If you’re bored, try living artfully

Bananafish

Nina Katchadourian, Bananafish, 2013 (“Seat Assignment” project, 2010-
ongoing), C-Print, 15.25h x 19w in. Courtesy of the artist, Catharine Clark
Gallery, and Fridman Gallery.

I am certain that we all have experienced a fair share of dull moments throughout our lives. Whether it’s dragging our feet while going on errands, waiting on lines, routine doctor’s visits (and the accompanying time spent in waiting rooms), trips to the DMV, long periods of travel, or just sitting around with nothing to do; there are many times where banal moments leave us with much to be desired.

As a teenager, I remember pausing at a specific line within the lyrics to the song Flagpole Sitta (1997) by the band Harvey Danger: “But if you’re bored then you’re boring.” This posed one of the earliest existential crises for me. How could I combat the doldrums of my own boredom? I realized that me being ‘bored’ was largely a result of my own self imposed fears and negative attitude. I had crippling social anxiety and low self-esteem, which led me to avoid certain situations that I would likely have enjoyed experiencing (and thrived at too).

I still have social anxiety, however, I am more or less able to get over it through creative thinking and action. The real transformative moments begin when I immerse myself in artistic explorations and playful creative endeavors.

It is my personal philosophy that everything and everyone has artistic potential. Many individuals including John Dewey and Joseph Beuys have expounded upon the idea of art as a way of life, intrinsic to our personal and collective consciousness and culture. Within art, external and internal stimuli are presented and expressed in a profound manner by combining aesthetic principles and social and emotional symbolism. Through viewing the world as a canvas or a stage on which to engage with, I am constantly thinking about translating everyday moments, objects and images, into works of art. Even walking to work or riding on the subway becomes part of the artistic process, because I am carefully observing, paying attention to details, making connections and gaining insights into the creative potential that consistently surrounds me. I see both everyday objects and interactions as mediums, materials and themes for making art.

Art offers a profound and fun way of liberating ourselves from the seemingly static nature of boring tasks and situations. For all the negative associations that boredom has, it is a major source of inspiration and a vehicle for artists to convey deep sociocultural concerns. The arts teach us to welcome boredom and use it as a channel for powerful means of communication and symbolic expression. Boredom is largely connected to major facets that artists need to make work. These characteristics include being able to find value and purpose in repetition and responding to subconscious thoughts and daydreams, which come about when the mind is left to wander. Artists need to have the patience to perform many routine and precise steps in order to achieve their vision. They also need to allow their minds to be active and think big. Harnessing boredom enables artists to re-frame and re-present their reality in a novel and exciting perspective.

Nina Katchadourian is one of the most seminal contemporary artists versed in embracing and transcending issues of banality. I have previously mentioned Katchadourian’s work in a post titled Learning Through Play, Playing Through Art. She was recently the subject of a traveling museum retrospective called Curiouserand is currently showing a concise survey of her work at Fridman Gallery, in New York, in a solo show titled Ification. The well curated work within Ification is a great example of how Katchadourian finds efficacy in conventionality via a multidisciplinary art practice that is as playful as it is poignant.

Instead of accepting monotony and mundaneness as a matter of circumstance, Katchadourian utilizes artistic behaviors in order to find a myriad of ways to transform boredom into something captivating and significant. She infuses humor and irony within artwork that makes due with the materials and situations that are relatively universal.

For instance, her ongoing Seat Assignment (2010-) series is made up of imagery created while Katchadourian travels on airplanes. In this day and age, airline travel has gotten more restrictive and complex for passengers, while the airlines themselves offer fewer inflight forms of leisure. Seat Assignment is an antidote for the long and dull process of commercial air travel. Being subjected to long periods of stationary sitting, with limited supplies such as inflight magazines, travel guides, carry on (or meager complimentary in flight) snacks and occasional trips to the lavatory (when the captain has turned off the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign), inspired Katchadourian to turn an otherwise uninspiring moment into a captivating artistic experience. Using a mobile phone and whatever she can find around her seat, she creates surreal and fantastical scenes and narratives that comment on themes such as travel, consumerism, culture, ecology and art history.

Lavatory Self Portraits Flemish8

Nina Katchadourian, Lavatory Self-Portrait in Flemish Style #8, 2011 (“Seat Assignment” project, 2010-ongoing), C-Print, 13.33h x 10w in. Courtesy of the artist, Catharine Clark Gallery, and Fridman Gallery.

Katchadourian’s Seat Assignment series includes a whimsical group of bathroom selfies called Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style, in which the artist uses bathroom materials such as toilet paper, toilet seat protection covers, shower caps and sanitary napkins to dress up like subjects in Dutch and Flemish portraiture. These portraits are humble modern day re-presentations of the high art portraiture, painted in the Low Countries, especially The Netherlands during the 15th – 17th Centuries. In a witty fashion, Katchadourian demystifies the work of Old Master painters by showing us how good art can be made from simple materials and repetitive processes combined with a big imagination.

Talking Popcorn_2

Nina Katchadourian, Talking Popcorn, 2001, Popcorn machine, black pedestal,
red vinyl base, microphone, laptop with custom-written Morse code program,
printed paper bags, popcorn, dimensions variable. Installation view at the
Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY. Courtesy of the artist, Catharine Clark  Gallery and Fridman Gallery.

Two other bodies of work that exemplify Katchadourian’s astute skills for noticing deeply, recognizing patterns and incorporating everyday objects into awe-inspiring artworks, are Talking Popcorn (2001) and Songs of the Islands (1996). Talking Popcorn features a working movie theater popcorn machine and the sound of the kernels popping gets translated into Morse Code, which, a computer-generated voice reads aloud. Katchadourian has coined the resulting popcorn messages as “popcornese.” In an effort to further investigate and legitimize “popcornese,” she has solicited the expertise of a diverse group of professionals including: linguists, poets, translators, an astronomer, a Zen Buddhist and an anthropologist. For the making of Songs of the Islands, Katchadourian collected discarded audio tape that she noticed throughout New York City during the 1990s and painstakingly rearranged the loose audio tape to reveal a cacophony of sounds. The resulting compositions included music from a wide variety of genres, spanning across the globe (from heavy metal to Vietnamese pop), and even a taped episode of “All in the Family.” Combined as a soundtrack, the audio depicts a sociocultural portrait of New York City, one of the most diverse metropolises in the world.

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Nina Katchadourian, Songs of the Islands: Concrete Music of New York (detail), 1996/1998, found audiotape between Plexiglas, paper board, ink, audio player with headphones, 40h x 30w in. Courtesy of the artist, Catharine Clark Gallery, and Fridman Gallery.

In the educational realm, boredom can be harnessed through methods that influence students’ thirst for knowledge and inquiry. Some of these methods might include dropping ‘learning objectives’ in favor of ‘learning questions’ (see: Warner, 2014) and promoting playful learning. Both of these pedagogical methodologies give students agency in their own learning by supporting the co-creation of knowledge (between teachers and students).

Like artists, students should develop skills that will allow them to synthesize big ideas (hopes, aspirations, dreams) into realistic goals and tangible actions. Routines and consistency are important in developing a student’s cognitive, social and emotional development, however, the art of education is finding ways to make this repetitious practice relevant and appealing. If a student is feeling unfulfilled and uninspired, one solution might be shifting the pedagogical approach towards asking more student-centered prompts rather than predetermined learning objectives. By starting off learning segments with student driven questions, educators can be sure that they are setting up proper modes of instructional scaffolding, activities and assessments that are meaningful and influential to the experience and education of each student.

 


Nina Katchadourian’s Ification will be on view through March 31, 2019 at Fridman Gallery.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Straaten, Laura van. “The Artist Behind the Famous Bathroom Selfies.” The Cut. 22 Feb. 2019. https://www.thecut.com/2019/02/interview-with-ification-artist-nina-katchadourian.html

Warner, Andrew. “The Big Question: raising challenge by dropping objectives.” andywarner78. 24 Oct. 2014. https://andywarner78.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/the-big-question-raising-challenge-by-dropping-objectives/

 

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Quotes from the Field v.5

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Carrie Mae Weems, “The Hampton Project,” exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art, 2000. Photo by Cdebary

This edition of Quotes from the Field (see: previous posts), features quotes from artists Alfredo Jaar, Carrie Mae Weems and Susan Meiselas. Each quote is interpreted within the framework of educational themes. There is a commonality between each quotation in this edition, which is the idea of art being transformative and intrinsic to the human experience. Art takes us on a journey where the destination isn’t always predetermined, and the process is full of enlightening explorations, discoveries and insights.


“For me, culture is the true capital of societies. When you go to a country, you admire their intellectuals, their ideas, their work. That’s what I retain from the countries I visit.” Alfredo Jaar on the benefits of culture within civilization. – Afredo Jaar

Throughout this blog, a wide variety of posts make a case for the benefits that creativity and artistic experiences have on society at large.

Art is one of the most consistent forms of cultural capital, because it is a profound and deeply personal way to understand civilizations of the past and present. While historians and critics tend to like to label and organize things into neat academic terms, movements, ideas (i.e. the chronology of the history of art), all art is contemporary, because the artist made/makes it in their own environment and era, as a response to modern day stimuli. Through making a work of art, the artist is communicating ideas and experiences that have an impact on their daily lives.

While looking at works of art that spans time and borders, we can make connections to our own lives and identify common patterns that are intrinsic within the human condition. These patterns include the desire to communicate, to build things, create myths and complex belief systems and explore the natural phenomenon around us. Our need to communicate, is supported by a multidimensional model of artistic development (see: Louis, 2005), which identifies how we  learn through experiential and parallel movement throughout three independent realms: “representational intention, mastery of visual/graphic concepts and the expressive use of the mediating properties” of materials.

According to Jaar, art can effect sociocultural and political changes (Mashabala, 2019). Art is a powerful resource for symbolically expressing the audacity of hope and the ingenuity of the spirit and mind. Art is a necessity, which provides insight into the ‘heart and soul’ of people and cultures around the world. This is why it is so essential for art and art education to be equally and equitably available for everyone.

In addition to contextualizing and expressing our experiences with the world around us, art prompts us to make compassionate worldly connections and develop a thirst for learning more about ourselves and others.


“I didn’t know that photography would take me to the places it has taken me” – Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems, found her voice by exploring the medium of photography. She recounts the story of how she got her first camera at the age of 21 as a gift from her boyfriend.

Initially, Weems was determined to employ photography as a means for documenting her political beliefs, and through exploration, she gained insightful knowledge into how she could relate these political and social messages into the awe-inspiring  multidisciplinary art forms, which she is renowned for.

Weems uses her camera to scrutinize the world around her on a very intimate level. Her imagery elicits both boldness and solace at once. Weems’ process is defined by her willingness to take risks and use photography to evoke sociocultural and political activism.

Two studio habits of mind that we develop through artistic learning, are ‘taking action’ and ‘living with ambiguity.’ We learn by experience, trying out new ideas and techniques and being open to changing course during the creative process. Sometimes working with specific themes, mediums and materials will direct us to other avenues that were previously not considered as viable, and in light of new discoveries, we become emboldened and liberated by newfound insights.

Having the wherewithal to embrace ambiguity, challenge ourselves to step ‘out of the box,’ and be flexible with our intentions, are lifelong skills that are learned via the arts.


“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” – Susan Meiselas

In keeping with themes of cultural capital and transference, the above quote by documentary photographer Susan Meiselas describes how artists use their medium to make connections to the world around them, while also finding transcendence from the norm.

Artists have a unique role within society as synthesizers of both the personal and unfamiliar realms. They can help us see the world through new perspectives and formulate a bridge between ideas, people and cultures.

As a documentary photographer, Meiselas uses her creative intuition and credibility to gain access into other people’s environments. A good artist is aware of how to responsibly stretch boundaries and connect with the people they represent. They portray their subjects with integrity and ingenuity, in a manner that allows the viewer to be transported into a realm they might have never thought was reachable.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Louis, Linda L. “What Children Have in Mind: A Study of Early Representational Development in Paint.” Studies in Art Education, vol. 46, no. 4, 2005, pp. 339–355. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25475761

Mashabela, Khanya, “Alfredo Jaar on the Capacity of Culture.” Hyperallergic. 18 Feb. 2019. https://hyperallergic.com/484801/alfredo-jaar-cape-town/

How Art and Art Education Changed the Prison

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Wilfredo Ramos, Cracker Tin Punched with Holes In the Kitchen Corner, 2017. Courtesy of Jeffrey Greene.

Jeffrey Greene started working with prison populations throughout Connecticut in 1991, and is currently the Program Manager of Community Partners in Action (CPA)’s ‘Prison Art Program,’ where he has worked with over 200 incarcerated individuals by teaching art classes.  Through Greene’s mentorship and support, prison inmates across the state of Connecticut have transformed themselves by building self-worth and making personal discoveries while creating art in communal workshops.

The exhibition How Art Changed the Prison: The Work of CPA’s Prison Arts Program, which is on view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, displays works of art by a coterie of inmates throughout the ‘Constitution State.’ The selected works explore potent themes such as social justice, psychology, mindfulness, intersectionality of identity and self-discovery.

When he first started working in prisons, Greene realized that a majority of the artwork being made by inmates featured highly technical and graphic art with cliché iconography that was largely absent of personal expression. He encouraged members in his workshops to focus on more introspective and communicative elements of art. Greene pushed his students to search inside of themselves for inspiration and allow themselves to be free from the physical and mental constraints of both traditional fine art (i.e. still lives, generic technique building exercises and other largely impersonal subject matter) and prison.

After 28 years of teaching in prisons, Greene has truly found his stride in encouraging and challenging incarcerated artists to think ‘outside the box’ when making art. Greene’s classes prompt participants to conceive works of art that can expand off the paper and flourish outside of their cells. The results are highly personal and moving expressions, which feel liberated from the harsh realities of prison that these men and women face on a daily basis.

For example, drawings such as Cracker Tin Punched with Holes In the Kitchen Corner and My Brother’s Turn (both 2017), by Wilfredo Ramos, came to fruition through the artist’s intimate memories of childhood and home. Ramos utilizes unique aesthetic perspectives to enhance the overall mood, using an aerial view of the kitchen in Cracker Tin Punched with Holes In the Kitchen Corner and a voyeuristic one-point perspective view in My Brother’s Turn. Both of these images imply the negative relationship Ramos had with his mother, who seemingly exerted physical force upon both Wilfredo and his brother. In the exhibition catalogue, Greene (2019) writes that as Ramos was making these drawings “it seemed like they exorcised something from him. It seemed as if he was putting something in its place. As his drawings got heavier, his mood got lighter.”

Self Portrait Jewelry Box (2016) by Edward Schank, is chock-full of personal expression due to its composition of materials that are captivating both aesthetically and symbolically. The sculptural bust is a self-portrait, which Schank created by cutting up 1,374 packages of ramen noodles and weaving them together. The use of Ramen noodles for Schank’s self portrait is a highly significant statement on identity and the complexities of life in prison. The instant noodles are a very popular prison culinary staple, and are also a choice form of currency for inmates to barter with. In prison, ramen noodles are essentially a metaphor for gold or any precious material, which makes Schank’s sculpture fitting and relational as both a high work of art and a jewelry box, which its title implies. Many prisoners have been enduring a food crisis due to meager portions and cuts in the amounts of meals served per day (Santo & Iaboni, 2015), so ramen noodles are a life force for many inmates because they have both nutritional and economic value.

These are just two examples of the conceptual and emotive work that are realized through CPA’s Prison Arts Program. The exhibiting artists all go above and beyond traditional and generic forms of art that are all too often associated with prison art (i.e. bleeding hearts, clasped hands, eagle talons, etc.), and convey highly personal, poignant and enlightened portrayals of the human spirit and the will to transcend the bleak and alienating conditions of life beyond bars.

A major benefit of a good art educational curriculum, is the long lasting impact that it has on the individual’s psyche and their ability to express themselves to the world in a mature, affecting and profound manner. These artists have been dehumanized via the prison system (see: MDC Brooklyn Has Long Been A Frozen Hellhole. The Polar Vortex Just Made it Worse).

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Edward Schank, Self Portrait Jewelry Box, 2016, 1,374 ramen noodle packages, cut and woven.

It is essential that educational programs, like prison art classes, exist in prisons so that incarcerated individuals retain their sense of humanity and actually stand a chance to be rehabilitated (why call it ‘corrections’ if you don’t actually put effort into rehabilitation?). How Art Changed the Prison: The Work of CPA’s Prison Arts Program features an installation consisting of a 15+ minute audio recording from current and past participants of the CPA’s Prison Art’s Program, whose statements are a testament to art’s facilitation in their ability to embrace ambiguity, make deep personal connections, reflect positively on themselves and exhibit empathy.

The work created by the incarcerated artists in CPA’s Prison Arts Program exemplifies how immersing oneself in deeply reflective modes of creation leads to catharsis and transformation. Furthermore, it allows those of us on the outside looking in to be reminded that we are all worthy of being seen, heard and valued.


How Art Changed the Prison: The Work of CPA’s Prison Arts Program is on view through May 27th at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

Exhibiting artists: Lester Alan, Jon Jay Arnold, Allen Benoit, Michael Caron, Ryan Carpenter, Joseph Castellano, Veronica May Clark, Dennis Coleman, Pedro-Martin DeClét, Mark Despres, Jillian Vasquez, George Gould, Frederick Gunn, Trev Hedge, Michael lovieno, Lee Jupina, Paul Blackman, Kimberly Lebel, Luis Norberto Martinez, Vincent Nardone, Yong Mi Olsen, Nicholas Palumbo, James Pinder, Wilfredo Ramos, Michael Reddick, Jose “Nando” Rivera, David Saucier, Edward Schank, June Seger, James D.E. Scott, Michael Seidman, Lamont Thergood, Ross VonWeingarten and Joseph Wilson.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Greene, Jeffrey. 2019. How Art Changed the Prison: The Work of CPA’s Prison Arts Program. Ridgefield: The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

Godoy, Maria. “Ramen Noodles Are Now The Prison Currency Of Choice.” NPR. 26 Aug. 2016. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/26/491236253/ramen-noodles-are-now-the-prison-currency-of-choice

Miller, Hayley. “MDC Brooklyn Has Long Been A Frozen Hellhole.” Huffington Post. 6 Feb. 2019. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mdc-brooklyn-conditions_us_5c59bb62e4b00187b5556cdf

Santo, Alysia and Iaboni, Lisa. “What’s in a Prison Meal?” The Marshall Project. 7 Jul. 2015. https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/07/07/what-s-in-a-prison-meal#.YnsGJHEPl

Seeing is Feeling – Art & Experience for Visually Impaired Individuals

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Unknown photographer, Rebecca Soyer touching Chaim Gross’ Sculpture Young Girl, 1926, archives of the Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation.

Contemporary culture is permeated with sensory experiences that envelope our daily lives. Educational reformer, John Dewey (1938), stated that knowledge is formed by assigning meaning to the sensory experiences that bombard us. We learn when we take notice of sensory information (qualities) that are present in our environment and can attach language to these experiences so we can store them for later recall and sort them into categories so we can see connections between this experience and other experiences. Since just the act of living causes us to experience qualities (sensory information) we are often oblivious of it. It is only when we act upon, assign feelings and react to the information that we form a learning experience.

Learning is not a passive event, therefore we have to actively participate with the incoming information and do something with it in order for this information to hold meaning for us. We draw upon our past history of experience with these sensory qualities and over time form habits, which connect these experiences with feelings and act and react to these sensory qualities. Moreover, Dewey and other Constructivist and progressive thinkers uphold the theory that knowledge is derived from social interactions with others.

Taking this into account, I wanted to investigate how the field of art education addresses pedagogy of active learning that is inclusive of individuals who are either legally blind or visually impaired. These issues have always been of interest to me as an artist, art historian, curator and educator, because I believe that everyone should have accessibility to the visual arts. Art enriches people’s lives and gives them an expressive means for communicating symbolically.

In an earlier post, I discussed how Sculpture for the Blind, by the Blind (2017) by the artist Lenka Clayton, utilizes sensory, inquiry and collaborative learning techniques to re-present the work of Brancusi’s Sculpture for the Blind (1920) in a manner that is accessible and relevant to viewers who are blind or visually impaired.

The aforementioned post also discusses the work of seminal art educator Viktor Lowenfeld and psychologist John M. Kennedy, whose experiential and multisensory pedagogical processes can be utilized to prompt aesthetic responses from visually impaired individuals. Through innovative methods, theories and techniques, artists, art students and art appreciators who have trouble seeing, can immerse themselves in both the creation and viewing of art in profound and personal ways.

Because the arts are so important to our social, emotional and cognitive development, many significant programs have been introduced to make art accessible to the population that is most vulnerable to being left out of aesthetic experiences. It is entirely possible and necessary to include resources in museums and in educational settings that can be accessible by sighted and visually impaired people alike. In fact, including more sensory based learning and viewing opportunities is beneficial for everyone, because as Mitchell (2005) asserts, there are no uniquely visual media even in the most obviously arguable instance of a painting. Mitchell argues that painting is associated with other forms of language and the act of painting isn’t purely visual at all. He states, “seeing painting is seeing touching, seeing the hand gestures of the artist, which is why we are so rigorously prohibited from actually touching the canvas” (Mitchell, 2005, p. 258).

Major museums, like the Cooper Hewitt and  Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) have implemented programs for the public that include ‘touch tours’ where visually impaired visitors are able to feel the works of art while lecturers give detailed aesthetic descriptions of the piece. Ideally, these descriptions and proceeding discussions paint a picture in the ‘mind’s eye’ of the visitor.

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Visitors are engaged in tactile observations of a sculpture by Chaim Gross. Courtesy of The Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation, New York.

One recent example of an educational curriculum being developed and implemented for blind and visually impaired individuals is the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation’s “Tactile Transmissions,” a public educational program that is in conjunction with their current exhibition Teaching Through Touch: Works By Chaim Gross, curated by Sasha Davis and Brittany Cassandra.

During his illustrious career as one of the preeminent American Modernist sculptors, Chaim Gross (1904-1991) implored viewers of his sculptures to engage with them in both a visual and tactile fashion. As a part of his artistic philosophy, Gross wanted viewers to be able to interact with his art through touch, in order to learn first-hand about sculpture and connect to it in a more personal way.

Because sculpture exists in the same dimension as we do, touching sculptural works enables us to experience its three-dimensional form in a profound and engaging way. Additionally, Gross made many of his sculptures using natural materials such as wood, which he hand carved. Therefore, the surface areas of many of his sculptures are brimming with exquisite texture and other elements of art. You can literally feel the artist’s hand and tools that he used for making all of the intricate marks and forms. Allowing all viewers to touch these works of art, provides an intimate hands-on experience that gives insight into how Chaim Gross worked in his studio.

Along with teaching artists (Nitza Danieli, Pamela Lawton, Annie Leist and Deborah Lutz), participants in the at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation’s “Tactile Transmissions” workshops analyze sculptures and drawings by Gross through multisensory activities and then create their own tactile works of art based on a specific theme (the topic is different each session).

Another seminal organization for developing curricula and technology to facilitate artistic learning for visually impaired students is Art Education for the Blind (AEB). AEB was founded in 1987 by museum educator, Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel, as a reaction to the lack of widely available programs and resources for blind and visually impaired individuals to access and appreciate the fine arts. AEB has published many resources to rectify this issue, including a comprehensive multimedia package titled Art History Through Touch and Sound: A Multisensory Guide for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The publication combines audio narrative with an interactive book on the history of art that uses tactile diagrams to guide the reader’s recognition of specific works of art. AEB’s resources and materials are widely used in museums and institutions throughout the world. AEB also works within school environments.

Psychologist John M. Kennedy has also been highly influential in developing contemporary practices for integrating tactile and other sensory explorations within visual art making and appreciation. According to Kennedy, “blind people are intuitively capable of understanding the visual world, even without training or education.” However, with instructional scaffolding and proper sensory resources, the blind and visually impaired individual’s experience with visual art can be just as replete as it is for sighted people.

Kennedy’s (in Bird, 1991) work with blind individuals creates an equal learning situation for them in the classroom. He used malleable rubber drawing boards, which allowed students to touch their drawings that they carved into the rubber sleeve. Using a simple ballpoint pen creates enough pressure to create a raised line on the board. Through this process, students learned about many of the important formal elements of art (line, shape, texture, pattern) and also formulated a comprehension of symbolic meaning, i.e. the changing shape of a car’s wheel to suggest motion (Bird, 1991).

Using raised line drawings and/or three-dimensional models enables blind students to experience the qualities (sensory information) of a work of art or architecture. This also can be helpful in providing context if for example, when learning about the Gothic cathedrals, the students can feel the shape and outline of either a drawing or model, which along with a historical and detailed description from their teacher will provide a vivid aesthetic sensibility in the student’s mind. The haptic experience coupled with a trip to a cathedral and/or the student’s previous encounter(s) inside of a church or place of worship, provides conditions for the type of perception that Dewey (1938) described as assigning meaning to an experience.

Pompano (2007) described how tactile learning, such as touching an object like a chair, allows visually impaired students to understand an object’s formal qualities as well as its essence. Her research with blind students explored the possibilities of learning through tactile and systematic approaches while studying the design of chairs. In other words, teachers can guide the students through the physical experience by describing the different parts of the chair while the student’s hands are touching it. In addition to the physical experience, the teacher will impart historical and technical knowledge upon the students regarding the chairs. While the students are engaging in the tactile discovery of the chair, the teacher can have them think about the common parts of the chairs they are engaging with and then list them. Teachers should coach the student along in their discoveries by asking the students questions about what they’re observing so that the experience of sensory perception and formal analysis become learned habits.

Art educators can make the leap from their students’ recognition of an object to their perception of an experience through social interaction and situated learning in the classroom. Verbal communication from the teacher is a key component to both recognition and perception. It can be equally helpful for sighted and blind students in the same classroom to hear the teacher describe an aesthetic object in terms of its features, which include but are not limited to physicality, location, history and narrative.

According to Castellano (1996), the goal is to have the blind student become a full participant both inside school and in their community. She suggests an increased verbal communicative approach in the classroom, wherein the teacher describes what is going on in the classroom in great detail so that the student can get as clear a picture of the lesson plan as the sighted students. Paying attention to details can help the visually impaired student construct a mental picture within the art classroom. It is through instructional scaffolding that the arts educator can help the blind student associate certain aesthetic qualities of an artwork with their own life experience.

Kuell (2009) describes a case study of a blind student named Melissa who was encouraged by her art teacher, Verna O’Donnell, to create art in the same capacity as sighted students. O’Donnell’s methodology came through trial and error, but she always had several backup plans if one method wasn’t working or engaging. She came up with a way that Melissa could explore art making through sensory perception such as focusing in on the smell and feel of the art materials. O’Donnell also organized her art classroom with very tactile objects (vibrant masks etc.) that both her blind and sighted students would appreciate. She also chose art units that would tap into the student’s personality and creativity such as mask making and imaginary landscapes. Through encouragement of both the teacher and her classmates, Melissa built up her confidence in addition to developing artistically along with the rest of her classmates. In fact, the other students asked O’Donnell about ways they could make their artwork more tactile, so that they would be appreciated and become accessible to everyone in the class.

In conclusion, it is definitely possible for blind individuals to comprehend visual media similarly to those who can see it. Classroom teachers and museum educators should understand how they can create an atmosphere in the classroom or museum that will support and prompt students/visitor’s awareness of the sensory information we are often oblivious or refrained from employing when interacting with art. Every museum collection can be combed through in order to find works of art that would be stable and captivating enough to be handled and expressly interpreted in a tactile manner.

Through both classroom/gallery conversation, tactile exploration and studio time, visually impaired individuals can relate haptic information to their experiences and connect essential qualities to these experiences that are necessary for learning. As educators, we can enhance the experience by asking engaging questions, passionately describing aesthetic qualities by incorporating a wide variety of sensory images and encouraging students to express themselves by forming habits of artistic learning. This will give a wide range of people the confidence and joy that art and art education should have on their lives.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Art Education for the Blind and American Printing House for the Blind . Art History Through Touch and Sound: A Multisensory Guide for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 1998. Louisville: Optical Touch Systems Publishers.

Bird, K. (1991). The Possibilities of Art Education for the Blind. Future Reflections, 10 (3). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr10/issue3/f100325.html

Castellano, C. (1996). The Blind Child in the Regular Elementary Classroom. Future Reflections, 15 (3). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr15/Issue3/f150302.html

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & Education. New York: MacMillan.

Grimm, D. (2010) Teaching art to the blind student. Art Education Daily. Retrieved from

http://arteducationdaily.blogspot.com/2010/12/teaching-art-to-blind-student.html

Kuell, C. (2009). Tapping the Creativity of Blind and Visually Impaired Students. Dialogue, 45 (2) Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr28/3/fr280307.htm

Lowenfeld, V. (1939). The Nature of Creative Activity. New York, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Mitchell, W.J. 2005. “There Are No Visual Media.” Journal of Visual Culture, 4 (2).

Pompano, J. (2001). Teaching Art to the Blind / A Study of Chairs. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. Retrieved from http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/2001/2/01.02.07.x.html

Quotes from the Field v.4

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Scooter LaForge, Creation of the Animals. Photo by Adam Zucker

This is the fourth edition of ‘Quotes from the Field’ (See: previous posts), where quotes from artists are interpreted within the framework of educational themes. This edition features quotes by modern and contemporary artists Cy Twombly, Scooter LaForge and Catherine Wagner.


“I look at a lot of artists. I’m inspired by – I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘inspired,’ but it’s not really influenced. I am inspired. Art comes from art.” – Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly’s awe-inspiring paintings and drawings were inspired by his participation in the Abstract Expressionist, as well as the lineage of painting, dating back to Ancient civilizations in Europe and Africa. Twombly’s work contributed a unique aesthetic vocabulary to the language of abstraction. While Abstract Expressionism was being celebrated as an American art movement, Twombly revisited Modern Art’s European and African roots, in order to blur the lines between the past and present, and transcend geographical boundaries.

Twombly’s aesthetic dynamism combined the inner dialogue of Abstract Expressionist painting with a lyrical re-presentation of ancient Greco-Roman culture. This artistic dialogue shifted the paradigm within the American expressionist mode. In addition to the process oriented, ‘action painting,’ Twombly added layers of text mark making that reference Greek and Roman mythology, geography, history and contemporary graffiti.

One of the main responsibilities of an art educator (or educator in general) is to present an open-ended view of multiculturalism and the unique cultural identities throughout our global community. A great way to engage and implement themes of multiculturalism, is to show how art has informed and shaped our perception of ourselves and our environment.

Art is intrinsically connected to the natural and supernatural world around the artist and the viewer. It is informed by past and present forms of creativity, and can be understood most repletely as a continuum of artful explorations, discoveries and insights.

The creation and interpretation of art is largely based on the experiences of groups and individuals within civilization. This means that we have similar and different perspectives about themes, topics and issues that are happening simultaneously. Through studying art, we learn to make connections between our own familiar backgrounds and the cultures of other co-existing individuals and communities. Artists are great observers, participants and contributors of culture. A good artist understands how to look at the art of the past and present in order to find symbolic relationships and create new meanings based on prior cultural instances.

Educators, artists and art historians should be keen to the diversity within the cultural environment and be willing to delve deeper into practices and theories that are outside of the traditional canons. Learning about how art from across the globe is relative to the complete human condition can increase our own sense of collective purpose and inspire us to be more innovative and empathetic.


“Now I paint what I feel, rather than what I see.” – Scooter LaForge

“Draw what you see and not what you know” is somewhat of a mantra within primary and secondary art education settings (and introductory art classes at any level). This phrase is a useful to support the development of foundational art making skills. The key to a beneficial and well rounded art education is transitioning and going back and forth between representing what you see and conveying what you feel.

Once student artists have learned to trust their eyes and become astute observers of the world around them, then they can hone in on what makes a work of art unique: personal expression and symbolic meaning. The latter elements are derived from internal impulses and a playful, yet serious interaction between subconscious activities and metacognition.

Communicating and transforming personal expression into visible and interpretive forms is the artist’s forte. Scooter LaForge spent several long and challenging years immersing himself in material based explorations and building a repertoire of subject matter, which was inspired by New York City, the city he calls home, and the dynamic energy of its cultural landscape. Other sources of inspiration are results of his travels, knowledge, inquiries into new subjects, and passionate involvement in personal and communal experiences. His style is deeply representative of how he sees himself as an artist and a contributing member to several different subcultures (i.e. fashion, visual art and the LGBTQ art scene) within the creative community. Looking at LaForge’s paintings, which are composed in a manner akin to the Expressionist mode of art, it is apparent that he is a painter who liberally exudes his feelings through the gestural application of paint.


“The process of making art is about integrity and about defining one’s place in society.” – Catherine Wagner

Catherine Wagner’s artworks investigate how civilizations develop, implement and define elements of humanity such as love, unity, education, ambition and how we display self and collective-worth. Working expressively through the lens of the camera, Wagner’s photographs communicate narratives of the daily systems and experiences that humans observe and interact with, such as scientific methods, architectural foundations and educational environments.

Artists make art to explore and communicate insightful and deeply humanizing topics. Making art is uniquely connected to expressing one’s unique identity, questioning societal roles and meanings, and synthesizing a range of feelings, emotions and thoughts into a cohesive and sincere messages.

The arts give individuals of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to express themselves within the context of how they perceive themselves in society. It is a powerful resource for developing self-esteem, exhibiting empathy and making an impact within the community.


Do you have a favorite artistic quote that relates to themes or topics on learning or education? If so, and you feel inspired to share, please comment below or send via the contact form.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Bonetti, David. “Humans Absent From, but Central to Wagner Photos: Exhibition Confirms Her High Standing.” San Francisco Chronicle, 29 March 2001. http://articles.sfgate.com/2001-03-29/entertainment/17588924_1_george-moscone-convention-center-catherine-wagner-painting

Jones, Chelsea. “How Twombly Changed Abstract Expressionism.” Canvas. 24 Apr. 2017. https://canvas.saatchiart.com/art/art-history-101/how-twombly-changed-abstract-expressionism

Krasner, Bob. “Scooter LaForge paid his dues and kept painting.” The Villager. 5 Feb. 2009. https://www.thevillager.com/2019/02/scooter-laforge-paid-his-dues-and-kept-painting/