Getting Artfully Attuned to Higher Learning

Preface: I had started writing this post prior to the great wave of uncertainty and major changes in educational policy, teaching and learning due to the coronavirus. In light of educators, education administrators and students adapting to the new routines of remote learning (see: Art Education in an Age of Social Distancing), it has become clear that some facets of prior educational models are worth assessing when schools reopen their physical classrooms. For example, many standardized tests have been cancelled. Do we need them going forward? Can something else be implemented as a more beneficial and engaging form of student assessment and reflecting? Perhaps some kind of cumulative learning project with a strong focus on independent and collaborative research and activity? The following post takes a look at some ideas and methods that could be incorporated into educational environments in order to make learning more purposeful and interconnected with our experiential realities.


For artists and educators, being a cog in the traditional education system is the status quo. We are typically valued upon the level of formal academic training we receive in collage and university programs and the degrees that we are awarded. It is difficult to teach in schools, curate in museums or exhibit in major galleries without an M.A./M.F.A. at the very least. Whether an employer states it in the job description or not, it is largely expected that their candidates possess an advanced degree from an accredited institution.

As someone whose career narrative applies to much of the aforementioned criteria (no PhD, although it has been strongly considered), I have often pondered the value of traditional schooling. It has been a productive and beneficial experience for me, but I understand and have witnessed that the model doesn’t work for everyone. The option to contribute time, energy and finances to attend four to eight years of school is not a universal truth. There are plenty of qualified and passionate people who would make great contributors to the fields of art and education, but are relegated to the sidelines and ignored, because they can’t afford to ‘play the game.’ In addition to the amount of time and money spent on college degrees, we are also expected to intern at institutions, schools and galleries, for little or no compensation. This internship to employment pipeline is detrimental to individuals with economic hardships.

Does the conventional educational system actually make us better at our jobs or more qualified than others with similar skills and interests but who have less traditional schooling? Does the traditional paradigm of higher education inspire lifelong learning (or is it just a means to reach a professional plateau)? Does it enhance our happiness and well-being to have an M.F.A. instead of a B.F.A, or a PhD rather than an M.F.A? These are questions that overwhelm anyone who has considered them. From an arts and educational standpoint, we are told about the benefits of schooling and how it can increase our professional development and standing. This is somewhat true (having a Master’s allows for more diverse teaching opportunities), but it is a myth that better paying jobs always follow a higher degree. Adjunct professors, for example, have advanced degrees, but suffer from poor compensation and very little job security while teaching in for-profit Universities and colleges.

The issue regarding making higher education more holistic and equitable is a necessary element in fixing the broken parts of our society.  We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but there are many significant changes that should be taken to ensure that everyone (who wants to) can afford to benefit from earning their degrees. In late-January, I attended a workshop organized by the art and pedagogical collective BFAMFAPhD. Two of BFAMFAPhD’s core members, Caroline Woolard and Susan Jahoda, coached a group of educators and artists on how we can make our classrooms contemplative, collaborative and purposeful. They recently published an interactive multidisciplinary pedagogical guide called Making and Being, which provides teaching strategies that they have adapted to a wide range of learning environments. Making and Being is book, a series of videos, a deck of cards and an interactive website with resources that can be downloaded for free. The activities that we embarked on as a group reflected an overview of the Making and Being curriculum.

We started the afternoon with an attunement session with Susan leading us through a somatic process, where we focused our consciousness throughout the space, in order become emotionally, cognitively and socially aware of ourselves, each other and the space we shared. We envisioned ourselves as a rhizome, with each of our core stems sending out roots and sprouts that connect and support one another.  This is a great activity to perform in any environment where people assemble together as a unit (classrooms, offices, public parks etc.), as it sets the tone for the rest of the period. The steps for enacting the practice of attunement is as follows, a facilitator guides the group through the preceding steps:

“1. Stand in a circle. Feet hip width apart. Keep your knees soft. Close your eyes.

2. Inhale deeply through your nose. Hold your breath for a count of four, and then exhale slowly through your mouth, to a count of eight.

3. Breathing normally, become aware of the connection between your feet and the floor, the earth beneath you.

4. Gently correct your posture and slowly lift your chin so that the top of your head feels energetically connected to the sky. Sense that connection.

5. Relax your forehead, relax your eyes, your jaw, your ears. Relax the muscles at the back of your neck.

6. Inhale, and stretch your arms over your head. On the exhale, lower your arms to your side.

7. Continue breathing normally. If you are right-handed, place your right hand approximately two inches just below your navel. If you are left-handed, place your left hand approximately two inches below your navel. Spread your fingers. This part of your body is where 72,000 nerve endings come together and where your physical and emotional bodies meet.

8. Visualize your navel as a root that travels up your spine to the top of your head and as a root that travels down your legs into your feet. Hold that image.

9. Bring your attention to the place of contact between your hand and the center of your body beneath it. Inhale deeply through your nose, and hold your breath for a count of four. Exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of eight. Do this once more. Inhale deeply through your nose, and hold your breath for a count of four. Exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of eight” (Jahoda and Woolard, 2019).

Following the attunement session, we discussed, shared and reflected upon our sense of belonging within a shared learning space. We learned more about each other through active listening exercises and asset mapping. The latter activity is a form of altering the political economy, by developing a rhizomatic system of bartering. We each jotted down one thing that we could offer the community (our group) and one thing that we were looking for. Within a classroom environment, this system of asset mapping could be a periodic action. Students and faculty could check in on each other’s needs and ensure that everyone is both personally and academically considered and cared for.

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Caroline Woolard, Statements, 2013-2014, plexiglass, plaque, hardware, 11” x 23” x 1”. Courtesy of the artist.

BFAMFAPhD presents us with a good alternative art educational model that focuses on interpersonal and empathetic making, presenting and reflecting. Instead of conditioning artists to fulfill lofty and unobtainable goals in an economy that exploits their labor (and puts them in debt), educational settings have the opportunity to become thriving centers for activism and the democratic transfer of ideas, skills and support. Caroline Woolard sums up the need for this tangible transition in a statement about her plexiglass series of work called Statements (2013-2014):

“To avoid a century of creative debtors who owe $120,000 in student loans for art degrees, here is a framework for change: 1) raise consciousness together, 2) resist and reform bad systems, 3) support spaces of hope, and 4) create options for cooperation.

1. RAISE CONSCIOUSNESS: Adjunct Project (adjuncts), Carrot Workers (interns), How’s my Dealing (gallerists), Guerrilla Girls (women), LittleSis (power elites), and Arts and Labor (visual artists).

2. RESIST and REFORM, BAD SYSTEMS: StrikeDebt, ask for a living WAGE, Refuse to participate, or occupy your school.

3. SUPPORT SPACES OF HOPE: Attend free and low cost art schools and alternative institutions, radical histories of land reform and media making, gardening in empty lotscommunity-control of land, and coalitions of worker cooperatives and solidarity economy initiatives, and place-based organizing for cultural policy.

4. CREATE OPTIONS FOR COOPERATION: barter, share your work in the commons, give your work away by adoption, create a rotating savings fund or pool funds to distribute, and join a collective or group.” Caroline Woolard’s statement on her series Statements.

The art world doesn’t need to find the next Picasso, it needs to shift its focus to interdisciplinary and socially engaged practices, and also be committed to supporting diversity through equitable and justice driven methods. A more inclusive field of artists means that more ideas are presented within the collective culture. During their formal education, artists should be prompted to break out of the introspective practices of studio art training and develop social and cognitive skills that can lead to a fulfilling life as participants in multidisciplinary endeavors. Finding novel ways to connect emotionally and lend creative occupational support is blatantly necessary in unprecedented times of global quarantining and social distancing. When we endure this current hardship, it will be in large part a result of us developing a sustainable framework where we harness the skills we possess in ways that have an impact on the community around us.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Jahoda, Susan and Woolard, Caroline. 2019. Making and Being: a Guide to Embodiment, Collaboration and Circulation in the Visual Arts, Pioneer Works: New York.

Simon, Nina. “How Can I Contribute? Four Steps I’m Taking to Figure it Out.” Art Museum Teaching, 29 March 2020. https://artmuseumteaching.com/2020/03/29/how-can-i-contribute-four-steps-im-taking-to-figure-it-out/

 

Social Distance Learning – Resources, Materials and Lesson Plans

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Catherine Wagner, Naval Postgraduate School, Metallurgical Classroom, Monterey, CA, from the series American Classroom, 1986, Gelatin silver print.

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I have setup a new page that will continually be updated with a list of resources for making, viewing, presenting and responding to art remotely. Included as a special feature, is a Google Document I created with lesson plans, materials and ideas for educators and home-school teachers to utilize with their students in remote settings.

This page is an extension of a recently published post called Art Education in an Age of Social Distancing, which includes examples of how art education can be effectively implemented while students and teachers are outside of their classrooms.

 

Children’s Games

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Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #12, 2012. Courtesy of the artist on Vimeo

Francis Alÿs’ immersive eighteen screen video installation, Children’s Games (1999-prsent), is an exceptional example of art as an uplifting expression of the human condition, specifically in relationship to our social, emotional and cognitive development.

Children’s Games conveys how play is a consistent universal human element across disparate geopolitical environments. To create Children’s Games, Alÿs traveled the globe to film scenes of children engaging in unfettered play. Each segment in the video is from a unique location in the world, however, the games are largely archetypal and should be familiar to nearly everyone, like musical chairs (Children’s Game #12) and rock, paper scissors (Children’s Game #14). The common thread between all of the videos is the artful manner in which the children imaginatively activate routine objects (like rocks, coins and mirrors) and embark on a whimsical collaboration with their peers and the surrounding natural and synthetic settings. The scale, composition and symbolism of Children’s Games makes an immediate impact on the viewer entering the exhibition space (most recently on view at Contemporary Art Museum of Montréal/MAC).

Children’s Games use of visual and auditory signifiers heightens our senses and prompts us to personally respond by reflecting upon how explorations and discoveries are transformed into insightful and informed meanings. The artwork implores us to bring our own experiences and cultural backgrounds into the interpretation and analysis of the piece. Familiar sounds within each video, such as the chirping of birds, shuffling of feet, whoosh of wind, smack of a ball and laughter, are all sensory qualities that have common meaning and significance in regards to constructing playful memories.

In his art, Alÿs frequently examines serious sociopolitical, economic and environmental turmoil by employing whimsy and cautious optimism. This is exemplified through the children of the world in Children’s Games, who utilize play to transcend the grim realities that exist within many of their communities. In times of intense worldwide disruption, whether due to politics or pandemics, it is important to retain an audacity of hope and exhibit empathetic connectivity with others. Serious problems do not necessarily have to be met with solemn and firm reactions. It might sometimes be helpful to apply the invaluable explorations, discoveries and insights inspired by play to address certain issues that do not always have a simple solution. Play gives us agency to construct sincere social, emotional and constructive experiences. When imagination is liberally applied to daily life, we start to realize that materials are everywhere and compelling subject matter is simply dependent upon our playful and artful interaction with each other and the environment.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Bélair, Suzanne. “Children’s Games Exhibition by Francis Alÿs.” Enviroart. 26 Dec. 2019.  https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/2305212/posts/2067

Elkind, David. 2017. The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally. Boston: Da Capo Lifelong Books. 

Gray, Peter. “The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents.”  American Journal of Play, v3 n4 p443-463 Spr 2011.

Londoño, María Wills and Johnson Maude.  “Francis Alÿs: Children’s Games.” Magazine of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, vol. 30, no. 2, Fall 2019. pp. 4-5.

Zucker, Adam. “Learning Through Play, Playing Through Art.” Artfully Learning, 10 Aug. 2018. https://theartsandeducation.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/learning-through-play-playing-through-art/

 

Art Education in an Age of Social Distancing

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Art critic Andrew Russeth (@AndrewRusseth) has been making astute connections between contemporary artworks and the current sociocultural situation on Twitter. The image is from a performative activation of Franz Erhard Walther’s Werksatz (Workset) 2008.

By its very nature, engaging in art, whether making, teaching, viewing or discussing, is a social and embodied action. Therefore, in the wake of numerous art museums and schools temporarily shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many professionals are largely left in uncharted territory as to how they can maintain their work in light of significant disruptions to their everyday practices.

Thankfully, the World Wide Web is replete with resources and peer support groups full of experiential learners who are all going through this together. Below are some resources that should be helpful for a wide range of art educators who are faced with the daunting task of transforming a highly interpersonal and hands-on pedagogy into an online curriculum.  Since online teaching is not often taught in traditional art educational programs, it is necessary to learn from the experiences of others who have a prior history and acumen for online pedagogy.

The first resource I would like to share with you is a publication by two academic technology specialists called “Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption.” This guidebook from Jenae Cohn and Beth Seltzer, is intended to provide educators with tools and methodologies for harnessing virtual resources so that they can transform and scaffold their traditional classroom experience within a thriving online environment. The next resource is a great example of an online platform called Art Prof, which makes the transfer of art education an equal and equitable experience.

Art Prof  has specifically been developed for artists and educators to interact remotely on a global scale. Founded by seasoned artists and educators, Art Prof features video tutorials for students to learn technique and skill building, as well as live critique sessions, where students are mentored by a team of experienced art teachers. In fulfilling their mission of “removing barriers that exist due to the cost of higher ed & private classes,” the site is completely free. Below is a link to a YouTube video by Art Prof’s co-founder, Clara Lieu, providing five examples of effective methods for teaching studio art online:

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Social media platforms are being utilized by educators as a technology driven way of facilitating the creation and sharing of ideas, career interests and other forms of expression through virtual communities and networks (see: Obar and Wildman, 2015). The premise of the Facebook group “How the hell do we do this? Teaching Visual Art Online” is simple. It consists of “a bunch of Art Educators trying to make their way through teaching their disciplines online through a pandemic!” Upon joining the group, you will be able to write and read posts from colleagues in the field of art education who are seeking and finding ways to successfully teach their primary, secondary and higher education students remotely.

Individual artists like Allie Olson have also taken to social media in order to provide accessible and engaging content for learners who are stuck at home. Olson, a visual artist who lost her restaurant job due to the pandemic, started Allieville, a series of daily web-based participatory learning videos for young kids. Allie makes learning fun and developmentally appropriate, through a unique blend of somatic and social and emotional learning.

As any of my readers know, I am a firm believer that the arts have a significant and transformative impact on living, learning and loving. However, artistic engagement shouldn’t come at the price of putting the community at risk. I strongly agree with the decisions that numerous museums, galleries and schools have made to close temporarily, in order to deal with the growing health crisis (as a consolation, you can still visit some of these art institutions virtually). As you have hopefully seen via the aforementioned resources, there are many ways to engage in being artful while practicing social distancing. Ultimately these methods should be learned and developed experientially, and alongside individuals who have prior knowledge and experience being artfully remote and coaching others to do so as well.

Above all else, please practice self-care and be empathetic and aware of the needs of those in your community who are struggling and are more vulnerable than you. Be well and be kind. Help out in any way that you can. Even in practicing social distancing, we can draw ourselves close to each other and meaningfully persevere as local and global communities (as seen in various heartwarming videos of quarantined Italian citizens engaging in collaborative creative activities).


Note: I have setup a page that will continually be updated with a list of resources for making, viewing, presenting and responding to art remotely. Included, is a Google Document I created with lesson plans, materials and ideas for educators and home-school teachers to utilize with their students in remote settings. 


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Cohn, Jenea and Seltzer, Beth. “Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption.” Accessed 12 March 2020 https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ccsudB2vwZ_GJYoKlFzGbtnmftGcXwCIwxzf-jkkoCU/preview?fbclid=IwAR3gncmQOKP2ET_XrdzuLrzRuTSZerl5TxY1oc-6t2OvJ5jsAogMSINpxnE#heading=h.npxreacymcxf

Obar, Jonathan A.; Wildman, Steve. “Social media definition and the governance challenge: An introduction to the special issue”. Telecommunications Policy. 39 (9), 2015. pp. 745–750.

Feminist Art Education

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Melissa Leaym-Fernandez and students from Holmes STEM Academy, Flint, Michigan, To Honor Our Mothers. © 2018 The Elephantworks Studio/Melissa Leaym-Fernandez

Judy Chicago is a contemporary pioneer of feminist art and art education. In both her practices as an artist and educator, Chicago focuses on empowering the voices and artful contributions of women in cultural and pedagogical environments. Her most recognized work, The Dinner Party (1974-1979), is an installation that re-presents women throughout time and place, in a manner that disrupts the patriarchal narrative of history. The Dinner Party is aesthetically striking in its monumental size (576 × 576 in/1463 × 1463 cm) and for its fanciful use of craft materials that reference ceramics and weaving, which have a traditional perspective of embodying gender stereotypes. Overall, 1,038 women throughout ancient, modern and contemporary history, are given a seat at the table and accompanying information about each woman is available for the viewer to analyze. Another one of Chicago’s major works from the same era titled Womanhouse (1972), was an ephemeral artwork, exhibition space and pedagogical ‘happening,’ made in collaboration with fellow feminist artist/educator Miriam Schapiro and their students at California Institute for the Arts (CalArts). In addition to being an immersive work of art that explored feminist values, Womanhouse was a seminal element of Chicago and Schapiro’s feminist art pedagogy. Before getting into an explanation of Chicago et al’s approach, it would be helpful to have a definition of feminist art education. Feminist art education is not just teaching and learning about women artists; it is a dialectic framework, which aims to emphasize the intersectionality of gender identity, and build an understanding for other individuals’ expressions of gender outside of traditional gender binarism. Therefore, Chicago and her colleagues were conscious about making their curriculum participatory and empowering for students with different life experiences.

The Feminist Art Program that Chicago created was realized in the 1970s, while she was teaching art at Fresno State College in Fresno, California (Today, the school is known as California State University, Fresno). The program was intended to be a seminal initiative for the creation and presentation of feminist art. She taught a core group of artists that included Dori Atlantis, Susan Boud, Gail Escola, Vanalyne Green, Suzanne Lacy, Cay Lang, Karen LeCocq, Jan Lester, Chris Rush, Judy Schaefer, Henrietta Sparkman, Faith Wilding, Shawnee Wollenman, Nancy Youdelman and Cheryl Zurilgen.

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The front page of the exhibition catalog for “Womanhouse” (January 30 – February 28, 1972), feminist art exhibition organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Feminist Art Program. Photo and design by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville

After Judy Chicago left Fresno State, the Feminist Art Program was reestablished at CalArts by Chicago and Schapiro (it also continued at Fresno State College under the direction of Rita Yokoi and Joyce Aiken until 1992). At CalArts, Chicago and Schapiro continued developing a curriculum for their students based on participatory learning and artmaking. The pedagogical framework included analyzing, creating and assessing works of art created by women, with a central aim of conveying individual and collective feminist values. The program’s academic and pragmatic foundation focused on a shift from the patriarchal narrative of art and history, and an expression of students’ lived experiences within a communal environment. It was during the program’s iteration at CalArts that Womanhouse was realized. The old Victorian home was a symbolic and necessary setting for Womanhouse to aesthetically confront stereotypical gender roles. Collaborative efforts on behalf of both students and faculty led to the transformation of a former domestic site into a venue intended for women artists to develop artistically, socially, emotionally and professionally.

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Melissa Leaym-Fernandez and students from Holmes STEM Academy, Flint, Michigan, To Honor Our Mothers. © 2018 The Elephantworks Studio/Melissa Leaym-Fernandez

Chicago has continued to support the work of women artists through the creation of the Judy Chicago Art Education Collection and the Judy Chicago Art Education Award. Teaching artists have developed significant participatory art educational projects by incorporating research done via Judy Chicago Art Education Collection at Penn State’s Eberly Family Special Collections. This unique collection is a living archive dedicated to feminist art education. For example, two projects by recent awardees, Melissa Leaym-Fernandez and Chelsea Borgman, reference seminal feminist works by Chicago and Schapiro in order to inspire their students to consider progressive concepts of gender.  2018 awardee, Melissa Leaym-Fernandez realized the concept for her project To Honor Our Mothers, in collaboration with third, six, seventh and eighth graders at Holmes STEM Academy in Flint, Michigan. The project was inspired by The Dinner Party’s use of traditional craft or domestic art (textile arts and ceramic media), as well as its thematic celebration of influential women throughout history. To Honor Our Mothers celebrates women and specifically the role of motherhood, in the eyes, minds and hearts of their children. The students were asked to interview their mothers (or other individuals in that role such as aunts, grandmothers, caregivers) with respect to fears they had as children, the people they love and admire, dreams and aspirations and facets of daily life that make them happiest. The mothers’ answers were synthesized into words and symbols that represented each student’s mother, and were sewn to form squares that were assembled as a large quilt. When displayed, the collective quilt of the students’ mothers presents a positive, diverse portrait of womanhood and inspires a discussion on individual and collective identity.

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Miriam Schapiro, Dollhouse, 1972, wood and mixed media, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Gene Davis Memorial Fund, 1997.112A-B

2019 awardee, Chelsea Borgman, is developing a feminist art educational project partially inspired by Womanhouse, called Inside the Dollhouse. This in-progress collaborative artwork references Dollhouse (1972) by Miriam Schapiro and Sherry Brody, which was displayed within the Womanhouse installation. Borgman’s goal is to use the form and function of a dollhouse to create an immersive environment for teenage girls to address critical social and cultural issues that affect their lives as both students and young women. Each of the ten participants will create a room within the dollhouse that raises consciousness around gender identity, in hopes that it will foster an ongoing dialogue within their community and beyond.

Philosopher and gender theorist, Judith Butler, describes gender as being “constrained by available historical conventions,” and posits that we perform gender roles, which are determined by sociocultural factors (Butler, 1988). A feminist art education employs the action of artmaking to deconstruct the polarity of gender. It does this via creating new spaces for gender to be perceived and performed outside of the dominant ideologies of gender identity. Based on a recent study by a marketing firm called Ipsos, there is further optimism that awareness of gender fluidity is shifting on a larger scale. According to the study, “nearly half of Americans now see gender on a spectrum, rather than along the binary….Half of women and 4 in 10 men say that gender is a spectrum. That number jumps dramatically among people between ages 25–34 (55%). It’s even higher among LGBTQ people, 84% of whom see gender on a spectrum” (Sosin, 2020).

25 years after Judy Chicago developed the Feminist Art Program, she returned to teaching with her photographer husband Donald Woodman. They have expanded the seminal feminist art curriculum that Chicago introduced.  The goal of their curriculum, is to make feminist art education relevant for individuals of all backgrounds. The benefits of applying a feminist art education program in a coed and multigender environment is that the paradigm of gender is diverted through socially engaged classrooms and assessments, which value multiple perspectives and diversity (Keifer-Boyd, 2011).

Woodman’s perspective on feminist art and pedagogy is that feminism should be experienced as nonhierarchic and non-binary. He says “how I define myself as a feminist is that I do not support a dominant paradigm whether imposed by men or women. Society rewards either gender for supporting this dominant structure. My personal experience has shown that both men and women can be equally supportive of a dominant paradigm.” (Woodman, n.d.). Woodman believes that feminism should be framed as issues of values rather than gender. By focusing on values there is more flexibility to perform outside of conventional gender ideologies. The value of feminism is its ability to transform cultural and political life via intersectional advocacy of social, economic and intellectual equality.

Chicago and Woodman mapped out their feminist art curriculum as a three part participatory learning process. The first phase is Preparation, which includes content specific tactics for learning and contextualizing feminist values. These methodologies for investigating the concept of focal points include: readings, research, self-presentations, team/group building, content search and artmaking goals. Assigning these objectives, sets up the foundation for a collaborative pedagogical environment where personal experience is transformed into content-based expression as a tangible form (Keifer-Boyd, 2011).

The second phase is Process, which includes tangible actions such as: work mode selection, media selection, formatting of decisions and making the ideal real. In this phase, presenting implicit ideas and emotions through visual forms, is reliant upon a dialogic inquiry approach of addressing societal challenges and sharing knowledge, experiences and goals as a collective.

The final phase is Artmaking, which includes the performative aspects of expressing and presenting the explorations and insights realized through the previous collaborative phases. A large part of the artmaking process within Chicago and Woodman’s curriculum is considering the audience and sustaining the viewer’s attention.

Through these teaching and learning approaches, the Chicago/Woodman curriculum brings men and women (or boys and girls) together to share a spectrum of experiences, while creating knowledge through aesthetic self-expressions that confront paradigms of gender, race, class and physicality. Chicago (qtd. in Keifer-Boyd, 2011) encapsulates the curriculum as “a model where the teacher helps to first make each student feel valued. Listening to what the students have to say, communicates the fact that what the students have to say is important, and that their experience is worthy of examination. Furthermore, in their experience there is potential content for artmaking, which also makes their experience important. If you can turn your experience into artmaking, then it validates your experience. It really is a very simple process, but sometimes implementing the process is not so simple. It has to do with going around in a circle, giving everybody time and space.”

Although traditional gender roles are subjective, they remain a predominant constraint in mainstream society.  As Butler, Chicago, Woodman and others (see: Lather, 1991; Ellsworth, 1992; Manicom, 1992; hooks, 1994; Forrest & Rosenberg, 1997; Tomlinson & Fasssinger, 2002) have expressed, gender is connected to the actions and ideologies of political, social, economic and cultural spaces. Feminism is always in flux, because our society both experiences progress and endures pitfalls in regards to the aforementioned actions and ideologies. As long as inequality exists among men and women, there will be a need for feminist values and curricula to empower the individuality and plurality of our voices and identities.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Butler, Judith (1988). “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal. 40 (4): 519–531.

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. (1992). Why doesn’t this feel empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. In C. Luke & J. Gore (Eds.), Feminisms and critical pedagogy (pp. 90-119). New York: Routledge.

Forrest, Linda. & Rosenberg, Freda. (1997). A review of the feminist pedagogy literature: The neglected child of feminist psychology. Applied & Preventive Psychology, 6, 179-192.

Harper, Paula (1985). “The First Feminist Art Program: A View from the 1980s”. Signs. 10 (4): 762–81. JSTOR 3174313

hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Keifer-Boyd, Karen. (2007). From content to form: Judy Chicago’s pedagogy with reflections by Judy Chicago. Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research in Art Education, 48(2), 133-153.

Keifer-Boyd, Karen. (2011). Participatory art pedagogy. Judy Chicago Art Education Collection. Retrieved from https://judychicago.arted.psu.edu/participatory-art-pedagogy/

Lather, Patti. (1991). Getting smart: Feminist research and pedagogy within the postmodern. New York: Routledge.

Manicom, Ann. (1992). Feminist pedagogy: Transformations, standpoints, and politics. Canadian Journal of Education, 17, 365-389.

Sosin, Kate. “Study: Half of Americans Now See Gender on a Spectrum.” Newnownext, 7 Jan. 2020. http://www.newnownext.com/half-of-americans-see-gender-on-spectrum/01/2020/?fbclid=IwAR2Ya3DFfbCwlTMQauFCimIJZkDVY54tJrwd1e8n2oI6Mw_MiFp07soVNyw

Tomlinson, M. J. & Fassinger, R. E. (2002). The faces of feminist pedagogy: A survey of psychologists and their students. In L. H. Collins, M. R. Dunlap & J. C. Chrisler (Eds.), Charting a new course for feminist psychology (pp. 37-64). Wesport, CT: Praeger.

Woodman, Donald. “Feminist Artist Statement,” Brooklyn Museum Feminist Art Base. https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/about/feminist_art_base/donald-woodman

Woodman, Donald. DonaldWoodman.com. www.donaldwoodman.com.

 

Tree of Knowledge

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Tree of Knowledge, Peal City, Boca Raton, Florida. Courtesy of Boca Raton Museum of Art.

Nature and nurture are the fundamental principles of the human condition. The debate about whether our biological disposition or our experiential knowledge defines us is an oversimplification. It isn’t one or the other, it is both. Our genetic structure embodies the evolutionary processes of prior populations. It provides the framework for cognition. Our flexibility to respond and develop in regards to our environment and nurturing stimuli, enables us to adapt and adjust to changes and be lifelong learners.

Before we developed large and crowded metropolises, we lived in communities among the trees, rocks and waterways, and many of us still do. Trees and mountains were the first skyscrapers, and they inspired civilization after civilization to develop cultural narratives about the world around them.

The Tree of Knowledge in Pearl City, Florida, is an example of the symbolic and pragmatic impact of nature and nurture within a longstanding community. The tree, a banyan, is the oldest living thing in Pearl City, a historic neighborhood in Boca Raton that was initially developed for working class Black laborers who worked at nearby farms.

Banyan trees are notable for their cluster of aerial prop roots, which are roots that exist above the ground and are able to spread out and anchor themselves wherever they touch the soil. The deep and widespread roots of the banyan tree could be seen as a metaphor for the rhizomatic learning processes that are integral within diverse communities like present day Pearl City.

Rhizomatic learning is a concept that was coined by philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, to describe the organic nature of cultivating knowledge in a fast paced and multifaceted world. From a rhizomatic learning perspective, knowledge is negotiated via socialization under the premise that pedagogical goals are constantly in flux (Cormier, 2008). Therefore, learning requires constant contact and communication among diverse individuals, with emphasis that there is no one expert in a given field and perspectives and methodologies are liable to change and evolve over time. This viewpoint is similar to the philosophy of constructivist education theorists like John Dewey (we learn through sensory and social experiences) and Paulo Freire (who advocated a discursive learning environment where students are encouraged to actively solve problems using prior knowledge to form new frames of mind and being).

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Maren Hassinger alongside children from Pearl City, during a workshop for the Tree of Knowledge. Courtesy of the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

The rhizomatic learning process is indicative in Maren Hassinger’s monumental art installation Tree of Knowledge, which she created in dialogue with Pearl City and its oldest living resident of the name. The tree symbolizes a living link between Pearl City’s past and present. From the first residents to today’s population of citizens, Pearl City and its famous tree have been the catalyst for innovation, communal spirit and perseverance. The tree’s deeply implanted roots are expressive of generational social, emotional and experiential learning. Besides being an ideal place to get refuge from the sun, the tree has been a sanctuary for the community to rally around, tell their narratives and relay important cultural knowledge to one another. It has been a place where learning happens naturally and is not bound by one specific set of guidelines. This is where rhizomatic education is best practiced.

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Newspaper coils made in a collaboration with Maren Hassinger and the local community in Boca Raton. Courtesy of the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

Hassinger, who lives and works in New York, was moved by what she learned and experienced about the Tree of Knowledge and its role in facilitating intergenerational relationships. During community-based story-telling sessions, Hassinger worked with diverse groups of the public to roll newspapers that represent the aerial roots of the renowned banyan tree. The coiled newspapers were then hung from the ceiling of the Boca Raton Museum of Art, where they currently envelop the museum’s main gallery (on view through March 1st). The installation represents an additional outlet for generational confluence and communal learning. Community members of all ages had the opportunity to learn directly from Hassinger during workshops to create the newspaper roots. She scaffolded instruction and artistic processes to fit the participants’ developmental phases. For example, she realized that young children were having a hard time physically and conceptually realizing square knots, so the artist decided to utilize the more familiar and developmentally appropriate method of twisting the paper in a manner that alludes to vine-like structures (Uszerowicz, 2020).

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Installation view of Tree of Knowledge by Maren Hassinger. Courtesy of the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

The intertwining of materials, backgrounds and experiences during the creative process is indicative of Pearl City’s communal curriculum of rhizomatic and non-hierarchical learning. Through gathering around the Tree of Knowledge (both the actual tree and the symbolic representation), stories and ideas about labor, the environment and identity are transferred and expanded upon in a democratic form of negotiation. The maintenance of our environment is dependent upon moments of equitable and mutual making, learning and growing.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Cormier, Dave. “Rhizomatic Education : Community as Curriculum.” Dave’s Educational Blog, 3 Jun. 2008. http://davecormier.com/edblog/2008/06/03/rhizomatic-education-community-as-curriculum/

Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1993). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Uszerowicz, Monica. “A Maren Hassinger Installation Blossoms From a “Tree of Knowledge” Rooted in a Majority Black Florida Town.” Hyperallergic, 17 Feb. 2020. https://hyperallergic.com/542947/a-maren-hassinger-installation-blossoms-from-a-tree-of-knowledge-rooted-in-a-majority-black-florida-town/

Expressing our inner childlike nature…again

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Christina Freeman, digital film still from this is not a home movie, 2009-2020, film stills and audio. Courtesy of the artist.

“Do we possess an “inner child,” our supposed original or true self? Are we the same person we were as a child? Do we carry our child selves around with us, or is childhood left at the door upon entering the adult world? The work in this show contemplates aspects of youth, transformation and regression, exploring themes of the childish and childlike.”

Those are the essential questions that artist/curators Jenn Dierdorf and Robert Goldkind and a group of 11 additional artists would like us to consider as we experience the multidisciplinary works of art in the exhibition Regress at ABC No Rio’s Bullet Space/292 Gallery.

Growing up is a desirable trait, because it grants us a particular sense of autonomy, which we didn’t have while we were young children and adolescents. Being independent and developing self-confidence and awareness, is paramount to developing as a whole person. We learn a great deal via experience, so the more of it we have, the more knowledge we are likely gaining. We apply this knowledge to our multifaceted backgrounds/identities and other social, emotional and cognitive qualities, in order to build cultural understandings and exhibit expressive responses to the world around us. Experiential learning is a lifetime-based process that begins during our earliest stages of development. Unfortunately, one of the notable changes in our journey from youth to adulthood is the decline of playful learning and untutored creativity…and sometimes memory too.

I have written several prior posts (see: No Room to Play, If you’re bored, try living artfully and Learning Through Play, Playing Through Art) concerning the necessity of maintaining a playful attitude and approach to living and learning. I hope that through these posts, it has been made apparent that the arts are beneficial to our minds, bodies and spirits, as a result of unfettered exploration, discovery and play. In addition to play, memory is another important process that can be harnessed for artful production. Making art is a great way to recall our memories and express them to others. Good motivating questions to inspire the creative process include: “when was a time when you felt proud?” “when was there a moment that you felt strong?” “who would like to tell us about a time you helped someone in need,” and “what is one thing that you can’t live without?” These questions open the door for personalized reflections that are rooted in each student’s memory. The results will be empowering because recalling specific memories enables deep connections to be made in relation to the students lives (see more in an earlier Artfully Learning post: Expressing Memory Through Art – Experiential Living/Learning). This art pedagogical methodology is highly beneficial for people of all ages. For individuals with Alzheimer’s, artistic immersion (both viewing and creating art) has noted success in increasing mood and (in some cases) stimulating memory (see: Chancellor, Duncan and Chatterjee, 2014; and Neighmond, 2019).

Memory is a hot topic among artists in general. We often re-create and re-present imagery that has familiarity to us. Our understanding of pictorial and symbolic issues transform through time and personal artistic development, as we seek ways to present our experiences and background insights to others. As we get older, our recollection of the past, especially childhood/adolescence, becomes a reflective process that helps us understand our complex (and transformative) personalities.

One of the artists in Regress is Christina Freeman (previously featured on Artfully Learning in the post #$^& Censorship), whose project this is not a home movie addresses themes of childhood memories, and how certain events in our timeline are carefully curated through the lens of the camera (ex. home movies and snapshots in photo albums). Freeman, who often utilizes archives and repositories in her work, synthesized footage from her family’s home videos as a source to access and assess information about her childhood. this is not a home movie is concerned with documenting a familial experience via both a lineal and abstract relationship to memory. While the footage that is edited together is representative of Freeman between ages 2 and 7, she has conflated the original audio and video with contemporary audio, consisting of interviews of her parents who reflect upon their memories of her childhood, as well as their impressions of documenting that time period. The expressive way that Freeman splices and re-presents past documentary footage with current recollections from the documentarians, is indicative of the variability of our memory. Freeman shows us how the experience of an original event is transformed when re-examined years later. This is because we add layers and layers of new experiences and assign additional values and meaning to past events in order to continue relating them to our lives. A voice in one of the clips exclaims “you’re going to see this forever and ever,” but the real intriguing notion is how will our associations of this event (its imagery, meaning, social or emotional context) change over time?

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Ianthe Jackson, Wood Pile, 2019, sculpture. Courtesy of the artist.

Ianthe Jackson’s art also investigates childhood memory and her work in the exhibition, titled Wood Pile (2019), signifies her upbringing in Buffalo, New York. A pile of cut wood logs is a common thing to see outside and inside of houses up north, where the winters can be snow-filled, long and harsh. Many of the city’s historic houses are drafty, which means that heating them takes a lot of money and energy. Jackson recalls, “my family decided to heat our house with a wood stove to save money, and every year we would have these humongous wood deliveries on our lawn right in the city! We would invite friends over to haul and stack wood in trade for hot chocolate and it would often take 2 to 3 days to finish. It was such a strong memory and an experience that really shaped me.”

I asked Ianthe how her thoughts on childhood have shifted as an adult, and how she personally connects ideas about childhood in her artwork. She replied:  “I think a lot of my work relates to my childhood in various ways. There are so many ways we are conditioned as children and those aspects of who we are live on in our work and adult life and perspective. For me the shift of play and memory changes as we age. I think play for me is creating art and pursuing ideas. As children play they are creating an understanding of the world, synthesizing the senses of their body in the world and imagining things that could be. For many people this is seen as a period of childhood. I think artists and many other people hold on to these aspects and keep the creative mind moving. Some people however, not so much. School and expectations can really squash a person’s wonder.”

Jackson’s statement resonated with me, because a large portion of my childhood involved performing imaginary games with friends. These memories still influence my creative practice and my educator’s philosophy that play is essential for self discovery, socialization and building empathy. However, childhood isn’t all fun and games. There are many rules and structures that we are expected to learn as children, which are traditionally seen as being necessary in preparation for adulthood. Of course, some are and some aren’t. Traditions that are shattering include employing boy-girl formations (sitting or standing in boy-girl-boy-girl order), and reinforcing gender binarisms through ‘teaching’ gender roles. While schools are making an effort to embrace gender fluidity, this is sadly not a universal practice in the educational system.

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Rebecca Bird, Cohort 1 and Cohort 2. Photograph by Adam Zucker

The latter part of Jackson’s quote regarding societal expectations quashing a person’s sense of wonder, is confronted in Regress through two paintings by Rebecca Bird, titled Cohort 1 and Cohort 2. The paintings are from Bird’s Women series, featuring sociocultural scenes of groups of women and girls. In Cohort 1 and Cohort 2, the subjects are kindergarten aged girls in matching uniforms learning to stand in line. According to Bird, she has been contemplating “how we become what we are defined as in society and how such a broad category as ‘female’ describes or assigns a role to me.” An essential part of educating children, is building platforms where they are empowered to express their unique identities, and exhibit empathy for others.

Returning to the theme of play, artist Courtney Childress explores childlike activity as a participatory artwork. Her work in the exhibition, is an interactive combine (painting and sculpture hybrid) that gives viewers permission to add their own mark to the piece. The result is very similar to the scribbles and automatic mark-making of children’s art. How many of us felt the impulse as children to extend our scribbles off the page and onto the wall? Childress’ work invites this seemingly natural and universal behavior, which is refreshing in both an art environment and as a commentary on social, emotional and cognitive development.

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Courtney Childress’ interactive artwork. Courtesy of the artist.

Childress’ main medium of crayons is also very down-to-earth and reminiscent of youthful creative endeavors. I asked Courtney to recall some memories or moments from her childhood that influenced her current profession in the arts, and she replied: “One I’ve been told about my mom and aunt on a road trip with my grandmother from TX to CO in the summer of 1960. They left crayons in the backseat when they stopped for lunch. These melted into puddles in the back of the rental convertible. My mom laughs when she tells the part about throwing fistfuls of crayon out the window as they drove down the highway.”

About the influence of play in her current art practice, she stated:

“Play and playfulness have always been a part of what I make and the work I am drawn to from other artists. In my work, I amassed a great collection of crayons, that I peeled and melted down, layering colors into painted-desert inspired rock crayons. For this show I have given the audience space to draw and make marks with a hand-sized rock crayons and a large swath of canvas. Giving the viewer permission to do something ‘bad.’”

Through art, we all have the ability to address our uninhibited selves and communicate in a playful, yet poignant manner. The works in Regress suggest diverse viewpoints regarding our creative development, and make thought provoking statements about youth in general. They might even make you feel young again…


Regress is on view through February 23, 2020 at Bullet Space/292 Gallery, 92 East 3rd Street, New York, NY. Exhibited artists: Yasmeen Abdallah, Rebecca Bird, KS Brewer, Courtney Childress, Jenn Dierdorf, Christina Freeman, Robert Goldkind, Kamryn Harmeling, Ianthe Jackson, Will Kaplan, Mark Power, Sarah Schruft and Ashley Yang-Thompson.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Chancellor, Bree, Duncan, Angel and Chatterjee, Anjan. “Art Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Vol. 39, 2014.

Gray, Peter. “The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders.” Psychology Today, 26 Jan 2010. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201001/the-decline-play-and-rise-in-childrens-mental-disorders

Neighmond, Patti. “Her Mom Was Lost In Dementia’s Fog. Singing Christmas Carols Brought Her Back.” NPR, 24 Dec. 2019. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/12/24/790806366/her-mom-was-lost-in-dementias-fog-singing-christmas-carols-brought-her-back