In a recent unit with an introductory Studio Art class, my students created paintings that redefined power visually in a variety of ways. After looking at the work of Season 3 artists Ida Applebroog, Laylah Ali and Cai Guo-Qiang, students created sketches that literally and symbolically represented power from unique perspectives.
By viewing different segments grouped by a single theme, students had the opportunity to experience how three very different artists worked with the theme of power and depicted it in ways that included:
- the power of one person over another
- how groups of people wield power
- the power of nature
- the power of “doing nothing” and being an “innocent” bystander
As we moved through the unit it became clear that students were not just working with a theme, but working through the theme and discovering how they themselves saw power from different perspectives. The expectation that they would explore various approaches to redefining power visually set up a period prior to working on the finished paintings where they had to dig deeper and move beyond stereotypes and knee-jerk reactions. This produced beautiful and surprising results.
In a reflective class discussion after the paintings were complete , we talked about what made this unit different. More than one student remarked that seeing the videos and creating a variety of proposals for the paintings made them think about the theme over time, instead of coming up with final ideas quickly. Other students reflected on the fact that the paintings took shape through the sketching prior to the final piece.
Have you used Art:21 to get students to think about a particular theme in ways that produced surprising results?
Last month, five different Art21 artists were featured in the first five pages of Scholastic Art magazine, an issue that celebrated contemporary women artists including Laylah Ali (featured on the cover), Margaret Kilgallen, Kiki Smith, Susan Rothenberg, and Ida Applebroog. While the overly simplified titles of the two articles, “Drawing People” and “Sketching Animals,” didn’t exactly make me lean forward in my seat, the fact that Scholastic Art has made the move (and not just with this issue) to more comprehensively include contemporary art in the magazine is encouraging. Most art educators have memories, whether they are fond or frustrating, of utilizing Scholastic Art in our classrooms. But often, we would find more than one or two issues in a relatively short time span devoted to telling stories and sharing techniques that had been shared before…and perhaps before that. Images of certain artists and artworks forced some things to be pushed into the “Stairway to Heaven” category—a classic you just don’t want to hear (or see) anymore.
In the February issue of Scholastic Art students and teachers can learn about one of the approaches Laylah Ali uses to pull viewers into her paintings and the kinds of women Margaret Kilgallen features in her work. Readers can also learn more about Ida Applebroog’s strategy of separating her paintings into panels and about Susan Rothenberg’s dreamlike drawings. The second article even concludes with a description of the etching technique used in Kiki Smith’s Wolf Girl.
Besides Scholastic Art and the usual mix of glossy art mags available in art classrooms, are there other magazines—online or hard copy—that you are using in the classroom? BOMB has become a favorite for many of the classes I work with specifically because it features artists talking with other artists. Other suggestions?
Teaching in the arts requires, at one ugly point or another, to have veiled conversations called critiques. They are hideous things that most students from middle school through graduate school would often rather avoid. Visits to the dentist can be more exciting. But as educators we’re often in the position of having to conduct them in order to force students to slow down, pause, reflect, and make decisions about the quality of their work.
In-progress critiques can have a tremendous benefit for both students and the teacher, because instead of discussing work at the end of an assignment or project, the discussion takes place before the work is complete. It gives students a chance to share the direction they’re going instead of the destination and invites suggestions for important next steps.
During a recent in-progress critique, students in my classes looked at some paintings they are creating about power, influenced by Art21 artists Ida Applebroog, Cai Guo-Qiang and Laylah Ali. All of the works—half finished—were hung up. Students seated themselves somewhere close to their painting at the start of class on Monday and I asked them to look at the work for two minutes in silence. What I really asked was for them to look at it until they began to see it. I asked the class as they sat in this bizarre silence (believe me, if you teach, you realize how bizarre and beautiful silence can be in a school setting) to think about the positive aspects of their work so far, but also to focus on next steps in order to create a successful painting based on the criteria we set up. After the silence they shared their thoughts with a partner and by the end of the critique had formed a short, written plan to guide the rest of the process. After taking a look at their plans and adding my own ideas, we made final decisions the next day and jumped back in.
Because creating contemporary art and being inspired by it requires students to meaningfully reflect on the work they see and the work they make, it’s part of our responsibility to construct situations where students can step back from the rhythm of a process and consider possibilities—alone, with classmates, and with their teacher.
In-progress paintings by Nyack High School students Julio Melendez (top) and Heather Bailey (bottom).
Contemporary art will often ask the viewer to consider process and the steps taken to create a work of art. Without consideration of process, some art is even difficult to understand. But for students studying art, whether it’s fine art or commercial design, submersion in and awareness of their own process is the key to being flexible with ideas as they emerge. It’s also the key to exploring pathways that open up because of chance “mistakes.”
More and more, I am being reminded of the work we have to do on the “front end” as teachers. This is the work that takes place before the lessons, before writing the unit, before creating assessment criteria, before gathering materials and assembling visuals. This is the work that involves organizing our inspirations and big questions into something that not only works within a curriculum framework, but simultaneously is inspiring and meaningful for the students.
Guided exploration of contemporary media, themes, big questions, “undiscovered” artists and possibilities are some of the greatest gifts we can give our students. Helping students keep sketchbooks to organize ideas and keep track of progress is also a gift that directly relates to teaching them how to reflect on their own process for making art (see Mining Ideas Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). Through teaching with contemporary art, we open up our classes to being more directly involved with process and the power that comes with taking the extra time to become immersed in a medium, theme, question or activity.
Pictured above: Ida Applebroog, “Marginalia (Isaac Stern)”, 1992
Oil on canvas, 2 panels, 35 x 39 inches overall
Photo by Dennis Cowley. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
Drawing Review: 37 Years of Works on Paper opens tomorrow at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. The more than forty artists in the exhibition were or have been represented by the gallery since 1971. The range is broad, comprising works that deal with performance and identity in the 1970s, to architecture and politics of the 1980s, to contemporary imagery based on nuclear physics, cartography, sustainability, and a few visionary flying machines thrown in to boot.
The big mix includes, among others, Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, Buckminster Fuller, Leon Golub, Christine Hill, Ilya Kabakov, Komar and Melamid, Roxy Paine, SITE, Hannah Wilke, as well as Art21′s Eleanor Antin, Ida Applebroog, and Pepón Osorio.
Drawing Review runs through December 23rd.
Pretty Ugly is a dual-part summer show that just opened at Gavin Brown Enterprises and Maccarone Gallery in the West Village. The neighboring galleries conceptually explore the back and forth of how art defines beauty, cast in flux as opposed to a rigid model. The exhibition includes over thirty artists including Ida Applebroog (Season 3), Louise Bourgeois (Season 1) and Raymond Pettibon (Season 2).
The press release quotes a text by Umberto Eco: “Today everyone (including those bourgeois who should have been stunned and scandalized) recognize as artistically beautiful all those works that had horrified their fathers. The ugliness of the avant-garde has been accepted as a new model of beauty, and has given rise to a new commercial circuit.”
Pretty Ugly runs though August 29th.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an amazing program where students can borrow a framed work by major artists from their List Visual Arts Center‘s collection for an entire academic year. The Student Loan Art Program was founded in 1996 and boasts of over 400 pieces with which your dormroom can be beautified. There are plenty of big names on the list including Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Sol LeWitt, and Ed Ruscha to name a few, as well as many Art:21 artists like Allora & Calzadilla, Ida Applebroog, Roni Horn, Gabriel Orozco, Susan Rothenberg, Collier Schorr, Laurie Simmons, Nancy Spero, Richard Tuttle, and Fred Wilson. At the top of my own M.I.T. wishlist would be Bernd & Hilla Becher’s Cooling Tower. Learn more about the Student Loan Art Program here.
As reported on Artnet, performance artist Rafael Sanchez has won the $10,000 Ida Applebroog (Season 3) Award at Exit Art in New York, established to nurture outstanding artists at critical points in their careers. The biennial prize, which is in its inaugural year, also includes a solo show in the Exit Art project room. A native of Newark, N.J., Sanchez is known for performances like Calienté/Frio (2007), in which the artist traced the migration process of two women from Cuba to America during the 1960s.