On a relaxing Saturday mid-afternoon, people walking on the streets of San Francisco might not notice this car as anything special. Sure, it’s older than other models that surround it, but at the end of the day it’s just another car.

To a car spotter, however, a process begins. Also, if this particular car spotter is with a group of friends, the process starts with pleas for 5-10 minutes of patience and understanding (and perhaps standing in the middle of a busy urban thoroughfare).

The first step is recognizing what this 3,500lb hunk of mobile steel is. Then the questioning begins: Why do I think this car is significant? What is the story of this car? What is its historical context? How did it come to be in the path of my daily life? These questions are followed by documentation of the car, to share with others.

In order to understand why people participate in car spotting, it’s necessary to contemplate what is the “art” of the car. One of my personal beliefs is that automobiles are rolling sculptures that have captured the imagination of the American public for decades. To me, the story of the decisions that led to certain cars becoming production models is equally as important as the story behind who purchased the model, and their relationship to that purchase. After housing, personal transportation is the next big ticket item most American adults purchase. Subconsciously or not, a lot of emotion goes into that decision.Picture of Plymoth

So while most people might not give this 1962 Plymouth Fury Sedan a blink of the eye, a car spotter goes through a process, similar to Performing Arts Workshop’s Cycle of Artistic Inquiry:

  • “Wow, is that really a 1962 Plymouth Fury? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those in real life!”

(Perception: Why are some stories riveting while others are not?)

  • “Not surprising, since Plymouth sold about 50,000 Furys total in 1962, compared to Chevrolet’s 800,000 Impalas.”

(Conception forms when students actively respond (in action or thought) to the details of specific questions.)

  • “Hey everyone, give me 5 minutes, you just don’t see these ‘in the wild’ anymore. I wonder what the story is on who owns this…”

Out comes my camera of choice, which is usually my cellphone, and I try my best, to not get injured in traffic while at the same time, getting detail shots of what makes this particular car so interesting. My favorite detail of this Plymouth is the eye trick the dual headlamp beams play on you.  The inboard lamps look smaller, even though they are the same size as the outboard ones.Picture of Plymoth(Expression challenges students to make increasingly detailed selections as they begin the process.)

  • There are always inevitable questions from the audience that gathers during a random outburst of automotive love. Usually the questions begin with, “What was that?” and, “Why did you want to take pictures of that car?”

(Reflection challenges the audience to consider the intentions behind student’s work.)

  • When all is said and done, I obsess over the little details: “Did I present this car in the best way. Does this car deserve more of a story? What story would that be? Maybe I’ll try finding it again next time I’m in this neighborhood.”

(Re-vision requires students to add more revealing details about a scene.)

As you can see, car spotting is more than just taking a few simple pictures of some old car. Like any art form, it depends on a critical thinking process in order to produce meaningful results.Picture of Plymoth

If you’d like a more straightforward description of how the CAI plays out in Workshop classrooms, check out our documents as they relate to each art form.

Larry also writes for Curbside Classic. You can read his most recent post here http://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1959-chevrolet-impala-holy-batwing-die-cast-dreams/