Teaching with Contemporary Art

Dog Days and Banking

Marlene Dumas, "Blue Marilyn", 2008

Marlene Dumas, "Blue Marilyn", 2008

Last summer, while working at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, I had the good fortune of being blown away by the Marlene Dumas exhibition, Measuring Your Own Grave, before it traveled to New York. What impressed me about Dumas’ work was the way she handled gestures with sensitivity and very few brush strokes, and at the same time created compositions that were particularly jarring in one way or another- beautiful, strange portraits that often dealt with sexuality and mortality side by side.

After seeing the exhibit for the third or fourth time, I began looking into how Dumas organizes the image banks that inform her work. One of the first pages in the exhibition catalogue features rows of files labeled, “War”, “Jesus”, “The Nude Female”, “Eros”, “Photography”, etc. I then began thinking about how I gather my own references for creating art in and out of the classroom. Sadly, I had to admit that references in both my studio and classroom were loosely organized at best.

Each summer, even before I saw the Dumas exhibit, I try to do a little image banking of my own as I get ready for another school year. The dog days of August are a good time to prepare the variety of visuals we need to convey big ideas and share good quality examples with students in each of the units we will be teaching. Don’t wait for the night before the lesson, as I’ve done too many times over the years, to begin searching for that perfect set of examples to inspire your class. Have fun searching and collecting those images now, before you’re hit with a myriad of other duties related to school. Sock these images away in folders and keep track of Web addresses where online images can be found. As I get better at taking my own advice on this particular topic, I find that I’m sleeping better during the school year and spending a lot less money on coffee.