Teaching with Contemporary Art

Questions, Questions, Questions

Art21 season 6 educator guide

Art21 season 6 educator guide

During a recent conversation I was asked, “Where do you come up with the questions featured in the Art21 educator guides?” I didn’t know what to say. The “Before Viewing” questions, which promote active viewing of Art21 films, are a combination of long conversations and focused emphasis on particular thematic strands. Collectively, we try to come up with questions that will not only promote discussion about contemporary art in the classroom but also stimulate thinking about the big questions featured in the segments. For example, if you simply look through the most recent seasons, you’ll come across questions such as:

  • What are the qualities or characteristics that define something as art, versus something that is not art? How and why are these definitions established? (John Baldessari, season 5).
  • How are rituals created and how do they change over time? (Pierre Huyghe, season 4).
  • What are the differences and similarities between making a portrait and a landscape? (Catherine Opie, season 6).
  • How can the process of drawing and painting, like sculpture, be both additive and subtractive? (Julie Mehretu, season 5).
  • What is the role of the viewer of an artwork, or the reader of literature? How are these roles similar and/or different? (Tabaimo, season 6).

If you are seeking a mountain of good questions and ideas to give you a boost in the classroom, Art21 educator guides are a great place to start, and they are available as FREE downloads here. You are also sure to enjoy the way Before, During and After viewing questions make the process of sharing Art21 films more productive. Afterward, “Create” suggestions allow for students to make material sense of their learning, as well as articulate how viewing Art21 films changes their approach to making art.

There are lots of phenomenal reasons for working with Art21 teaching materials. Art21 educator guides can make teaching with contemporary art more enjoyable for teachers and students alike.



  1. Liz says:

    As you well know, I’ve been using the educator guides for a few years now, including some of your driving questions, but your approach to writing the EQs gave me an idea. I’ve been collecting a ton of content for my curriculum but have yet to process it.

    Usually, when developing a unit, I have a key text in mind along with some EQS raised by that text, and then I pick other works that complement those questions. But my classes this year don’t allow for large novel studies, and instead we look at a variety of short stories, poetry, news articles, visual art, songs, and the like. When I sit down next week to start developing curriculum, I’m going to read through my content and write EQs as I go. I think this will help to broaden my EQs and unit scope, rather than having it so centered on a single work like I’ve been doing.

    Thanks for the tip!

  2. Pingback: Week in Review | 01.26.13 | Art21 Blog

  3. Joe Fusaro says:

    Thanks, Liz! Getting into the questions that connect to broad themes in the unit help me revisit the ideas and reasons for teaching the unit in the first place. When I keep my questions too focused on a single work, or set of works, as you said, I feel like we’re only getting deeper in one respect vs in a comprehensive way. So happy this was a helpful post for you. See you in Michigan soon!

Leave a Comment