Teaching with Contemporary Art

Burn Baby Burn

Mark Bradford, "Burn Baby Burn", 2002

Mark Bradford, "Burn Baby Burn," 2002

As I was thinking about Art21’s recent visit to the National Art Education Association’s annual conference in Minneapolis, I came across this quote from Season 4 artist, Mark Bradford:

Once I looked out of the hair salon and became interested in the environment around me—and the language of that environment—everything that I had been trying to talk about was already there, speaking and having dialogues. I wanted to engage that material more directly. The conversations I was interested in were about community, fluidity, about a merchant dynamic, and the details that point to a genus of change. The species I use sometimes are racial, sexual, cultural, stereotypical. But the genus I’m always interested in is change.

When I reflect on the quote, it just seems obvious why Mark Bradford was an especially good fit as a keynote speaker, workshop presenter, and panel participant over this past weekend. As an artist and teacher I am intensely interested in the changing “landscape” of art education and so are many, many of the thousands of people who attended this conference. “Doing” art education without considering contemporary artists, materials, and methods is simply clinging to the habitual.

I was encouraged during the conference that the face of NAEA is changing. There were large numbers of young teachers and a contagious energy in the workshops and discussions. The Saturday afternoon workshop at the Walker Art Center, titled Teaching with Objects, Teaching with Film, brought close to 50 educators together from across the country to learn about methods for both teaching in the museum with works of art and in the classroom with video. At least two dozen participants came up to me later that day to say thank you for the work Art21 is doing! And as crowds of people tried squeezing into the late Saturday afternoon panel with Mark Bradford, Olivia Gude, William Crow and myself, I was excited to see how many in the audience truly wanted to hear the conversation we had organized in order to discuss our individual perspectives on process, inspiration, and future possibilities for art education.

During the Art Practice, Teaching Practice panel, we collected a large number of questions from the audience. While time ran out and we were only able to take one question, I’d like to let everyone know that this Teaching with Contemporary Art column will be tackling other questions that were submitted in the coming weeks.

Many thanks to ALL of you for your work and participation. If you were able to attend one of Art21’s events, let’s hear from you! Please post a comment and share your thoughts. If you were not able to attend one or more of the events, we hope to see you at next year’s conference in Baltimore with Season 5 artist, Carrie Mae Weems…


  1. I have been thinking about the idea of “change in the landscape” of art education that you mentioned. As museum educators at the Walker Art Center, we encounter similar opportunities and challenges connecting to the work of contemporary artists. I, too, have noticed how much change is part of how we navigate what we do. That’s because the practice of so many artists today is about flux, evolution, shifting perameters, transformations, and connecting to the world. Being open to change as we encounter the new and innovative in the practice of artists today is both unsettling and stimulating. We are about translating these changing ideas, concepts, and points of view of contemporary artists into authentic teachable moments that connect students to the artists’ work and to their own creativity. This is ultimately what art education should be about. It’s also what Art21 does so well.

  2. Joe Fusaro says:

    Making that dual connection and simultaneously being excited about teaching with these artists makes our work a pleasure!

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