Teaching with Contemporary Art

More Moments, More Dialogue

Xbox image: 360.mmgn.com

Xbox game image: 360.mmgn.com

Happy New Year!

This week I want to follow up on the two most recent posts, Speak About What’s Unspeakable and Teachable Moments in 2012, because there are some loose ends to attend to.

First, just to update last week’s column regarding some of the most teachable moments in 2012, it was brought to my attention that I missed a few:

Rineke Dijkstra’s retrospective at the Guggenheim, along with Zoe Strauss at the Philadelphia Museum, taught us that portraiture most certainly can go beyond appearances and telling stories. It can even teach us about ourselves.

A new teaching assignment at NYU, which included supervising the Saturday Visionary Studios program for high school students taught me that thematic courses, not just units of study, can be exciting for teachers and students alike.

Scaling back the more traditional format for TASK and using very few supplies taught us that you don’t need a ton of materials to achieve the goals intended, as we did with Oliver Herring this past July to kick off our 4th year of Art21 Educators in New York City.

Finally, revisiting Richard Long’s “A Line Made By Walking” was another teachable moment that has become, for me, a metaphor of sorts when it comes to teaching with contemporary art.

Now, getting back to Speak About What’s Unspeakable, which was written just after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Ct, I want to share an update on some next steps for my own classroom….

I am in the midst of writing a unit of study for the 2nd semester titled That’s Entertainment?? Students in my high school foundations classes will be doing research into children’s games, video games, films and television shows that in some way make the act of harming or killing other people the main objective. I believe that one way to construct a dialogue about what has happened at twenty-one K-12 schools since 2000 is to begin having frank discussions in the classroom about America’s obsession with violence.

After we develop a list of titles that fit this criteria I want to discuss the other kinds of things these forms of entertainment have in common. We will talk about why people may enjoy playing games and/or seeing films like these. Following our research and class discussions I am thinking about asking students to create an ad campaign of sorts to share with our school’s PTA. Students will create PSA advertisements, graphic designs and text-based works of art that teach others about the “objectives” “goals” and “plots” featured in these works, as well as suggest alternatives for purchasing these games or supporting entertainment that focuses on harming other people. It’s my hope that parents will share some of these works with neighboring districts and other PTAs here in New York. Maybe a few less xbox games that feature killing will be sold, I don’t know, but the main idea is to talk about why this stuff is somehow entertaining, even if it’s “just a game”. As a child I knew that Vince McMahon and “pro” wrestling on tv was an act and not real fighting, but it still seemed awfully frightening to a ten year old who watched one guy bloody another while people cheered. I also realize that arcades and movies have been filled with violence and killing for a long, long time.

But as an educator I want to somehow bring the conversation about violence, and violence as entertainment in our society, into the classroom. The overwhelming media response to the shootings on December 14th is completely out of balance with the underwhelming response in schools. I keep thinking to myself… Why are we afraid to talk about this? And why do we spectacularly promote and simultaneously condemn violence in America?

 

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. Birgitte Lamb says:

    Hi Joe.
    This sounds very interesting and is clearly a subject of interest for high school kids, even outside the US. I would be very interested in seeing the plan for your “That’s entertainment?” unit, if you don’t mind sharing it?
    Best regards
    Birgitte

    Reply

  2. Joe Fusaro says:

    Absolutely, Birgitte. Where do you teach? If you send along an e-mail I will share the unit plan once it’s wrapped up and revised: joe@art21.org

    Reply

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