Teaching with Contemporary Art

Bringing Them Back Home

Vija Celmins, "Night Sky #10," 1994-1995 Oil on linen mounted on wood, 31 x 37 1/2 inches Private collection Photo by John Bigelow Taylor  Courtesy McKee Gallery, New York

Vija Celmins. “Night Sky #10,” 1994-1995. Oil on linen mounted on wood. 31 x 37 1/2 inches. Courtesy McKee Gallery, New York.

This week, it’s my pleasure to host a group of alumni coming back to the high school in order to help with our second annual Portfolio Day—an in-school trip to the art studio for the purpose of seven straight hours of art making. All students who participate in Portfolio Day are completing two separate portfolios for our advanced Studio Art class and this day is a chance to both add significantly to the portfolios and make art for an extended period of time—usually for a much longer stretch than any of my students have ever spent in one sitting (or standing).

Having a alumni join us in order to give feedback and help during the course of the day allows for students to interact with graduates who are either in college, in the field, or even still struggling to find their way after high school. All offer multiple opportunities to share how engaging with contemporary art—seeing shows, making art, writing about ideas and projects, etc.—broadens the possibilities for reflecting and responding to the world around us.


Maybe one of the best parts about inviting alumni to present workshops, attend Portfolio Days, and gather at special school events involves the process of seeing these young artists (not to mention personalities) develop. While it may be easier to “keep in touch” via social media after our students move on to other schools and places and phases in their lives, there is no substitute for the act of seeing and working with alumni face-to-face in order to bring back home some of the learning and street wisdom that accumulates.

Who are some of your standout students from previous years? Where are they today?