Teaching with Contemporary Art

Playing with Contemporary Art

Jessica Stockholder, "Red Tube + Two", 2005

Jessica Stockholder, "Red Tube + Two", 2005

Season 3 artist Jessica Stockholder states, “What kids do with play is a kind of learning and thinking. It is a kind of learning and thinking that doesn’t have a predetermined end. I think I am involved in that.” Stockholder has spent a career exploring how disparate materials go together. After viewing the segment on Stockholder, the first graders in my art class got to explore their own unique sensibilities and create a sculpture based on intuitive thinking.

Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, defines play as “a thing of beauty best appreciated by experiencing it.” This is what makes watching first graders explore the work and ideas of Jessica Stockholder so enjoyable. Just by setting out various materials (rubber bands, pipe-cleaners, tape, popsicle sticks, paperclips, straws), students can cheerfully and expressively create works while exploring the creative process. This type of innovation and creativity is what artists and art educators have been involved with for a long time It’s also the type of thinking that everyone from Daniel Pink to Apple to the Partnership for 21st Century Thinking Skills is talking about.

In a reflective class discussion upon completion of the sculptures, we examined what makes creating these works of art different from other ways of making sculpture. Most students responded to having fun while making the sculptures (6 and 7 year-olds tend to respond like this to most projects). Some responded excitedly about how they could easily take their sculpture apart and make something different. One student even pointed out how her sculpture included sound and motion. The idea of Play allows students to make artwork without the pressure of making Art.

Nate Morgan is an art teacher at the Hillside School in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and also serves on the Art21 National Education Advisory Council.

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