Teaching with Contemporary Art

Save Us from Ourselves (Making a Mess)

Elizabeth Murray, "Empire", 2001 watercolor, 18" x 7 1/2" x 1 3/4"

Elizabeth Murray, "Empire," 2001 watercolor, 18" x 7 1/2" x 1 3/4"

I’m not very religious, but just the other day I was “given” a prayer that somehow spoke volumes about life, the life of teaching, and the life of artist-educators. Eleanor Roosevelt recited this prayer each night before she went to sleep:

Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find, forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life. Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far off goals. Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength. Deliver us from fretfulness and self-pitying; make us sure of the good we cannot see and of the hidden good in the world. Open our eyes to simple beauty all around us and our hearts to the loveliness men hide from us because we do not try to understand them. Save us from ourselves and show us a vision of the world made new.

Now I’m not sure how religious Eleanor was, but each time I read it, it says something new so I hope you’ll enjoy it over the next week (month? year?) and perhaps pull from the words some of the reasons we’re all here in the first place—we love what art can be; we revel in the new classics; we love investigating possibilities and big questions; we believe every subject is major; we value multiple literacies; we love discovering ways of doing things and not necessarily the way. Somehow, if we are able to share and teach this in the classroom, we might even get to the beginning of spring and feel like we’re in pretty good shape.

Elizabeth Murray once described her process and said,

You’re posing problems for yourself. It’s kind of like a battle of you against you, and you are trying to figure it out. And that’s when it gets painful, when it’s not coming together. And I have no idea how I am going to bring it together. It starts to feel like a mess. Like, I’ll think I have it and I’ll change one color and instead of it being the solution it becomes this big mess.

Teaching about contemporary art and the desire to make contemporary art with others involves enjoying making a mess, actually loving the mess, and seeking even more.