If you are even remotely interested in how everyday materials can become bizarre and (sometimes) brilliant sculpture, there are three shows ready and waiting for you in New York’s Chelsea galleries: Nayland Blake’s What Wont Wreng at Matthew Marks; B. Wurtz’s Recent Works at Metro Pictures; and Mark Dion’s two-floor delight titled Drawings, Prints, Multiples and Sculptures at Tanya Bonakdar. In all three cases, viewers (especially contemporary art educators) are treated to new works by artists who are playful with their materials and simultaneously manage to teach us about the issues and concerns that drive their work.
Nayland Blake’s exhibit greets viewers with a vinyl poster of himself—donning a leather cap and harness, black sunglasses, and his signature beard—presented under the name of “The Spectre.” The handful of sculptures and installations on view actually have enough space in the tiny gallery for viewers to examine how Blake incorporates themes of gender, identity, and community in his work as “a modern-day flaneur.” And like any good sculptor, his work invites you to look into vs. at it. I found myself walking around and around works such as Buddy, Buddy, Buddy and Oh, both standouts because of simple layering that allows for a constant mind-game of associations. Continue reading »
Some of the best field trips actually take place inside the school building.
For the past two years, I have organized a “portfolio day” each spring for my advanced juniors and seniors in order for them to, essentially, be locked in the studio for the day. We set aside one full school day for art making with the intention of adding to their portfolios already in progress. It doesn’t cost the school district anything, we get great gas mileage, and we even order pizza for lunch.
The benefits of having an in-school field trip of this nature are obvious at first: students get to spend an entire day focused on art making instead of one or two periods at a time. They get to work on one or more pieces vs. breaking up their process over many days. I cannot say enough about the progress we made during our first two portfolio days in 2011 and 2012, and am looking forward to a similarly successful day this year.
While many teachers have the ability to take great trips with their classes to museums, cultural institutions, and local art organizations, sometimes it is extremely beneficial to plan a trip to our own classroom studio where the sole focus for the day is an extended stretch shaping student work instead of chopping up the process into much shorter blocks of time. This can allow for not only art making but also important time for reflection, discussion, and stepping back from works in progress in order to really see them.
This weekend I will be back with friends and colleagues at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) to facilitate a teacher workshop about working with Art21 education materials and teaching with El Anatsui’s gorgeous exhibition, When I Last Wrote To You About Africa. This being Art21’s second visit to UMMA, I am looking forward to once again working with Pam Reister, Jann Wesolek, and all of the participants joining us this weekend.
El Anastui, one of my favorite artists from Season 6, is in some ways an educator’s dream. His sculptures and installations reference history, culture and memory while simultaneously exploring the possibilities of found materials and different processes for making art. And while Anatsui is best known for his stunning, draped metal sculptures, there is more to the work with than meets the eye… and that’s quite a bit to begin with.
For example, if we step back four decades ago to Anatsui’s initial work in Ghana, the artist began using materials from his immediate surroundings—carving into wooden trays much like those sold in markets to display fruit and vegetables—and then creating works with adinkra-like symbols prominently featured. As Olu Oguibe describes in the magnificent catalogue that accompanies the show, Anastui has been guided by the following principles since this early work:
- Pay close attention to location and environment
- Learn whatever you can from local practitioners
- Use found objects and materials from your surroundings, especially your immediate surroundings
- Let the medium and materials suggest, even dictate, the form
- Acknowledge the potential for art to serve as a metaphor or visual allegory
Anatsui’s ceramic sculpture from 1978, Omen, explores how brokenness can somehow inspire new life and healing. From the small burst of an opening to the coating of manganese that speckles the surface formed from damaged ceramic pieces, Anatsui’s work can represent ideas about fragility and even political instability in Africa.
Over the past four years there have been many success stories from a what-still-feels-like-new Art21 Educators program. And while the experiences within and beyond Art21 Educators vary wildly from teacher to teacher, many of the educators we have worked with- in a range of disciplines and not just art- have provided us with specific comments and reflective narratives that often make smiles touch the back of our heads.
As we continue to accept applications over the next month for Year 5 of Art21 Educators (applications are due March 17, before you celebrate St. Patty’s, hopefully) I would love to share a few quotes this week from some of the final reflections, case studies and program evaluations we have received during the first four years, in order to give you a firsthand account of what some teachers have experienced participating in the program with us.
Given the interdisciplinary focus of the educators program, I hoped to learn ways to meaningfully engage students in interdisciplinary content, where art and academic subjects intertwine and elevate each other. Contemporary art, which is by nature pluralistic, self-reflective and multi-faceted, is the perfect lens through which to view interdisciplinary content. I expected to learn strategies for making this happen, but what I didn’t expect was the depth of analysis and reflection that the collaborative atmosphere of the Art21 Educators Program afforded. We workshopped ideas, discussed countless contemporary artist examples (Art21 and otherwise), and talked about our work formally, informally and in video reflections. The program modeled the kind of working relationship I hoped to establish with my students, and I learned as much from the ways we talked about our ideas, as I did the ideas themselves. —Jack Watson, Art and Art History teacher at Chapel Hill High School, Durham, NC
I have reflected on my teaching practice more intensely than ever before. I have a totally different viewpoint on what it means to be an art teacher than I had prior to Art21 Educators. I have learned a lot about technology and how to use it in meaningful ways – not just some “gimmicky” art project, but how to truly integrate it into my teaching practice. I’ve also gained new resources (and friends!) where I can now turn to ask questions or get feedback. —Anna Dean, Grades 5-8 Art teacher at Sterling School/ Charles Townes Center, Simpsonville, SC
In order for students to feel comfortable expressing themselves with a particular medium, they often have to spend plenty of time messing with the stuff they are interested in shaping- be it car parts, plastics, plaster or paint- before they may be ready to create high quality works. A few artists I find myself recommending to students when it comes to specifically “messing” with paint and thinking like an abstract painter include Hans Hoffman, Helen Frankenthaler, Howard Hodgkin and Jessica Stockholder. Each has the potential to pleasantly surprise the viewer, even when you are often stuck with an image a fraction of the actual size, through pure painting and/or the juxtaposition of color. And while Hoffman and Frankenthaler might be known for abstract expressionism, Hodgkin for a more semi-abstraction related to making objects instead of two-dimensional works (painting into and around the frames), and Stockholder for her range of two-dimensional and installation work, the fact remains that the finished work from these artists often reveals a trace, or truckload, of the process the artist used to get there. Asking students to investigate this process is a part of getting them used to really pushing the material and becoming truly familiar with it.
But besides being good examples of artists that really consider their medium in a very obvious way, what else can students learn from artists like Hoffman, Frankenthaler, Hodgkin and Stockholder?
Students have the opportunity to use these artists as a model for working with space and developing complex (vs. complicated) compositions. The principles of balance, juxtaposition and emphasis come into play as each artist forms works that rely heavily on different approaches to balance.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about lingering with images and ways I can get my students to stay with works of art long enough to see and investigate what they are about vs. what they’re representations of. My students often have a definition of research and brainstorming that’s different from my own, so more and more I want them to not only draw inspiration from engaging with works of art but also analyze why some art is more effective, unique, well designed or just flat out better than others.
The advantages of having books in the classroom, whether it’s the handsome series of Art21 companion books or offerings by Phaidon, Taschen, Hyperallergic, and others, is that students are able to interact with art in a different way than when they log onto a bank of computers. They hold an image, even if it’s a reproduction, in their hands. They pass it between their classmates and get their nose close to the printed page to see details. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old book or a new one.
This week, in an effort to get my students to linger, I am asking them to do some research on their own, which I fully realize will involve the most basic steps that include > google.com > Images > (subject/theme/artist) and then selecting entertaining (or hugely popular) images to satisfy the assignment. But when they get back to the classroom, I will have books waiting. I will have prints. I will have the next best thing to being there.
Teaching with contemporary art involves realizing that not everything worth teaching with is available through Google. Some of it lives in the books, periodicals and prints we have had tucked away since the projectors and Smart boards rolled in. But let’s face it, students can’t pass around a Smart board and we can’t spend all our time, literally, in the dark.
Another idea, shared by one of our outstanding Art21 Educators, Don Ball, is to take books like those produced by Phaidon and cut them up, laminating each page to use in the classroom for a variety of purposes. Don asks his students to choose images carefully for different activities. He asks them to have different types of conversations about these images. And like many of us he asks students to draw inspiration from what they see. The printed page offers all of us, in a different way, the chance to perhaps stay with an image longer and say, “I want to think about that.”
Are you a teacher interested in learning more about utilizing contemporary art in your classroom? Does spending a week in New York City this summer collaborating with other educators and with Art21 sound like a fantastic way to get motivated and plan for the next school year? Is ongoing support with other contemporary art educators throughout the 2013-2014 academic year something that would inspire your teaching?
Then Art21 Educators is for you.
Art21 is now accepting applications through March 17 for year 5 of our popular Art21 Educators program, which kicks off with our summer institute from July 10 through July 17 in New York City. Along with a series of unique and useful professional development workshops, this summer’s institute will feature visits with Art21 artists and special presentations at museums and cultural institutions here in NYC.
Art21 Educators is for you if you are interested in ratcheting up your practice. It’s for you if you’re interested in exploring how video can play multiple roles in your classroom- as both a teaching and learning tool. And it’s definitely for you if you are interested in making sense of the fascinating, mesmerizing, and sometimes bizarre world of contemporary art with your students.
Join us this summer. Apply to the Art21 Educators program by clicking here to get started…
I feel the impulse from time to time. A momentary desire to run a finger across the surface of a painting. It’s easily suppressed, however, and passes without another thought. Certain artworks reliably trigger the urge every time, while most do not. If you could touch one artwork, in any museum, which would it be? And what would you be seeking?
Children explore the world through touching, ceaselessly compiling a tactile catalogue of the visible world. In time, a child amasses a rich library of sensory pairings, the retinal impression reinforced with a comprehension of the physical. Gradually, after years of sensory stockpiling, the compulsion to handle everything subsides.
But in fact the need to touch things never truly goes away—it is easily reawakened in the presence of new and strange things. New designer products routinely seduce us with novel finishes, engineered to inflame our appetite for fresh tactile sensations. The impulse can also awaken at the promise of a known reward: we are moved to stroke velvet not to gain new knowledge, but because we know it will gratify.
Museums discourage all manner of touching. Although there are children’s museums, petting zoos and others that offer tactile experiences, those constitute a small minority. The prohibition against touching is so deeply entrenched in museum culture that it is seldom even stated: signs advise us when not to photograph, but only rarely tell us not to touch. Codes of behavior in museums are communicated to us subliminally, telepathically via architecture. But even while the rules aren’t articulated, most patrons readily abide by them.
And yet, museums are precisely the sorts of places where we might hope to encounter something strange and new, igniting our desire for sensory experiences. As touch-averse environments, museums restrict our experience mainly to the visual-cerebral. It’s fairly typical to see adults drift through museum galleries with their hands clasped behind their backs. I do this, too—possibly to suppress my own anarchic urges, or to communicate my subservience to the regime: I understand the rules; I pose no threat.
During a recent conversation I was asked, “Where do you come up with the questions featured in the Art21 educator guides?” I didn’t know what to say. The “Before Viewing” questions, which promote active viewing of Art21 films, are a combination of long conversations and focused emphasis on particular thematic strands. Collectively, we try to come up with questions that will not only promote discussion about contemporary art in the classroom but also stimulate thinking about the big questions featured in the segments. For example, if you simply look through the most recent seasons, you’ll come across questions such as:
- What are the qualities or characteristics that define something as art, versus something that is not art? How and why are these definitions established? (John Baldessari, season 5).
- How are rituals created and how do they change over time? (Pierre Huyghe, season 4).
- What are the differences and similarities between making a portrait and a landscape? (Catherine Opie, season 6).
- How can the process of drawing and painting, like sculpture, be both additive and subtractive? (Julie Mehretu, season 5).
- What is the role of the viewer of an artwork, or the reader of literature? How are these roles similar and/or different? (Tabaimo, season 6).
If you are seeking a mountain of good questions and ideas to give you a boost in the classroom, Art21 educator guides are a great place to start, and they are available as FREE downloads here. You are also sure to enjoy the way Before, During and After viewing questions make the process of sharing Art21 films more productive. Afterward, “Create” suggestions allow for students to make material sense of their learning, as well as articulate how viewing Art21 films changes their approach to making art.
There are lots of phenomenal reasons for working with Art21 teaching materials. Art21 educator guides can make teaching with contemporary art more enjoyable for teachers and students alike.
Recently I was on the subway and looked over the shoulder of a teenager playing a video game on his iPhone. The objective, at least it seemed, was to shoot at people on the street from a rooftop in order to score points. Sort of like a “sniper” video game. At one point in the video it looked as though a family was crossing the street and without flinching the teenager simply picked them off one at a time to rack up more points.
I played video games where I shot things as a child, but those things were never, ever people. People aren’t things. I was most often aiming at space aliens or fuzzy pixilated rockets being launched in my direction. My Mom didn’t even want me pointing a toy gun at someone, never mind playing a video game where I piled on the points by shooting people down.
So here’s what I don’t understand…
While writers such as Christopher J Ferguson assert there isn’t enough evidence to link video games to societal violence and violent crime (and believe me, he makes a good case) do we really need proof that these kinds of games influence aggressive behavior in order to begin taking a stand against graphic violence towards fellow human beings as “entertainment”? Do art educators need proof before we begin deconstructing these games with our students and really get into what they’re about? While killing people on a screen isn’t actually killing, do we need to wait for something in particular to question why we want to send Junior into his room to kill people on the tv?? Manufacturers of video games roll these things out like there is no tomorrow. Some of the more graphic series include:
- Mortal Kombat
- Grand Theft Auto
- Modern Warfare
- Resident Evil Zero
The list goes on. All involve violent killing and often players actually get extra points for “creative” kills.
But what exactly is creative about killing?
While the NRA is quick to blame video games for violent behavior because they would much rather talk about something else besides banning assault weapons and ammunition (thank you, Governor Cuomo), I think that organizations like the International Game Developers Association could have a dramatic impact on the future of video games worldwide if the “creative” end of gaming wasn’t so consistently connected to killing people on a video screen.