Teaching with Contemporary Art

Another Kick in the Pants

Kiki Smith, "Rapture" 2001, Courtesy PaceWildenstein

Kiki Smith, "Rapture" 2001, Courtesy PaceWildenstein

I use Art21 for a kick in the pants from time to time, whether it’s to inspire my teaching by watching Carrie Mae Weems or to give my studio practice a jolt by listening to Kiki Smith talk about her process for making works of art. I mean, everyone needs an occasional kick in the pants, don’t you think?

At the beginning of this year I was introduced to TED.com, and while it’s not devoted to contemporary art the way Art21 is, it has become another way of sending my thinking and planning in fantastic directions. If you are familiar with TED.com, you’ve probably had a few jaw-dropping experiences. If not, then let me share with you TED’s introduction and mission statement:

TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then our scope has become ever broader…. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other. This site, launched April 2007, is an ever-evolving work in progress.

Since becoming a full-fledged TED fan, I have shared segments with colleagues, students, family and even complete strangers that I’ve met at conferences. Recently, I was pleased to offer Sir Ken Robinson’s lecture as an introduction to a meeting with my K-12 art teachers, asking everyone to think about what “creativity” really means and how we cultivate it.

TED gives all of us the chance to spend time with great thinkers, artists, scientists, writers, teachers and performers- from Rory Sutherland to Jane Goodall to Theo Jansen to Vik Muniz. The parallel with Art21 is that the videos are manageable in terms of length. You don’t need to set aside 90 minutes to watch a TED video since most are between 5 and 25 minutes long. You have just enough time to be blown away (or not), to think about it, and then kick yourself in the pants to do something with what you’ve just learned, even if it’s simply an idea worth spreading.