Teaching with Contemporary Art

Rolling Up Our Sleeves


Since this column gets posted on Wednesdays (and believe me, I didn’t arrange it this way), it’s been my pleasure to contribute posts directly after the November 4th election (see Hope and Change) and today, after the thrilling inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President.

Throughout President Obama’s speech, I kept thinking about ways we can teach students about being truly productive citizens- citizens that contribute, think critically, offer service, and teach others. It got me thinking about artists in the Art21 series who can help teach about these things in a variety of ways….

First, Krzysztof Wodiczko can certainly teach students that speaking out can not only be something done in a newspaper editorial or part of a speech, but it can also be a part of the art we create. Wodiczko helps voices literally project themselves and allows viewpoints to be shared in ways few artists approach.

Nancy Spero can teach about protest and history, and how protest can take many forms- somehow avoiding violence yet simultaneously picturing it.

Jenny Holzer offers students the opportunity to think critically about the text she uses in her work and then relate that to what it means to be a “good” or “productive” citizen. Her recent work with declassified documents can open up meaningful discussion about what citizens should know and be informed of.

Mark Dion can teach students about teaching others through art. Whether it’s work inspired by literature or installation inspired by natural elements, Dion shares with students that the work of contemporary artists can educate and inspire discussion about things such as sustainability, recycling, and preserving natural resources.

Lastly, I want to mention Robert Adams‘ photography. Through his quiet and intense pictures, students can reflect on the things we must do to save and reclaim the parts of our landscape that are devastated by greed and carelessness.

Have you used, or are planning to use Art21 segments and resources as part of your post-inauguration lessons? Please share them with us!

Pictured above: Jenny Holzer, “Benches”, 1989
Installation: Dorris C. Freedman Plaza New York, New York.