Teaching with Contemporary Art

What More Can We Ask For?

Judy Pfaff, "Buckets of Rain" 2006 Courtesy the artist and Ameringer and Yohe Fine Art

Students in my Advanced Placement class recently began a work for their portfolio inspired by the theme of loss. We spent a few days at the beginning of the unit to define loss from many perspectives and explore ways artists have interpreted loss visually while sharing works by Alice Neel, Janine Antoni, Jim Dine, Judy Pfaff and Kiki Smith, to name a few. We explored how different people experience loss in different ways, as well as how loss can involve a range of emotions that include sadness, anxiety, surprise and even confusion.

As students begin forming their ideas and creating initial designs for this assignment, I have already begun to see fantastic results from sharing a wide variety of art and artists to start the unit. Students have started works that range from losing a loved one to losing a first tooth. Others are beginning works that focus on loss of innocence and “losing our way”.

I’m continually surprised at how broadly defining a theme or subject can serve as a launch pad for helping students avoid clichés. Not a single work or idea so far has me saying, “I’ve seen that before.” When students get to marry great ideas with strong technique and design, we’re always moving in the right direction….. and what more can we ask for?


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