Teaching with Contemporary Art

I’m Not an Interior Decorator!

Image courtesy tacotuesday.org

Years ago, on my very first day of teaching, my colleague Rose said to me that we must, at all costs, make sure people don’t treat us as interior decorators. “We teach fine art,” she would say, “not how to give rooms a facelift.” But still, pretty much every year it’s the same thing. If you’re a K-12 art educator someone ultimately asks, especially at the beginning of the year, a question that sounds something like…

Joe, do you have any art to hang in our office? We have such bare walls after the new paint job!

Never mind the fact that many teachers wait years to get a paint job, or even basic supplies for that matter, but these kinds of questions can drive you bats. What goes through my mind is often different than what I say, which winds up sweet and soothing like, “Well, we allow students to take home their portfolios at the end of the year and any visuals we have are usually used in classes as examples for different lessons.”

But that’s not enough. These people can be relentless…

Joe, you don’t have anything??? When will the kids make some stuff we can put on our walls?

This is when I remind myself that we’re here to teach the WHOLE school community and not just the kids. So, in response to this blitzkrieg of requests, I have taken a different approach this year. Instead of trying to convince my otherwise perfectly wonderful colleagues that I will not be able to furnish their office with the latest in student leftovers, I simply invite them IN to my classroom to visit. Just the other day it came out of my mouth without even thinking about it too much…

Mrs. ______, you are more than welcome to come in to the classroom next week once we get rolling to see which artists you might want to approach about their work. Maybe you can feature different artists through the year instead of having just one set of work? Perhaps you can work with the students to hang the work and even call it a mini-exhibit?

It was beautiful. It worked. Mrs. ______ is coming in next week and is excited to learn about the different artists we work with in our classes! Invitations like these are also a chance to open up others to the kinds of work we do with kids and the multiple approaches we take to create high quality work with them. It gives us an opportunity to allow colleagues, community members and even supervisors to see the range of art we share with students- from traditional approaches with drawing and painting to contemporary practice in sculpture and mixed media. From black and white darkroom photography to digital photography and even installation art. Opening up our classrooms so others may understand better goes a lot further than trying to convince people that we’re not in the interior decoration business.

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.

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