Teaching with Contemporary Art

Long Walk

Richard Long, “A LIne Made By Walking”, 1967. Image: nationalgalleries.org

I came across a photograph of Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking this past weekend and was especially drawn to it in the midst of a late spring swelter. Rather than a more standard suggestion for educators or a possibility for the classroom this week, I wanted to share some recent thoughts about this particular work and perhaps use the time (in the season of developing SLOs) as an opportunity to reflect on its broader connections to teaching.

First, a few connected (and disconnected) notes…

  • A Line Made By Walking exists as a photograph of an act. Richard Long has done us all a big favor by framing the act and making visible what many people would have never seen. His photograph serves to focus the viewer.
  • Long is interested in simple lines and shapes- straight lines, circles, spirals- because they are timeless and belong equally to all moments in history. The work is timeless because it can be anywhere. Any time.
  • When I share this work with students, many often respond by asking if it’s an Andy Goldsworthy piece. Andy Goldsworthy was eleven when Richard Long created A Line Made By Walking in 1967.

I see Long’s A Line Made By Walking as a metaphor for teaching. He makes visible his process, which is quietly relentless. He creates order through a meditative act. He provides focus. He makes us see something quite simple in a completely new way through transforming the process of making a line.

Can we do this for our students? Can we teach and emphasize process more often than product? Can we create an order and the conditions for learning through experimentation? Simultaneously, can we provide focus? Can we offer alternatives to the habitual through our teaching? Can we help students to even perhaps make work that is… timeless?