Teaching with Contemporary Art

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“Series #23 (White)” by Robert Ryman

Teaching students is one thing but having the opportunity, like we do in the summer, to teach and share perspectives with colleagues, friends, family, even strangers, can be an equally fulfilling experience. So if you have the chance, especially if you have the chance with someone who is a lover of representational painting, share the Robert Ryman segment from Season 4 with them.

Robert Ryman teaches viewers young and old to slow down and take in what seems extremely simple on the surface. It can teach those who look into his work to see the nuances that physically bring the viewer closer without even realizing it.

Even more important, Robert Ryman’s work will challenge those looking for something to label. What’s it a picture of? Well… white. It’s a picture of white over white over gray.

While there are many, many artists that ask the viewer to realize that the paint is in fact the subject, Robert Ryman does it with white. Everything is stripped down to brush stroke, the act of painting, the marks made by the brush.

What kinds of challenges do we face as teachers when we share works like these? Why share artists like Robert Ryman with our students? While it certainly can get students involved in a dialogue about what constitutes a painting, what else can his work teach?

Contributor
Joe Fusaro is the senior education advisor for Art21, and has written Art21’s “Teaching with Contemporary Art” column since 2008. He is an exhibiting artist and visual arts chair for the Nyack Public Schools in New York; and an adjunct instructor for New York University’s Graduate Program in Art and Arts Professions.
  1. Pingback: Let's See It Again! | Art21 Blog

  2. Nate Morgan says:

    What I enjoy about artists like Robert Ryman is that they almost beg the question, “Why is this art?” I think that is my all-time favorite question that a student can ask.

    Artist like Robert Ryman (and Joe Marioni or Phil Simms, etc) can offer students the opportunity to compare and contrast monochromatic paintings with those paintings that are art historical. Where this discussion can go could be limitless….

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  3. Joe Fusaro says:

    Just getting into a discussion about the qualities that make non-representational works art in the first place is always interesting. Last night, in a graduate course I am teaching, students began to work on some cut-paper designs for a collage and remarked how the end result always looks easy, but the steps to set up a well-organized piece take a lot of time. It’s wonderful when students go through the steps to make abstract and/or non-representational work and realize for themselves how much work and planning must go into it in order to create a high quality piece.

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