Teaching with Contemporary Art


Illustration by Deirdre O’Sullivan

More than ever it’s important to do ourself a big favor by documenting our work with students. Whether we’re sharing video of students engaged in a particular unit of study with parents, utilizing photos when building portfolios, or displaying works of art through a digital gallery, keeping a digital camera and video camera close by can be a wonderful habit to fall into… if you’re not already doing so.

About once a week I will walk through our hallways and take photos of colleagues’ work with their classes (see Deirdre’s photo above). I will also occasionally take candid shots of students at work or even teachers doing a demonstration in the classrooms. Sometimes I will ask students to take the video camera and record a reflection about their work or interview a classmate. Many of these photographs and videos make their way to a variety of places where they get shared, including:

  • The district website and annual calendar
  • Online galleries and an in-school digital gallery
  • Promotional materials for our visual arts department
  • Professional development workshops
  • Parent workshops
  • Teacher portfolios
  • Online class web pages

Everyone has a system that works for them and mine includes keeping folders of student work on the computer in order to share work from alumni with students I’m currently teaching. I will also keep folders on my desktop that are full of visual examples for each of the units I teach. As the unit progresses, I share a few examples at a time in order to steer clear of overwhelming my classes.

At different points writing this column over the years I have suggested positive routines and rhythms we want to embrace as contemporary art educators. Documenting our work regularly through photographs and video can be used as a tool for reflection, assessment, and best of all, celebration.

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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