Quotes from the Field

Throughout the posts on this site, I have contextualized the work of modern and contemporary artists within an educational framework. I approach subject matter through the lens of an artist, art historian and educator, therefore, the views expressed within my writing reflects my prior and current experience in the art and education fields, as well as my evolving knowledge of both disciplines. During the course of my research for past and future content to write about, I became curious as to how artists might describe their own enduring understandings of art’s relationship to education. Below is a concise list of quotes from artists and aestheticians on the topics of education, cognitive development, emotional development and the benefits of art-centered learning. Underneath each quote I have added a brief contextualization of how I see it relating to the field of education.

“A good teacher is like a good artist. They go right to the most difficult part of whatever’s going on.” —Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) is a pioneer of playfully exploring symbolic interconnectivity through visual metaphors and wordplay in order to provoke our responses and heighten our attention to social, cultural and emotional themes. Nauman’s work is evident of the studio habits of mind that the arts promote such as “living with ambiguity” (or making judgements in the absence of rules) and “noticing deeply.” Visual artists like Nauman create open-ended work that challenge us to notice details in multiple layers and to embrace difficult situations creatively, while acknowledging that solutions might not be clear-cut. Actively employing these studio habits of mind is how individuals like Nauman make innovative contributions to society.

“Life without industry is guilt; industry without art is brutality.” –John Ruskin

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was an influential art critic (and an artist in his own right) who understood that the inclusion of the arts within society would encourage habits of mind such as “exhibiting empathy.” Art embodies the humanity and the spirit of the human condition. In other words, art adds symbolic meaning to life experiences and has the ability to enhance our understanding of one another in a social, emotional and intellectual manner. The above quote likely resonated with progressive educators such as Jane Addams (1860-1935) and Ellen Gates Starr (1859-1940) who promoted an educational system bolstered by the arts that would lead to a more skilled and autonomous workforce because they had pride in what they were creating (see: Making Our Space/Documenting Our Place).

“…pedagogy and education are about emphasis on the embodiment of the process, on the dialogue, on the exchange, on intersubjective communication and on human relationships” – Pablo Helguera

Pablo Helguera (b. 1971) celebrates multicultural social and emotional interactions within participatory art projects that incorporate habits of mind such as “making connections,” “taking action,” “exhibiting empathy,” “creating meaning,” “embodying,” and “questioning” (See: Connecting Culture Through Experience and Education). His work reflects progressive educators like John Dewey and Paulo Freire who advocated for a democratic and experiential approach to learning.

“Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives.” – Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) was a major inspiration for the idea of ‘Artfully Learning.’ Beuys’ work as an artist and educator embodied the theory that every act of consciousness can be an artistic process and that everyone can be an artist if they embrace the habits of mind related to artistic thinking, creating and reflecting (see: Everybody is an Artist). In a 1960 interview with Artforum magazine, Beuys, reflected upon his career as an artist and stated that “to be a teacher is my greatest work of art.”

Luis Camnitzer, A Museum is a School, 2009–ongoing. Site-specific installation, media variable. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift of the artist in honor of Simón Rodriguez on the occasion of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, 2014

Luis Camnitzer’s (b. 1937) site specific artwork A Museum is a School (2009-ongoing) addresses several habits of mind including “making connections,” “taking action,” and “reflecting/assessing.” Camnitzer’s work is steeped in what he calls “art thinking,” which is to say that education and creativity are inseparable and the creation of knowledge is an artistic process realized through both cognitive and expressive actions. Museums are important public institutions that serve as a liaison between the artist’s work and the viewer. It is the museum’s job to present works of art in a meaningful way that is both indicative of the artist’s intent and the public’s personal knowledge and experiences. Museums should inspire us to be lifelong learners with inquisitive minds.

“I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it” – Georgia O’Keefe

Georgia O’Keefe’s (1887-1986) work inspires us to “notice deeply,” ask questions, “identify patterns,” and create new meanings. The quote above communicates the crux of artistic learning, which is asking big questions, exploring, making discoveries and synthesizing experiences into insightful symbolism (see: Participatory Learning: Artworks as Experiences). O’Keefe’s artistic practice combined astute observation and transformative experiences with personal expression. Her aesthetic style is one of the most unique and iconic in Western Art.

“Art is the easiest thing in my life, and that’s ironic. It doesn’t mean I’ve worked little on it, but it’s the only thing I never had to… I have no fear. I could take risks.” – Eva Hesse

Taking risks is important in both art and educational settings because it opens us up to new possibilities while building skills and confidence. By taking risks we are addressing ambiguity, making judgements in the absence of rules and allowing for flexible purposing (a ‘Deweyian’ habit of mind, which means developing an ability to creatively improvise and seek new solutions to navigate around any potential ‘roadblock’). Eva Hesse (1936-1970) took many risks throughout her short yet prolific career, which accounted for her pioneering style of art. Hesse’s artistic process involved revelatory explorations with materials, many of which (latex and plastics) were not typically considered art related until Hesse transformed them within her sculptures and paintings. Hesse kept consistent journals where she recounted feelings regarding her personal and professional life. Throughout these entries, Hesse’s struggle and perseverance with creative problems were evident. For example, in an undated entry from November 1960, she stated:

“Only painting can now see me through and I must see it through. It is totally interdependent with my entire being. It is source of my goals, ambitions, satisfactions and frustrations. It is what I have found through which I can express myself, my growth—and channel my development. It affords the problems which I can think through, form ideas which I can work with and arrive at a statement. Within its scope I can develop strength and conviction.

Taking risks allows for both order and chaos to exist simultaneously during the creative process. In other words, taking risks allows us to address failure and learn to utilize failure as a means to build confidence to make difficult decisions throughout the creative process when things don’t go as planned. We become stronger emotionally and cognitively when we develop a solution for a difficult problem.

“An artist’s job is to articulate what might otherwise be incoherent.” – Nancy Spero

One of the most important roles of an art educator (or any educator) is to make the implicit explicit. As art educators, we are well versed with artistic mediums and techniques and find that creating works of art becomes second nature to us. We don’t often have to break our process down into steps once we’ve mastered certain styles and skills within the creative process. However, this tacit knowledge (our expertise as creators) cannot simply be transferred to our students because they haven’t acquired the necessary skills and techniques that are required to be fluent visual communicators. This is especially true with beginners and those whose artistic development is at various phases (see: Louis, 2013) but are still learning to become symbolic communicators. Educators use several methodologies such as instructional scaffolding, differentiation and multiple intelligences (see:Differentiation and Multiple Intelligences), to make knowledge that is difficult to transfer to others by means of verbalization or writing more straightforward and understandable to a diverse group of people. The above quote by seminal feminist and political artist, Nancy Spero (1926-2009), exhibits several artistic habits of mind including “making connections,” “creating meaning,” “embracing ambiguity,” “taking action,” and “reflecting/assessing.” Having students articulate their artwork in a social, cultural and/or emotional framework is a good assessment and reflection of learning. A successful artist is conscious of whether they’re being understood by the viewer who might not be versed in artistic vocabulary, art history, or theory.

Do you have a favorite inspirational quote from an artist that relates to artistic learning, cognitive and emotional development, or educational topics in general? The aforementioned quotes are just some of the many words of wisdom, so please share some of the quotes you find to be inspirational as an educator and an artist (comment below or reply via the contact form)!

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