Teaching with Contemporary Art

Word Games

Judy Pfaff- production still

Judy Pfaff- production still

Friends like to pass along quotes because they know I love them. I hang them on my office door, take them to the studio, use them as bookmarks, and read them when I’m taking a break from painting. I even torture my family with them.

Here’s one I received that was given to me at the beginning of the school year (which, by the way, feels like a long time ago already):

All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow. – Grant Wood

Now don’t think I’m completely nuts- there’s a connection here. As we round out the first month or so of a new school year, a quote like Wood’s reminds us all to reach back and get some quiet from time to time in order to pull from the stillness new ideas, patience, a new perspective, or even a chance to soothe some of the daily stress that goes with teaching. Similar to what Wood describes, I find that taking a walk during a lunch break or finding some real quiet during all of the noise and general insanity can do wonders for my teaching, planning, and even my time at home after the day is done. It may not be as effective as milking a cow, but the calm of a slow walk on campus or simply tuning in to the hum of lights in the library can recenter us when we need it. And believe me, we all need it.


  1. Tim Nowakowski says:

    U r not alone, although be careful your quote might be symbolically referencing something else, if u catch my drift. Point well taken re: down time to let the brain sort, what sleep does if u get enough deep sleep. The quote seems in tandem w/ the dehumanizaing (Harper’s article) attention given to Math/Science and Technology (I’m guessing u love that word). The phrase ‘art world’ often never seems to mean K-12 art education included, a disconnect that already adds insult to art ed’s position in the curriculum. As u know, art is viewed as planning time for classroom teachers and a dumping ground for behavior problems, making ‘milking a cow’ all the more important. However, this is where the important stuff is and if u don’t do it, we won’t have the artist’s we often come to love. Your installation piece where the clocks are defunctionalized is brilliant, if a little part of the entropy of unintended consequences. Are you also dealing w/ Music being exalted since it allegedly helps w/ math and of course eventually provides Marching Band members for the sports events? As a parent, I also get the idea that kids should be in front of a computer more often, even though they can’t use a scissors or open a glue bottle or draw a straight line w/ a ruler?

  2. Joe Fusaro says:

    Wow… the other reference didn’t cross my mind… I hope everyone sees it in the way I meant it.
    I also like your connection to the Mark Slouka’s essay in Harpers.
    In our district we are not faced with the Music-Math scenario you describe. We’re fortunate that the community “gets it” when it comes to art education, and I don’t think that teachers see their rooms as dumping grounds, although I know that my elementary teachers would like to see their kids more often rather than seeing the whole school over a five or six-day cycle.
    Glad you liked the installation story. I think I’ll share one more “not so powerful” story soon…

  3. I love the Grant Woods quote. It reminds me how we teach our students not only art, but how to live life. Art really mirrors who we are and how we navigate through this life. I set up systems to examine this with my students, (self grading in front of peers is a good one.) We can tell so much from a a drawing. Fear, false pride, vulnerability, honesty etc. Ideas don’t come with force, but as gifts while milking the cow or driving the car or?

    Joe The 2009 Surdna Fellows are convening in NYC on Oct. 2nd.
    Any other Surdna people out there?

  4. Nate Morgan says:

    Excellent suggestion!!!

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