://cultureinjection.wordpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/ballard-james-graham-the-garden-of-time-1962.pdf

After students have read the story (or maybe you’ll read it aloud to them), I built a set of analysis questions you could ask them.

1

After solo work or a think/pair/share, host a class discussion. During the question #2 debrief, project this slide, a painting called “A City on a Rock.”

2

The artwork was created by an unnamed painter in the 19th century and emulates the style of Goya, a famous Spanish painter. After students have looked closely at the painting, ask them discussion starters, such as:
• What stands out in this painting? What do you notice?
• Who might live in the city?
• What might have angered the mob?
• What’s up with the three winged figures? Are they people? birds? angels? Why are there three of them?
• What message can we take from this painting?

Continue discussing the short story questions until you’ve worked through them all. Then, ask students if they think the event organizers who chose this story as the theme for their event knew what they were doing. What message can we, as the viewers of the event, take away from this spectacle now that we understand the source material?

If any of your students bring up disturbing parallels between the Met Gala attendees and the Capitol’s glitterati from The Hunger Games, you may want to share this photo compilation put together by @sunnysashay: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZPRwg7DXb/

Hungergames

If time allows, you could revisit the opening slide show and ask students which fashion designers understood the assignment? Which outfits show that the designer actually read and understood the story?

Finally, as an optional extension activity, ask students to take on the role of fashion designer with these worksheets:

3

Students will write a clear sentence that defines the theme of “The Garden of Time.” They then choose one line from the story to use as inspiration and draw a sketch of a haute couture outfit/costume that brings that line to life via fashion. I’ve included both a female and male option. Present both to your students and let them choose whichever they prefer. Students who love fashion should be encouraged to complete both outfits. Their work could be turned into a cool bulletin board, too.

What do you think? Is there room for this in your lesson plans this week? What else would you add to the lesson? Leave a reply below!

Note: This collection of teaching materials is an independent product and is in no way affiliated with, endorsed by, or connected to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I do not claim to have any association with The Met, and these materials should not be misconstrued as officially endorsed or supported by that organization in any way.

Blog header image credit: DALL-E, OpenAI’s image generator

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.
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