Sunday, February 26, 2012

Coming Face to Face with Contemporary Art

As I prepare for the NAEA convention in New York City, the experiences from my last visit come flooding back: I was a 2011 participant in the Art:21 Educator Institute. The week-long journey in contemporary art, contemporary themes and contemporary artists was eye-opening. Previous examples of good art "teaching" were firmly entrenched in DBAE approaches--a focus on an artist, a style, a technique and more importantly, the elements of art and the principles of design. We talked the "talk" of art educators across the country saying how important it was to focus on line, color and the use of space. Meanwhile, in contemporary art education circles, a contrasting dialogue about the rules of art making was developing: a product of constructivist theory. As we build on our experiences, we develop new ways of communicating them to others. What ideas will our students generate and how will they express them?

In preparation for the institute, we were asked to read Olivia Gude's article, Postmodern Principles, featured in Art Education, January 2004, and here published on her Digication portfolio. We then just recently had the opportunity to visit with Gude as part of our online sessions, and this is where I heard about her work entitled Principles of Possibility. I was excited to read her article, as it dealt in part with raising the bar for individual student's connection to their own works of art. While I maintain that a broad understanding of art history, that includes artists from a variety of periods and styles, where students can also develop beginning technical skill in a variety of media is important (especially at the formative elementary level) I see her point. She refers to Terry Barrett's "Principles of Interpretation" as an excellent framework by which teachers:

can organize instruction and students can search for meaning within artworks. Principles such as "Artworks are always about something" and "Artworks attract multiple interpretations and it is not the goal of interpretation to arrive at a single, grand, unified, composite interpretation" focus students on making thoughtful evidence-based investigations of the meanings generated by visual images, including theartworks they themselves make. (Barrett,2003, p. 198)

Engaging students in the conversation about themes and the big ideas behind art encourages them to be involved with their artwork. The understanding of how the work evolved would be purely superficial if the whole discussion dealt only with the elements of art, like line and color, that were used to create the work. Why did the artist create? What story is the artist trying to tell? What point is the artist trying to make about what is happening in society? What is the reason for the work? What does it mean?

This year, with my integration of Art:21 materials as well as other resources, I am focusing on the big idea of "Art is relationships." In coming face to face with contemporary art, we reason with ourselves to understand the meaning behind the artist's work. What does it connect to and why? A lot of our work in the studio evolves through a collaborative engagement in the medium. We are all part of the work: we learn from each other, we share our ideas, we grow and develop as artists. Oliver Herring's art work: TASK, is decidedly the best example of "Art is relationships." that I can find. I am excited to participate in the NAEA Task Party, as it will take TASK to a whole new level. Gude writes: "Artists create social spaces -temporary and permanent opportunities for people to connect and interact." TASK is an artistic experience in creating an evolving, creative, interactive social space.

Have you ever been a part of TASK? What was your experience?

Photo taken at Oliver Herring's studio with "Gloria" by Oliver Herring. Summer 2011


  1. Love your blog! I nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award!

    1. Wow--thanks Theresa, I will check it out!
      Can't wait to see you in Ft. Worth in 2013!

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