Teaching with Contemporary Art

Teachable Moments in 2012

Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce. Image:marysbeagooddogblog.blogspot.com

Before we continue talking about last week’s “Speak About What’s Unspeakable,” I thought it might be good idea to end the year on a constructive note by looking back at some of the most teachable moments- events, exhibits, chance happenings and other opportunities – that made for uncanny entry points in the classroom…

Wayne LaPierre’s ignorant and insensitive remarks one week after the Newtown, Ct. school shooting, where he actually had the nerve to suggest that not only there be armed guards in every American school, but that teachers be armed themselves, became another chance to build on our conversation about gun control and America’s lust for violence. It also made me think of Hawkeye Pierce: “I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns. I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!”. I am currently in the middle of writing a unit of study called “That’s Entertainment?” where students will examine games and films that glorify violence in our society and respond with works of art that question the “entertainment” value of the media explored.

Union-busting legislation in Michigan raised the issue of whether, as the Michigan governor claims, union-busting is “good for workers” (?!). This is one hell of a ripe topic to examine across the curriculum.

The NHL lockout continues to offer us the opportunity to see that greed gets you nowhere. In this case it’s actually pushed the NHL into irrelevance as basketball and football simply get more space in the Sports pages. (Sorry, just had to add this one.)

Recent exhibitions by Mark Bradford, Keltie Ferris and Trenton Doyle Hancock taught us that painting is not only alive and well, but that it’s also being shaped and revisited to explore elements that expand how we see painting. Keltie Ferris, especially, kicked ass in her most recent Mitchell-Innes & Nash show.

Zoe Strauss’ exhibition, “Ten Years” at the Philadelphia Museum was a wonderful opportunity to see how this photographer with little formal training made us slow down and really contemplate the “American working-class experience,” and to convey what she calls “an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life.”

New teacher evaluation systems were launched across the country and it taught, if there was a bright spot at all in this mess of a roll-out, that reexamining our curriculum to clearly state what constitutes learning is a good thing for all of us.

Clint Eastwood talking to a chair at the Republican National Convention taught us that improvisation, for all its merits, is not always a good thing if you don’t actually give a few seconds of thought to what you’re doing on stage.

Janine Antoni’s keynote speech at the National Art Education Association’s annual conference in New York City, on the other hand, taught us to consider how we might teach students to wait, that creativity is NOT linear, how to “trick ourselves” into modes of creation, that “creativity exists outside of consciousness,” and that even marriage is about “sculpting a place in between.” Janine continues to be one of my favorite artists to work with in the series.

Finally, the launch of Art21’s Season 6 taught us that with 100 artists to work with in our Peabody Award-winning documentary series, not to mention New York Close Up, Art21 is one of the first places to investigate when looking to teach about and learn with contemporary art….

Happy New Year to all. May you find inspiration and joy in 2013 and thank you for continuing to read Teaching with Contemporary Art each week!


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