Teaching with Contemporary Art

Mining Ideas Part 2: Using Sketchbooks to Help Teach About Contemporary Art


Last week’s Teaching With Contemporary Art column, Mining Ideas, had some very interesting thoughts and perspectives submitted by Jennifer, Eric, and Sue. I want to continue the dialogue this week by suggesting two ways educators can use sketchbooks to influence teaching with and about contemporary art.

During our time working with Contemporary Art Start at MoCA, Los Angeles this past August, we asked participants to use their sketchbook to plan an installation or site-specific work inspired by a big idea after viewing and discussing Art:21 segments featuring Alfredo Jaar and Allora & Calzadilla. Participants were then encouraged, after seeing a variety of sketchbook samples, to literally think big and label their plans with specific media, effects, scale, site details, lighting, sound effects, etc. Many participants mentioned not having the chance to think and plan in this way before, but it was clear that there was a certain freedom in utilizing the sketchbook to plan for something that in the end may be too large (or expensive, or delicate) to actually build. What was important was the fact that participants thought through their idea and committed that idea to paper.

A second idea for utilizing sketchbooks in the classroom involves teaching students to use them while they view films about art and artists. Students can use their sketchbooks to jot down quotes, create questions for the artist, write a short reaction to a specific work, or even begin “working off” a particular artist to begin new ideas for themselves. Any of these starting points (and generating starting points can be one of the greatest uses for a sketchbook) can lead to thoughtful and exciting finished works of art.

Please feel free to share some specific ways you use sketchbooks in the classroom to influence teaching and learning by posting a comment below.


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