Teaching with Contemporary Art

Year Four Art21 Educators | Carl Andersen and Craig Newsom

Last week we introduced Tricia Fitzpatrick and Don Ball, our first program participants from Canada. This week, in the third installment of Art21 Educators introductions, we present Craig Newsom and Carl Andersen! In addition to being educators, Craig and Carl are working artists and have exhibited together. Craig’s current collaborative project, Coalfather Industries, produces short videos that have been screened internationally. Both Craig and Carl described their unique experiences teaching with contemporary art in their classrooms.

Craig has been teaching studio art at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois for the past seven years. Recently, he introduced the work of William Kentridge (Season 5 of Art in the Twenty First Century) as a source of inspiration for his students.

“I like how all of it rises up out of drawing for him. Drawing is the foundation for everything he does and it informs everything. A couple semesters ago, one of my Seminar students really took to Kentridge’s work and began making videos based on his own drawings. One of his videos was eventually screened at an event at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.”


Nine hours north by car, Carl has been teaching Language Arts and English to middle and high school students in Minneapolis, MN for the past twelve years.

Describing how he weaves together the work of contemporary visual artists with themes in literature, Carl told us about his use of the Matthew Ritchie segment in particular:

“I came upon the Matthew Ritchie film in ‘Structures’ (Season Three of Art in the Twenty First Century), around five years ago, first while teaching a unit on Naturalism to an American Literature class and later while teaching Hamlet to AP Literature and Composition students. Ritchie’s thesis of being imprisoned by our universe, one’s given situation, which offers a series of choices in terms of the possibilities offered by a set of limitations is a powerful metaphor for students understanding their own lives while glimpsing Hamlet’s predicament through the same lens. And the notion of having one’s life shaped and somewhat defined by a set of circumstances outside of one’s control—heredity, environment (time and place), socio-economic situation, family life, etc… is something stressed through naturalist writers like Kate Chopin, Stephen Crane, Emile Zola, and revisited by John Steinbeck. I see Ritchie’s work as a compelling investigation of this view, and I was taken with how Ritchie’s drawings-cum-sculptures investigate Hamlet’s paradoxical remark about his and the human condition: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.”

Welcome Craig and Carl!

* This post was written with Dana Helwick, Art21 Educators Intern.