Teaching with Contemporary Art

Visionary Studios: Getting Started

Image: newspaper.li

Anyone who knows me often asks about how I coordinate three jobs. I teach two high school classes and serve as department chair in my school district, work as Art21’s education advisor, and teach a class at NYU in the department of Art and Art Professions. This semester I was thrown a little curveball and asked to teach a completely different class at NYU- School Arts: Issues in Pedagogy and Curriculum (Secondary). The course, an intense fourteen weeks where graduate students explore current questions and topics in secondary art education, also has a component where each student takes part in teaching a Saturday course for high school students. This Saturday program, called Visionary Studios (a title I happen to love), asks New York City high school students to sign up for nine weeks of classes around a chosen theme. So, instead of signing up for extra-curricular classes with titles like “Mixed-Media” or “Ceramics” or “Painting”, students this fall are asked to choose from “The Changing City”, “Under Pressure”, “Transformation” or “Soundscapes”. Instead of offering classes that are media-centric, classes are thematic where teenagers can explore the theme through a variety of approaches over nine weeks. Students in the graduate course not only explore current issues in art education and teaching for social justice, but they also plan units of study and individual lessons for these Saturday classes, as well as team-teach every Saturday morning.

It’s a lot of work.

This Saturday is the first session with our high school students and I am excited for the possibilities that exist within the curricula that has been developed so far. Big, and sometimes challenging questions are driving the themes, such as:

  • How can art be transformative?
  • What role(s) does pressure play in our environment?
  • How does sound shape our daily experience?
  • What makes a city?

Artists already being considered to inspire students include Ai Wei Wei, Allora and Calzadilla, Cindy Sherman, Do-Ho Suh, El Anatsui, Eleanor Antin, Kerry James Marshall, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Mark Bradford, Mike Kelley and Yinka Shonibare, to name just a few.

Going into the first session this weekend, my student teachers will obviously be thinking about how to get off to a good start. After all, these high school students are coming from all over the city to attend classes on Saturday mornings. One doesn’t need a roadmap to realize that you better have some good stuff to share, otherwise you will be left with dwindling enrollment. Students will simply stop coming if the course isn’t exciting and engaging.

So what does getting off to a good start look and sound like in a situation like this (or, for that matter, in most courses)? It involves students coming in, being warmly welcomed and getting to know who is teaching. It involves students getting to know their classmates a bit and why they have chosen to be there. It involves sharing interests and broad goals for the course. It involves talking about which directions the theme can take. Most importantly it involves building community and trust from the start. Once that gets rolling, students can begin to feel comfortable creating quality work that will address the theme.

I am also excited for the start to our Saturday sessions because the student teachers will be developing curriculum with the students vs. having each and every lesson planned out ahead of time. Student teachers will be asking different kinds of questions to explore how these high school students want to investigate the four themes vs. being told how the themes will be approached. They will even be asked to help form the supply lists for each of the courses instead of having a “set” of supplies to work with from the start.

Wish us luck. More to come.



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