Teaching with Contemporary Art

Time to Talk

Illustration by Adam Towers, Nyack High School alumni

Illustration by Adam Towers, Nyack High School

Art classrooms are mired in production. Too often the drive to complete work speeds right past the formation of a high quality idea or composition. How often have we ourselves seen or experienced a potential work of art get dumped because of poor planning, hasty decisions, or a fixation on completing vs. creating a work of art?

More and more time in my own classroom, especially in the past few years, has been spent cultivating ideas with students. Discussions and brainstorming in different ways can sometimes take a few days, and while my kids might accuse me of brain brutality from time to time because they are “thinking too much” instead of “just doing it”, the quality of ideas and slower pace to the planning has led to better work. Instead of work that looks like a project, more often students are creating work that looks like, well, work.

The thinking that goes into planning, sketching, talking through and articulating ideas is time well spent, even if it’s a little painful for students. Things like partner discussions, in-progress critiques and brainstorming multiple solutions to a given problem can yield so much more than a rush to “get an idea” and “put it on the paper”. When students are asked to create five different sketches for an assignment, then discuss those sketches with classmates and make a decision about which one to pursue, it’s always especially satisfying to hear many students choose one of the last sketches they created, or one sketch that changed because of the discussion itself.

Contemporary artists can teach our students a lot about the power of conversation, multiple perspectives, and exploring different possibilities in order to create great works of art. One look at artists like Allora and Calzadilla, Ann Hamilton, Oliver Herring or Doris Salcedo, for starters, can illustrate this in full color.