Teaching with Contemporary Art

It Takes Two…. or Two Hundred


Production still from "Art:21" Season 4 segment featuring Mark Dion

Recently I saw the Mark Dion segment from Season 4 for the sixth or seventh time. I love the Dion segment. I was sharing the video with teachers in a small, informal workshop introducing ways of working with Art21 in the classroom. During the discussion, we talked about the fact that many, many contemporary artists rely on others, sometimes hundreds of others, in order to realize their work. On my way home that evening, I started thinking about the number of artists in Season 4 alone that rely on other people to make their work ready for public viewing and/or consumption. The total number? Fifteen out of the seventeen, at least, rely on others to bring their work full circle into the gallery, museum, or exhibition space.

I mention this fact because it came up in discussion more than once over the past week that the days of artists working alone in a studio, tortured with their ideas and feverishly slaving over canvas, are slowly coming to an end. Artists are collaborating more and more, and using teams to realize ideas that would be impossible to complete on their own.

In a few days, I plan to visit Allora and Calzadilla’s new exhibit/performance at Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea. The idea to cut a hole in a grand piano and have someone stand inside and play is one thing. Actually making it happen requires more than two artists with a beautiful idea. And without musicians (able to play the keyboard upside down, no less) performing on a regular schedule, their work would be a series of still photos and cheesy background music.

Students in art classes today are most often engaged with working on projects alone. Why do so many teachers resist collaboration? Is it solely the organizational challenges? We’re certainly aware of the benefits it offers to both students and ourselves. How can we overcome the fear of planning collaborative work to more realistically reflect contemporary practice?