The Big Questions project was developed by Olivia Gude, Lourdes Guerrero, and Ryin Horne in the Portrait of a Young Artist group of the 2001 Spiral Workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
What do comic book heroes and artists have in common? Seemingly central to the existence of each is the time to ponder the important questions of life.

Gaughin’s famous painting sums up common queries of artists (and superheroes):
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Many art teachers wish that serious thought and inquiry into why we are here and why we do what we do, could be part of the artwork in the classroom. A few, intense students introduce these questions, but most other students tend to shy away from the big, existential ideas. One of the reasons for this is that many teens feel shy about revealing too much of their inner lives in the school environment.

The Big Questions project encourages students to personally engage large questions of meaning, possibility, agency, and choice by giving them “deniability.” “I’m not really asking these questions; my superhero character is and everyone knows that superheroes from Spiderman to today’s Dark Angel talk about stuff like this.”

The Big Questions project brings together two unlikely artistic inspirations—Monet and Marvel. Students begin the project by using oil pastels on xeroxed images of their home city to explore creating dramatic light effects in the manner of Monet. Then working with specially posed digital photographs of themselves, the students use colored pencils to alter the images into their alter ego hero characters. In the final stage of the project, the students insert their self-portrait figures and their metaphysical speculations into their city scene.