Teaching with Contemporary Art

Straight from the Source

Melanie Pullen-American Revolution Soldier

Melanie Pullen-American Revolution Soldier

New media tools are a rich addition to an art teacher’s toolbox and the Web is overflowing with opportunities to discover new artists and art forms. Here in San Francisco, we are fortunate to be surrounded by a myriad of creative folks. Our public media station, KQED produces two artist documentary series, Spark and Gallery Crawl which, like Art:21 Web Exclusive content, are available for free download as video podcasts from iTunes, where you can edit video podcast clips and compile them into playlists. As you start planning innovative, new curriculum for fall 2009, spend some time exploring the endless possibilities of podcasting.

Invite students to practice self-directed art study and become curators, creating thematic playlists highlighting artwork that speaks to their sensibilities. As they discover new artists on iTunes or ArtBabble.org, students should practice critical viewing skills and consider how they might create their own podcast highlighting an emerging artist from their school or community. What further questions do students have for the artists they “meet” in the videos? How would they conduct an interview? Would they include music or graphics? There are endless new media production tools available to our students today, and it’s entirely possible that they’ll be interested in starting their own artist documentary series.

For a specific example of a thematic playlist, take a look at Melanie Pullen’s interview and soldier-focused photographs in her exhibition Violent Times on Gallery Crawl and compare it with Art:21 Season 2 photographer, Collier Schorr’s series of German youth in uniform. How are Pullen and Schorr’s photographs fundamentally similar, and how do the artists’ intentions differ? How does each artist’s treatment of her subjects differ? Do the photographs seem feminine, masculine, or both? Are there other portraitists or photographers who come to mind when viewing these artists’ work? Who are they? Students might choose to create a playlist of video podcasts based on a theme or genre, and close the playlist with their own piece of media such as a video response or short film that ties in with the selected topic.

As Joe Fusaro and Olivia Gude mentioned in their panel discussion at this year’s NAEA conference, teachers should try making less art with their students and focus on thematic study of contemporary artists, considering their relation to artists throughout history. By exploring renowned and emerging artists online and learning about artists’ intentions straight from the source, students will begin to intuitively make connections with their own art-making practices, and be inspired to experiment with fresh ideas and new media tools.

Kristin Farr is an artist and Project Supervisor for Arts Education at KQED in San Francisco.