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
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…
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.
Before we continue talking about last week’s “Speak About What’s Unspeakable,” I thought it might be good idea to end the year on a constructive note by looking back at some of the most teachable moments- events, exhibits, chance happenings and other opportunities – that made for uncanny entry points in the classroom…
Wayne LaPierre’s ignorant and insensitive remarks one week after the Newtown, Ct. school shooting, where he actually had the nerve to suggest that not only there be armed guards in every American school, but that teachers be armed themselves, became another chance to build on our conversation about gun control and America’s lust for violence. It also made me think of Hawkeye Pierce: “I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns. I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!”. I am currently in the middle of writing a unit of study called “That’s Entertainment?” where students will examine games and films that glorify violence in our society and respond with works of art that question the “entertainment” value of the media explored.
Union-busting legislation in Michigan raised the issue of whether, as the Michigan governor claims, union-busting is “good for workers” (?!). This is one hell of a ripe topic to examine across the curriculum.
The NHL lockout continues to offer us the opportunity to see that greed gets you nowhere. In this case it’s actually pushed the NHL into irrelevance as basketball and football simply get more space in the Sports pages. (Sorry, just had to add this one.)
Recent exhibitions by Mark Bradford, Keltie Ferris and Trenton Doyle Hancock taught us that painting is not only alive and well, but that it’s also being shaped and revisited to explore elements that expand how we see painting. Keltie Ferris, especially, kicked ass in her most recent Mitchell-Innes & Nash show.
Zoe Strauss’ exhibition, “Ten Years” at the Philadelphia Museum was a wonderful opportunity to see how this photographer with little formal training made us slow down and really contemplate the “American working-class experience,” and to convey what she calls “an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life.”
New teacher evaluation systems were launched across the country and it taught, if there was a bright spot at all in this mess of a roll-out, that reexamining our curriculum to clearly state what constitutes learning is a good thing for all of us.
Clint Eastwood talking to a chair at the Republican National Convention taught us that improvisation, for all its merits, is not always a good thing if you don’t actually give a few seconds of thought to what you’re doing on stage.
Janine Antoni’s keynote speech at the National Art Education Association’s annual conference in New York City, on the other hand, taught us to consider how we might teach students to wait, that creativity is NOT linear, how to “trick ourselves” into modes of creation, that “creativity exists outside of consciousness,” and that even marriage is about “sculpting a place in between.” Janine continues to be one of my favorite artists to work with in the series.
Finally, the launch of Art21’s Season 6 taught us that with 100 artists to work with in our Peabody Award-winning documentary series, not to mention New York Close Up, Art21 is one of the first places to investigate when looking to teach about and learn with contemporary art….
Happy New Year to all. May you find inspiration and joy in 2013 and thank you for continuing to read Teaching with Contemporary Art each week!
This school year has started out like none other in recent memory. The fascination to quantify practically everything in education has now moved steadily into art education, as discussed in last week’s interview with Jessica Hoffmann Davis. Here in New York and across the entire country art educators (well, all educators, actually) are being forced to administer pre-assessment tests that “establish a baseline” of “what students know and are able to do” at the beginning of a course. These same assessments are then given at the end of the course and compared to the pre-assessments in order to “measure growth” in student learning.
Now let’s just say there wasn’t any problem with measuring growth this way. Let’s say that students spitting out what they “know” in a class session and trying to measure things through timed tests was actually better than student portfolio assessment built up over time. How can art educators face the current round of demands on the state and local levels and actually make this stuff useful?
If nothing else, this current obsession with testing and attaching numbers to everything that isn’t nailed down allows teachers to take a hard look at their curriculum and ask about the specific things they would actually like to compare over time. It asks teachers to think about the big goals of the courses they teach and then issues the challenge of concisely putting questions and activities together that may come somewhere close to measuring what students learned.
For example, at the beginning and the end of a course teachers may ask their students:
- How do artists create works of art today vs. the artists of 10, 20, 100 or 500 years ago? What are the differences… and the similarities… between art of the past and the present?
- How do artists get ideas? How do they give ideas form?
- Where is art?
- How do we go about understanding work that’s complex or challenging?
- Why is context important in order to understand and make sense of contemporary art (and, for that matter, ALL art)?
- What constitutes high quality works of art?
- In art, is the idea behind the work more important than the formal qualities of the work itself? Is it the other way around? Is there a balance that must be established? If so, how?
I could go on all day.
What I am trying to say is this: In the midst of putting your ducks in order and complying with the current round of demands related to assessment, it’s important for contemporary art educators to do anything and everything possible to make this poorly structured situation a somewhat meaningful one. Let the assessments we create allow a glimpse into what we find essential learning because at least we, as art educators, still have control over what we define as the big, important goals for our courses. Most of us are still fortunate enough to not be in a position where someone in a suit is handing us a pacing guide that tells us what to teach on which date. And if that scenario ever gets close to reality, well, what can I say except I will probably see many of you in Albany and/or DC…
This week it’s my pleasure to share part two of my interview with Jessica Hoffmann Davis. For part one of the conversation, please click here. Many, many thanks to those who sent along such positive e-mails and messages saying they enjoyed the first half last week. I have a feeling you will also appreciate part two….
Arts education advocates most certainly took a defensive posture in light of the shift to excel in math and science, and we continue to do so, especially facing steep budget cuts over the past few years and for the foreseeable future. How do you see a variety of arts advocates- even columns such as this one- helping to shape policy and not just discourse? After all, this seems to be at the root of the problem we face. Most people agree about the importance and benefits of the arts in schools but few put their money where their mouth is. How do we get more schools, especially public schools, to put this thinking into practice?
I like your optimistic view that “most people agree about the importance and benefits of the arts in schools.” Overall, I agree and feel strongly that advocates need to assume value rather than doubt—it sets the stage for a cooperative rather than adversarial conversation.
Your statement calls to mind something I encountered in my own efforts for school reform around the arts (i.e. starting a program in Arts in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education). When I first brought the idea up to then Dean Gerry Murphy (who in the end was the guardian angel of the arts in education and helped us move to a place of recognition and permanence), he spoke as if I’d heard it before: “Everybody cares about the arts in education but not instead of something else.” I think that is the prevalent view. I was speaking recently with a professor who teaches writing and history. She told me that she felt the arts education advocacy I was doing was “so important.” She went on to explain that the arts were good for students because they didn’t use much brain power and students could talk and socialize as they created works of art. Flabbergasted, I tried to turn the tide of our discussion in the direction of the kind of wonderful self-assessment students in an ensemble might do as they prepare for a performance of their work.
But both these perspectives are alive and flourish: “not instead of something else” and “don’t take much brain power.” Ironic really that the thing that came up most frequently from high school students was their view that the arts taught them to think in important ways that other subjects did not- beyond the right answer to critical analysis and interpretation. Think of math and someone saying, “Sure it’s important but not instead of something else” or “It doesn’t take much brain power.” We’d think these statements to be absurd. And yet the arts are easily as entrenched in scholarship, culture, and history, and still they struggle for a place that is always assured for mathematics. I don’t know why I always choose math for this comparison. I hope math teachers will forgive me and note carefully that I am not suggesting math is unimportant (not at all)-only that the arts are too. In sum, I believe the conversation is invaluable and needs to continue. More and more educators, whether they appreciate the arts or not, need to think hard about what it is the arts provide that other subjects do not. And we need to take a hard look at what we value in education and what place the essential learning that the arts provides deserves in our curriculum.
Looking to distinguished private schools for models for the public sector, reading guru Jeanne Chall used to say “What’s good for the rich can’t hurt the poor.” For this last book, I visited well known private secondary schools like St. Paul’s in Concord, New Hampshire where guess what? Arts requirements abound and arts courses have equal status with non-arts courses. And this model is not exclusive to that setting. Great schools take the arts seriously and include them in their course requirements. If we want our public schools to be great, we need to include arts learning and to take it seriously. While students in privileged schools may not be dealing with the same factors that make it hard for others to stay in school, we have found (see reports like the Staying in School report that I cite in my book) that in low performing high schools in New York City, when the arts are included, more students show up every day and stay to graduate. Finally attendance, the quantitative variable that makes the most sense to associate with the arts, is getting its due. Let’s keep talking and thinking and putting teachers and students at the front of the discourse and let’s be sure to include the policy makers who in the end I believe—whether they want to bring back the progressive era or to celebrate No Child Left Behind—are on the same page of wanting the best for our students in our public schools. Continue reading »
This week it’s my pleasure to kick off a two-part interview with one of my favorite authors in the field of education, Jessica Hoffmann Davis.
Jessica Hoffmann Davis has published and lectured extensively on the role and promise of arts learning, drawing not only on her own and other current research, but also on personal experience as a visual artist, writer, and educator. While her popular book, Why Our Schools Need the Arts (Teachers College Press, 2008), proposes a “new and unapologetic approach to advocacy for the arts in education”, I originally came to admire her work through reading (and re-reading!) Framing Education as Art: The Octopus has a Good Day (Teachers College Press, 2005), where she challenges non-arts education to be more connected to and like the arts.
Dr. Davis holds a Doctorate in Human Development and Psychology and a Master’s in Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Environments from Harvard University where she went on to be a senior lecturer and to hold the university’s first chair in the arts in education. She retired from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2005, in large part to focus on a book about her mother and the extraordinary school she directed for almost four decades: the Hoffmann School for Individual Development in Riverdale, New York. Davis’s educational memoir, Ordinary Gifted Children: The Power and Promise of Individual Attention, was published by Teachers College Press in 2010.
This interview took place over the past two months and became what we finally started referring to as a “blogversation manifesto”….
To start, could you talk about some of what you’ve been working on lately and how this connects to your original passion for articulating the connection between education and art?
I left Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2005, after many years of teaching and publishing at the field juncture of human development and the arts in education (a term which includes but is not limited to art/s education). My breakaway book, Framing Education as Art: The Octopus has a Good Day (2005) proclaims that mainstream education would be improved by taking a lesson from (modeling itself after) the arts and arts learning. Of course even as I offered a framework for such modeling I allowed that there were versions of what I suggested already happening in the classrooms of what I call “artful” teachers. Nonetheless, at the heart of that work is a notion that seems to have eluded arts education advocates in recent years: specifically, that the arts provide essential learning that other subjects simply do not.
This positive view flourished in the 1920’s in the Progressive era when immeasurable student outcomes like creativity, empathy, and thoughtful citizenry had valued places in the agenda of student learning. But in the late nineteen fifties after the Russians had embarrassed us by launching a satellite into space before we did, there was a shift towards hard-edged disciplines like math and science in order to give our students the edge in international competition. This was at the expense of what was thought of as “soft” learning: visual arts, dance, music, theater, et. al. And arts education advocates ultimately gave in to the wave of priorities, arguing that the arts might make a difference in fostering creativity in these valued hard edged arenas, or that in fact the arts could be reconsidered as one of these hard edged arenas and taught in terms of factual information that could be measured on tests (the current prevailing and devastating ethic). And while the terms have changed along with educational fashion, the mandate to “sell” the arts as handmaidens to whatever is valued most in education has held sway. Will the arts make your IQ get higher? Yes, yes, listening to Mozart can do that. Will arts learning make you a better leader or someone better equipped to hold down a job? Absolutely; there are habits of learning (like “sticktoitiveness”) that the arts foster. Continue reading »
This is a three-part series that will share the experiences of three Art21 Education staff members (Jessica Hamlin, Joe Fusaro, and Flossie Chua) after spending a year with a group of 16 incredible teachers. Each of us has a unique perspective on the past twelve months and this series will ruminate on what it means to teach with contemporary art, specifically contextualized by our experiences this year working with the Art21 Educators program.
Many folks in the education world are breathing a huge sigh of relief, anticipating a well deserved and much needed summer break. Instead of heading to the beach, here at Art21 we are gearing up for the beginning of another year of Art21 Educators and a new cohort of teachers joining us from around the country. So this seems an important juncture to take stock.
I wanted to put together a collection of anecdotes and moments from the year and describe how they represent, for me, some of the most important ways that contemporary art can change the way we approach education – both in the arts and across disciplines. The work of the teachers in this program goes against the rising tide of standardization and bureaucratization of teaching and learning. In my mind, both of these acts – teaching and learning – can and should be the most magical and creative of acts….
1. I adore questions. I think of them as mini-universes for thinking. Throughout the Art21 Educators program we talk a lot about how ideas, rather than specific skills or products, should drive how and what we teach. Consider the metaphor of curriculum as a vehicle – one we can get inside and drive around in. This car (Honda, Mazerati, Ford—you pick) is an opportunity to travel around and investigate the important issues and events of the past and present – to road trip! And to road trip in that radically self-altering kind of way, to discover what it means to be human—to be an individual, and to be part of a complicated and expansive world. Here is a list of some of my favorite questions from the year:
I wonder what it means when you feel at home somewhere else?
Six years ago I spent a few weeks during the month of July at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s TICA program. The workshops, working lunches, visiting artists, studio space and brand new dorms with huge glass windows looking out on the city was a perfect setting for what I was engaged with at the time- working on a series of figurative drawings that incorporated changing light and translucency. Even to this day I am still expanding the series.
Perhaps what I miss most about those few weeks was the time I spent afterward at the Art Institute of Chicago itself. For days, literally, I spent full afternoons inside the Art Institute’s museum walls drinking in dozens upon dozens of works, especially in the Asian Art and Contemporary Art collections. I sketched, wrote, thought (a lot) and allowed the images before me to fuel my thinking for the upcoming summer and next school year.
It was during that time I noticed something which hadn’t happened to me in any other gallery or museum. I felt at home. I felt accepted in the space and somehow closer to these works (of course, in part, due to the amount of time I gave myself) as an artist and teacher than, say, to works I’d seen many times at the Met. Given the time to look into them I was able to slow down and really see. I think about works like Tosa Mitsuoki’s Autumn Maples with Poem Slips, which I recently discovered online, and am reminded of how those afternoons even played a role influencing an installation I put together for plumgoneperhapsfar years later at the Garnerville Arts Center here in New York.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this…
Summer is coming and it’s the perfect time to discover where else is home. Once you find this place, it will make good sense to slow down and allow it to work on you the way the Art Institute worked on me. As educators, as artists, giving ourselves time and space in places like this feeds us and rejuvenates us.
Yes. Summer is almost here.