Teaching with Contemporary Art

Nancy Spero and Kiki Smith

Nancy Spero, "Azur," detail 2002 courtesy Galerie Lelong

It seems like a good time for Nancy Spero and Kiki Smith.

Artists whose work incorporate storytelling, pointed statements and using the female body to do so, Nancy Spero and Kiki Smith have been compared beautifully in a variety of contexts, including Jon Bird’s Otherworlds: The Art of Nancy Spero and Kiki Smith.

Looking through images I also think about certain characterizations of each artist and perhaps reversing them. I think about questions like: Can Smith’s work be considered political? Can Spero’s be about resurrection?


Kiki Smith, "Rapture", 2001 courtesy PaceWildenstein

Nancy Spero, "Myth", 1990 Image: Joseph K Levene Fine Art

I also imagine comparing these artists in order to teach about working with the human body- replacing “that” unit so many of us negotiate (“The Human Form”, “Drawing the Figure”, “Proportions of the Human Body” and even, by the grace of God, “Portraits”) with something like this.

More possibilities surface. It’s almost overwhelming. Teaching about….

  • Gender
  • Feminism
  • Memory
  • Commemoration
  • Political activism

From "Torture of Women" by Nancy Spero, Siglio Press, 2010. Photos courtesy National Gallery of Canada.

…..just for starters.

Juxtaposing two artists that complement one another like Nancy Spero and Kiki Smith can be a rich and stimulating experience for students. For related teaching resources and images, visit our links to Nancy Spero, Kiki Smith, Art21 Educator Guides and the very popular Learning with Art21 Guide.

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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