Winter Reading List

As educators are preparing for their Winter vacation (maybe some are already there!), I have compiled a short reading list of books, because art and education never truly take a break! These engaging publications each address topics related to art, activism, education and overall ways to live life more creatively and collaboratively.

I am constantly looking for additional art and education themed titles for my own personal reading list, so please feel free to share what you’ve been reading and/or recommend (comment below or contact me).


Art as Therapy, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong, Phaidon Press (October 14, 2013)

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Art as Therapy explores the history of art and architecture by utilizing visual metaphors and representational imagery in pre-modern, modern and contemporary works of art, in order to make meaningful connections to social, cultural and emotional facets of our everyday lives.

Reflecting and assessing art’s purpose in a Deweyian tone, the authors, Button and Armstrong, envision ways to experience art that become intrinsic to the human experience.

Each chapter in the book represents a different social, emotional, or cultural theme, which the authors argue, can be bolstered and humanized through an application of artistic understanding and appreciation. For each topic (Love, Nature, Money and Politics), corresponding artworks exemplify how art can prompt us to deal with complex personal and societal issues in a cathartic and mindful manner. It is a good primer on how art should be enjoyable, enlightening and ultimately, a life-affirming experience.

Art as Therapy can be a helpful resource for artists and educators looking to create projects that express a deeper understanding of art’s sociocultural role within society at large. In the appendix, the authors provide an Agenda for Art, which I have personally found inspiring when writing lesson plans. The agenda breaks down the bigger picture of each chapter in the book, so that enduring understandings can be made between works of art life in general. This has been helpful for designing and implementing learning segments that connect creating and viewing art to students’ prior knowledge, what they are currently learning in other subjects and their relevant personal experiences. All of these elements incorporate the profound impact that art-centered experiences can have on our healthy development.

In summation, Art as Therapy‘s pragmatic approach to artistic immersion, is indicative of art’s benefits for teaching to the whole-individual. This means that our overall relationship with art should elevate beyond simply relaying fundamental skills (i.e. ‘teaching to the test’ or ‘art-for-art’s sake’), in order to create deeper holistic meaning and personal expression, by connecting artful experiences to the human condition.


Education for Socially Engaged Art:A Materials and Techniques Handbook., Pablo Helguera, Jorge Pinto Books (October 5, 2011)

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Education for Socially Engaged Art
is a practical guide and seminal text for anyone wishing to explore, discover and gain insight into the discipline of Social Practice Art.

As an artist and educator, Pablo Helguera breaks down the complex conceptual framework of socially engaged art into a useful tome for applying and relating art and pedagogy in a manner that resonates within diverse communities.

Helguera makes connections between contemporary art-driven activism and the influential philosophy and work of previous artists (visual and performance) and educators. By linking the past contributions of socially engaged art to present practices, Education for Socially-Engaged Art is a compendium of inspiring ideas based on both extensive research and empirical experience. Furthermore, this book presents the essential tools and techniques for those who aspire to work in creative cooperation with communities in the public realm. Helguera’s form of writing leaves things very open-ended, which is

Topics addressed include: documentation, community engagement, discourse and transpedagogy. The latter describes transferring ideas from progressive education within works of art that are intended to function as an alternative to the traditional classroom and/or the art institution. The artist as educator provides instructional scaffolding and creative prompts intended to a build communal partnership within the community (or the population they are working with) in order to co-create new works of art and experiences. This idea echoes Paolo Freire’s ‘problem-posing pedagogy,’ where knowledge is a collaborative process reliant on co-learning that happens through a dialectic between students and educators.


Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, Claire Bishop, Verso (July 24, 2012)

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In this seminal theoretical text on participatory aesthetics, Claire Bishop scrutinizes key moments in the artist-viewer relationship over the course of the past 200 years. Bishop’s book (along with Helguera’s) is an essential read for anyone who wants to get a better understanding of how art can be utilized in a socially transformative manner.

Bishop provides many inspiring examples from the history of art, of artists who relied on the participation of the viewer during the artistic process. To illustrate her point, she drew from within the Italian Futurist and French Dada movements, the Situationist International, Happenings in Eastern Europe, Argentina and Paris, the 1970s Community Arts Movement and the Artists Placement Group. A good portion of the artists, artworks and art movements that Bishop features in her book are largely under-known within the framework of Western culture. Bishop’s focus on marginalized artists and under-recognized movements within Western art is a refreshing, bold and reflective take on critical theory and art history.

Bishop also writes about influential art projects that blend pedagogical and aesthetic practices, citing examples of work by artists including Paweł Althamer, Tania Bruguera, Paul Chan and Thomas Hirschhorn.

Overall, Artificial Hells presents a well argued thesis for a more fearless and analytical engagement with socially engaged art.


Happy holidays, happy reading and happy artfully learning!

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