Nature’s Classroom


Mark Dion, installation view of Neukom Vivarium, 2006. Photo by Vmenkov

Forest schools are a popular pedagogical method and physical educational environment throughout Scandinavian countries. Beginning in Sweden and Denmark during the 1950s, Forest Schools provide students and teachers with the means and experiences to develop strong bonds between themselves and nature. The typical forest school curriculum involves a series of outdoor instruction where students learn how to interact with nature and sustainably become independent and holistic providers for themselves and others. They build knowledge around different types of ecosystems, which is simultaneously incorporated into multidisciplinary learning situations (i.e. learning math, science and language arts from natural phenomena). When I was in eight grade, my class took a trip to Nature’s Classroom, a remote outdoor school where we transcended the traditional classroom setting and worked collaboratively as students and teachers to foster a greater awareness for nature and the role we have in sustaining, preserving and improving our unique world. Hands on inquiry-based experiences supporting food sovereignty, communal living and orienteering, have had an enduring impact on my love and devotion for the great outdoors. To this day, I consider myself to be a lifelong learner outside of traditional classroom walls.

While there are ample opportunities to engage all students and communities through outdoor enrichment, inequity is at the crux of the issue. Sadly, the use of public space and natural environments feels like a privileged discussion to have, due to the fact that so many communities are excluded from utilizing safe outdoor spaces. Browsing maps of urban settings reveals the disparity between availability to public space and socioeconomic class systems. Furthermore, simply having access to parks nearby doesn’t address the fact that there’s implicit and explicit bias around the use and understandings of ecosystems. We need to find a way to make this a human right. Incorporating forest schools as a collaboration between public parks (or community nonprofit green spaces) and public schools is a real possibility if education at large would get the funding it deserves.


Ana Mendieta, Tree of Life, 1974, color photograph. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York and Paris and Alison Jacques Gallery, London.

In regions of the world that face serious consequences with regards to resuming in-person learning, forest schools present one viable option that can uphold physical distancing and promote better health and wellness. Being outdoors has proven to be a more effective and safer environment for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Besides the health benefits, forest schools have enormous impact on scaffolding students’ appreciation for themselves, each other and the natural world at large. Educating present and future generations to respect, love and care for natural resources is vital in the face of accelerated climate change and habitat loss cause by human’s political, economic and social behavior.

Outdoor learning is replete with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) benefits, which are important for preparing students to become innovators and critical thinkers both professionally and personally. STEAM is recognized because these disciplines work well concurrently. In the wilderness, natural objects provide myriad ways to explore, discover and make insights that support STEAM subjects. As this blog has consistently argued (see: previous STEAM themed posts), the ‘A’ in STEAM is the binder that holds the other subjects together. Art is everywhere in a world that rewards sensory qualities and social engagement. Art is at once tangible and conceptual. It encompasses both abstract concepts like formalism (the way art is made in terms that are purely visual and/or material) and social and cultural experiences (the artistic process). Nature is full of aesthetic and contextual properties and occurrences that coincide with theories and methodologies in visual art.  Art allows for personal expression and the envelopment of processes that reveal the humanitarian nature within science, technology, math and engineering.


Susan Hoenig, Red Oak Leaf Sculpture, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

I have frequently written about artists who make work that coexists with ecology, while also seeking to educate others about the beauty, as well as the social, emotional and cognitive benefits of understanding the natural world. These artists include Susan Hoenig (see: The Artful Environmentalist), Maren Hassinger (see: Tree of Knowledge), Michael Wang, Alan Sonfist (see: Back to Nature: Learning about ecosystems of the past and building future ecological awareness), Agnes Denes, Joseph Beuys, Mel Chin (see: Activating Art and Education for Activism), Mark Dion (see: Attention to Details: Noticing Deeply Through Art) and Ana Mendieta (see: Chutes and Scaffolds). Each of the aforementioned artists represent practical and expressive ways of re-imagining and heightening our senses to issues concerning the global environment. Beuys (7000 Oaks), Chin (Revival Field), Denes (The Living Pyramid), Dion (Neukom Vivarium), Sonfist (Time Landscape) and Wang (Extinct in New York) each created works of art that seek to recuperate and re-imagine contemporary (largely urban) landscapes in a manner that reflects thriving wildernesses of the past. Hassinger (Pink Trash), Mendieta (Tree of Life) and Hoenig (Ecological Leaf Sculptures) collaborate with existing natural structures by including their own aesthetic flair. In Mendieta’s case it is her own body and in Hassinger and Hoenig’s practices, it is a light manipulation or transformation of found objects to create site-specific installations that bring awareness to the prowess and complexity of natural forms.


Mary Mattingly, Core, 2020, living sculpture. Photograph by Adam Zucker.

Artful explorations towards addressing issues like climate change, deforestation and pollution, result in insights that have ramifications on multidisciplinary learning (the STEM subjects). When Mel Chin collaborated with Dr. Rufus Chaney, USDA’s senior research agronomist, they discovered a breakthrough in the practice of soil remediation. When Mary Mattingly created Swale and Core (see: Down to Earth: Extraordinary STEAM Learning), she utilized techniques and principles from engineering, mathematics and science to address food sovereignty and soil and water safety. Education via the outdoors is a way for individuals to acquire a multitude of social and professional skills, while partaking in embodied experiences that help shape their perception about themselves, their peers and their environment. We all are subjected to the effects of climate change, which include the rise in pandemics. It would behoove educational policy makers, school boards and administrators to consider safe alternatives to physical school environments, especially by advocating for scenarios that involve collaborative opportunities where students can achieve positive outdoor experiences. The outdoor environment should be seen as a place that encourages, motivates, engages and inspires playful and serious learning, relationships and insights. We should all have opportunities to safely enjoy the fruits of natural knowledge that blossoms in nature’s classroom.

‘Funktional’ Art Education


Xenobia Bailey, Funktional Vibrations, 2014, glass mosaic. Courtesy of  the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York.

I’m not a religiously observant Jew, but my Jewishness is a large part of who I am today. My realization and embracing of my Jewish identity came at a very early age, thanks largely to my extended family introducing me to a wide range of cultural, historical and social narratives around Judaism and the Jewish diaspora. I learned about the joys and sorrows of my ancestors through literature, songs, plays and arts and crafts. Balancing the good times and the bad times and feeling a communal sense of pride for overcoming obstacles is something that I discovered through observing and experiencing Jewish folk lore, community gatherings (both religious and cultural) and current events. My Jewish identity is a large part of my whole self, and has influenced everything from domestic skills (ask those who have tried my Hanukkah latkes and borscht!) to social and professional developments.

One of the most important principles that I attribute to my Jewish upbringing is the idea that we are simultaneously unique and interconnected as a human race. It is painful to see the fission existing within our culture at large, which pits people of similar and different religious, ethnic, physical, social and emotional experiences against one another. While I have experienced a fair amount of antisemitism, my white skin tone provides me with many privileges that are blatantly not afforded to my Black and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) brothers and sisters. Judaism has taught me several lessons involving going beyond tolerance and finding insightful and pragmatic ways to bolster empathy and build bridges between seemingly desperate faiths and cultures. It has also taught me something that along with (and similar to) contemporary art has shaped my pedagogical philosophy: we are not final products, we are works in progress and learning is our greatest asset to fostering personal and collective value, empathy and progress. Lifelong learning through experience, observation and active listening are all elements of a good art education. And as I’ve been expressing throughout this blog, art education is essential for inspiring much needed ingenuity, empathy and critical thinking.

I recently had the chance to learn from interdisciplinary artist Xenobia Bailey, which led me to reflect and assess my own experiences and education regarding intersectional identity, self-purpose and communal value. Bailey was presenting via Black Lunch Table‘s Instagram live event on June 7th, and through the course of her non-linear discussion she shared incredible insights about her interests and experiential knowledge of art, design, Black history, education, nutrition and the supernatural. Her message of advocating for Black children to have an all encompassing childhood and become both interdependent and independent under a contemporary Black aesthetic, is central to the tenets of ‘whole body learning.’ In order to repletely impact one’s desire to learn; physical, emotional and mental engagement should scaffold and inform how students’ and educators collaborate via the learning cycle (see: Swindall, McGee and Leyden, 2014). The contemporary Black aesthetic Bailey was referring to is constantly in flux just like our constantly expanding notions of culture, identity and epistemology. It is an art form, philosophy and pedagogy that incorporates extensive cultural narratives and promotes physical and emotional well-being in tandem with the African diaspora and the plurality of all Black individuals. She mentioned the importance of play, lullabies and folktales centered around Black experiences (both real and fantasized) in order to foster imagination and ingenuity. Bailey explained that reprising and creating folktales, lullabies and games uniquely centered on uplifting Black experiences will inspire young generations to shape their present and future through an equal, equitable and justice driven lens. A Black aesthetic includes examples of art, literature, fashion, design, music, healing and spirituality that rhizomatically connects ancestral Africa to contemporary Black life (see: Tree of Knowledge).

Black culture at large, is linked to polyphonic thinking. The history of Black civilization and Africa involves transdisciplinary approaches to living and learning. The utilization of mathematics in Ancient and present day Africa is intrinsic to daily life. The oldest games inspired by numerical and logical systems were developed by Sub-Saharan civilizations, and mathematical insights continually envelop many different aspects of culture throughout the continent. Rhythms from music and dance, colors from art and clothing and healing properties from food, are all connected to holistic Earthly and other phenomena that is observed and experienced (see: Bangura, 2011 and Wright, n.d.).

Bailey’s art-centered pedagogy supports developing domestic skills and industrious mindsets to strengthen social and emotional well-being. One of the aims for a contemporary Black aesthetic is to build a world for future Black generations that is largely devoid of racism and inequity. Through exploring, discovering and sharing insights around Black experiences and African diasporic cultures, Bailey hopes that individuals have the chance to live their best lives and feel pride in expressing themselves. She mentioned that under a contemporary Black aesthetic education life skills would be learned through play and imagination. Fables, fairy tales, lullabies and works of art will have Black protagonists, inspirational themes and celebrate Afrocentric perspectives in an open-ended manner (see: Abraha, 2020 and Grady, 2020). There will be a fusion of traditional and contemporary Black craft making, holistic healing practices and nutrition, which will enable people to realize their creative ambitions and autonomous financial goals while feeling efficacious about themselves and others.

Bailey’s personal creative oeuvre is influenced by functional and esoteric African-American and Pan-African aesthetics. She calls her utilitarian practice ‘Funktional’ because she marries the vibrant, groovy and syncopated styles associated with Funk, with time honored African American industrial arts (i.e. weaving, quilting, embroidery and wood carving). In 2014, Bailey was commissioned by the socially engaged public arts organization, Creative Time, to participate in an exhibition called Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn. The exhibition featured four community-based installations that were accessible by walking through Brooklyn’s historic Weeksville neighborhood.

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Funktional Design Vanity Table created by students at Boys & Girls High School and fabricated at Weeksville Heritage Center for Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn. Photo: Xenobia Bailey. Courtesy of the artist and A Blade of Grass.

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Student, designing furniture from found cardboard boxes at Boys & Girls High School as part of Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn. Photo: Xenobia Bailey. Courtesy of the artist and A Blade of Grass.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Bailey collaborated with sixty students from Boys & Girls High School in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn to design and fabricate furniture to decorate one of Weeksville’s Historic Hunterfly Road Houses. The prompt that inspired Bailey and the young artists was to envision three pieces of furniture made using recycled materials, for an imaginary couple moving into an apartment in modern day Bed-Stuy. She explained that she “asked these juniors and seniors to draw from familiar designs — ones that were in their own homes — to outfit one of the historic Hunterfly houses. My goal was to cultivate their innate design aptitudes through visualization, play and fabrication. Our tools and materials were nothing but X-Acto blades, glue and recycled cardboard boxes” (see: Bailey, 2014). During her Instagram live talk, Bailey mentioned how inspirational it was to work with and learn from the students. She described how each student incorporated their own personal styles to the creative process, which were based on their cultural backgrounds, interests and life experiences. The amalgamation of the students’ uniqueness formed cohesive furniture design concepts that expressed the plurality and profundity of contemporary Black aesthetics.

Towards the end of her talk, Bailey mentioned something that I’ve also been contemplating a lot lately, which is how we will seize this current moment and turn challenges into something mutually beneficial that will continue to resonate throughout the course of human history.  She used the notation systems BC (Before Coronavirus) and AC (After Coronavirus) to riff on the the year-numbering system used by the Gregorian calendar to record moments in time; and implored us to consider how we will utilize our time to improvise on a better world, one that is transcendent from the glaring social and cultural problems of present day life. While we acknowledge that Black Lives Matter and act to dismantle systemic racism, we need to simultaneously work towards uplifting Black voices, Black experiences and Black aesthetics. Bailey’s own words, repeated in the captions of her recent Instagram posts, signify the perfect mantra for our collective consciousness: “We all have Super Powers, Learn Them•Practice reciprocity with the Earth•You Must Tap Out To Tap In•Operate In Love, (not fear) Love Wins. No Fear” (Bailey, 2020). 

This is a chance
To dance your way
Out of your constrictions
(Tell suckah!)
Here’s a chance to dance our way
Out of our constrictions
Gonna be freakin’
Up and down
Hang-up alley way
With the groove our only guide
We shall all be moved
Ready or not here we come
Gettin’ down on
The one which we believe in
One nation under a groove

From One Nation Under a Groove (1978) by Funkadelic

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Abraha, Magdalene. “Publishing has ignored and pigeonholed black authors for too long.” The Guardian, 9 June 2020.

Bailey, Xenobia. “Teaching Brooklyn Kids ‘Funktional’ Furniture Design.”, 24 September 2014.

Bailey, Xenobia. (@xenba_xenba). “(Exposing) “False Evidence Appearing Real•We all have Super Powers, Learn Them•Practice reciprocity with the Earth•You Must Tap Out To Tap In•Operate In Love, (not fear) Love Wins. No Fear” (…or Foolishness)Instagram, 27 June 2020,

Bangura, Abdul Karim. African Mathematics: From Bones to Computers. University Press of America, 2011.

Gerdas, Paulus. “On Mathematics in the History of Sub-Saharan Africa.” Historia Mathematica. Volume 21, Issue 3, August 1994, Pages 345–376. Accessed 26 June 2020

Grady, Constance. “The need to read black literature that’s not just about black struggle.” Vox, 20 June 2020.

Swindall, Emily; McGee, Katherine; and Leyden, Jessie M., “Whole Body Learning in the Classroom” (2014). Georgia Association for Positive Behavior Support Conference. 21.

Wright, Calli. “13 Interesting Facts About Math in Ancient Africa.” MIND Research Institute Blog, n.d. Accessed 26 June 2020


Artfully Dismantling Systemic Racism


Dread Scott, from the Wanted series. Courtesy of the artist.

Racism is the longest uninterrupted epidemic within our collective American culture. It is a gaping wound and festering infection intrinsic with the founding of the United States. Although there have been strides to dismantle racist structures and work towards a society of equality, equity and social justice for all, we have a long way to go before any substantial victory can be declared. Racism and racial injustice have been amplified throughout an angry and divided populace, and our local and national leaders are perfectly content with throwing fuel on the fire. The nationwide Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations are a result of centuries of authoritative abuse on Black individuals and communities. 401 years to be precise. Protests against oppressive forces are beneficial to spur a multiplicity of dialogues that are necessary to create tangible social change.

There is never a good time for complacency in the face of adversity. There is no option to go back to ‘normal’ times. That simply won’t suffice. If you feel differently, ask yourself what it means to go ‘back to normal.’ The desire for normalcy involves ignoring problematic cultural, economic and political frameworks, which got us to this volatile moment, just to have some semblance of our conditioned social routines once again. This idea of being nostalgic for the comfort and convenience of daily life is a privileged outlook that is largely divided based upon race and class. An example of this division is the data within the latest jobs report, showing a decrease in unemployment. The results showed that while some Americans are returning to work after nationwide quarantines, the number of Black individuals on unemployment actually went up (see: Thomson-DeVeaux, Amelia, Paine, Neil and Wolfe, Julia, 2020). Furthermore, black individuals are disproportionately affected by occupational hazards related to the COVID-19 pandemic than other races. “According to research from the Current Populations Survey, black workers were more likely to be employed in essential services than white workers, with 37.7% of black workers employed in these industries compared with 26.9% of white workers” (see: Hawkins, 2020). Returning to ‘normal’ means being content living with the ills of society, while continuing on a path under the illusion of progress.

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Martin Puryear. Ladder for Booker T. Washington, detail, 1996. Installation view at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. Production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 2 episode, “Time,” 2003. Photo © Art21, Inc. 2003.

Contemporary artist, Martin Puryear, describes the symbolism of his monumental sculpture Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996) –a title that alludes to the influential 19th century activist and educator Booker T. Washington – as “the kind of gradual, illusory notion of upward progress that Washington encouraged blacks to adopt in the nineteenth century against an overwhelming set of obstacles to our advancement” (Powell, 2007). We are still climbing “Booker T’s Ladderin our society’s struggle overcoming systemic racism (see: Still Climbing Booker T. Washington’s Ladder), but educators and their students have the opportunity to set foundations for long lasting social change.

What can we do within our art and art education practices to address and dismantle systemic racism? Meaningful responses will require both pragmatic and creative thinking, communication, teamwork and action. All of the above are indicative of the lessons we learn via the arts (see: Educating Through Art).

Artistic immersion is a great catalyst for an individual to formulate enduring understandings about culture and their place within the human experience, while also providing them with agency to express themselves and communicate the issues of their time. In the arts there are no definitively right or wrong ways to approach a problem. Art educator, Elliot Eisner, stated that the process of thinking artfully addresses moments in life that cannot be approached using formulas and rules. Exploring, discovering and making insights about art helps us apply flexible and critical thinking in our everyday lives. In uncertain times, art lifts up our spirits, liberates our minds and gives us a vibrant voice to communicate with the culture at large. It is a discipline that affords us agency to express ourselves humanely and teaches us to consider multiple perspectives, make judgements in the absence of rules and exhibit empathy. These are essential lessons for taking on uncertainty and fear and working towards fostering a more reflective, equitable and justice driven society.

Some of the best resources we each have to offer towards the dissolution of racism is our empathy and willingness to grow and learn. Employing active listening to understand the experiences of others, closely observing and looking out for signs of abuse and discrimination, speaking out against racist rhetoric and behaviors and addressing our own implicit and explicit forms of bias; are key to shifting the paradigm towards an equitable and justice centered environment. Other resources we can provide as educators, artists and cultural producers include raising awareness around pluralism in our fields and supporting the voices, ideas and labor of BIPOC (Black Indigenous Persons of Color) individuals.  Below are a few examples* of artists, art historians and art educators who are doing critical aesthetic and pedagogical work that implores us to reflect on systemic racial and social inequality, inequity and injustice, and build strong and united communities as a response.

*This section is a work in progress that will be updated and eventually archived*

Black Lunch Table – Artists Heather Hart and Jina Valentine address issues of intersectionality and pluralism through their Black Lunch Table initiative. The project, combines oral history, formal conversation, art making and viewing and community building around experiences related to the African diaspora. Black Lunch Table has been creating an archive, as well as performing art-centered initiatives aimed to fill in gaps around pedagogy that is focused on Black contemporary culture. (See prior Artfully Learning posts about Black Lunch Table)

The Black School – Founded by contemporary artists Shani Peters and Joseph Cuillier III, The Black School’s objective is to “extend the legacy of art in Black radical histories by providing innovative education alternatives centered in Black love.” The pedagogical philosophy driving the Black School’s contemporary practice reflects  historical contributions that artists and educators like Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence and John T. Biggers made to socially engaged Black art education. The Black School is also influenced by community schools such as The Harlem Community Art Center, The Civil Rights era Freedom Schools and The Black Panther Party’s Liberation Schools. Guided by revolutionary Black educators and progressive Black pedagogical theory, The Black School designs and implements experiential learning opportunities as a means to scaffold a lifelong thirst for social justice and activism among the BIPOC students and non-Black allies that they teach. Through art making workshops, The Black School seeks to empower individuals to become lifelong learners and community activists.

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Conversation between the robot Bina48 and artist Stephanie Dinkins.

Stephanie Dinkins – One of the most problematic consequences of AI is its predisposition to exhibit discriminatory bias against marginalized communities. Science journalist Daniel Cossins (2018) writes about five algorithms that exposed AI’s racial, gender and economic prejudice towards non-white men. This information is deeply troubling because AI is used by advertisers, job recruiters and the criminal justice system.

Stephanie Dinkins’ transdisciplinary artwork, Conversations with Bina48 (2014-ongoing), reveals how AI conflates and struggles with issues of gender, class and race in its attempt to exhibit humane behavior. The big question that is explored within Dinkins’ work is whether it is possible to teach a robot the habits of mind that will inspire an environment of hope, love, humility and trust, and enable humans and intelligent machines to be empathetic and virtuous collaborators. (Text has been edited from a previously published Artfully Learning post)

Kimberly Drew – Drew is an art historian and curator, whose influential work via social media, in museums and the community, helps us to develop knowledge of Black contemporary art through critical dialogues about black artists and black representation in the artworld. In 2011, she started a Tumblr blog called Black Contemporary Art, which archived images and information pertaining to black artists, in order to raise engagement and viewership of their work within social media realms.

Drew’s recently published book, This Is What I Know About Art (New York: Penguin Workshop, 2020), is an educational journey centered around experiential lessons that Drew has learned from immersing herself in art and activism. The book is geared for adolescents, but is a great read for any age group, and is an inspirational take on how art can benefit our everyday lives, and help us to feel efficacious about ourselves and the work we do.


Nona Faustine, “Untitled (Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.)” ©Nona Faustine (2016)

Nona Faustine – Faustine’s conceptual photography reveals the oft-untold history of slavery, imperialism and the continuation of systemic racism. Her work continues to open my eyes and mind and leads me to make further inquiries into past and present forms of racial injustice on micro and macro scales. Faustine’s powerful White Shoes series makes us starkly aware of sites where atrocities related to the social, cultural and economic elements of slavery occurred. Many of these sites had been unforgivably forgotten through time and were not marked or memorialized with historical plaques. Faustine further personalizes these photographs by including herself in the composition, wearing only a pair of white high heeled shoes, a poignant allusion to the affects of colonialism and capitalism on the bodies of Black women. White Shoes goes beyond paying homage to Black women from prior generations, it is an unflinching statement that the wrongdoings of the past are inseparable from the current state of affairs.

Faustine’s My Country series is an artistic examination of iconic and contested monuments in America. She uses abstraction to shift our perspective and question who and what these monuments serve. Through Faustine’s photographic imagery, the history of Black suffering and sacrifice is being reclaimed. Educators can use her powerful images to ask important questions about historical bias, collective memory and identity, such as:  “What is history, who records it and what might be some reasons why certain people and events are left out?” “What is a memorial? Who decides what to memorialize and how does that affect and reflect social ideologies?” “How might our collective memory change as a result of opening up more inclusive dialogues and learning about the stories of historically marginalized people?” (See prior Artfully Learning posts about Faustine’s art)


Chantal Feitosa, detail of two dolls from Happy Mulattos: Collectors Edition, 2018, human hair, polymer clay, hand-stitched assorted fabrics, polyester fiberfill. Courtesy of the artist.

Chantal Feitosa – Feitosa makes art to communicate aspects of nature and nurture. Through a playful re-imagining of her experiences in social and educational settings, she confronts long-standing traditions of marginalization and the trauma that various forms of bias have on a person’s development. Pedagogy is a major medium in her artistic practice, and she employs modes and archetypes from early childhood education and communal learning to address systemic social structures that affect equitable educational and societal experiences. Feitosa’s experience growing up between two cultures (Brazil and the United States) has had an impact on her development as both an artist and a citizen. She utilizes her multidisciplinary-based art to gain insight into how multiculturalism and immigration affects the way we communicate themes of racial bias, body image and belonging.

In Happy Mulattos: Collector’s Edition (2018), Feitosa handcrafted a group of dolls with features representative of mixed-race individuals (a Mulatto is a derogatory term that has been used to describe a person of mixed white and black ancestry), which were then introduced to ‘focus groups’ of nursery school-aged children through a series of organized ‘playdates’ (see: Happy Multattos: Playdates, 2018). The children’s responses to each doll’s physical features expressed playful ingenuity, but also showed that at their early stages of social and cognitive development, they had already established specific notions about race, gender and beauty standards. (Text has been edited from a previously published post)

maren hassinger at Pearl City (002)

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

Maren Hassinger- Hassinger’s art addresses our humane and intrinsic interaction with the natural environment. Her materials-based practice makes use of everyday objects to create oft-large scale installations and performances, which explore themes of identity and interwoven narratives between the past and present. She is currently focusing on making work that investigates issues of equality. Hassinger’s blending of natural and industrial materials makes a strong statement that art is all around us and can be both a critical and holistic experience. (See prior Artfully Learning posts about Maren Hassinger’s art)


Titus Kaphar, Shifting the Gaze, 2017, oil on canvas, 83 × 1031/4 in. (210.8 × 262.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, William K. Jacobs Jr., Fund, 2017.34. © Titus Kaphar. (Photo: Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery)

Titus Kaphar- While taking an art history survey course in college, Titus Kaphar realized that the course content had been whitewashed to reflect Eurocentric ideals and images of affluent white male figures. Noticing that art made by artists of African descent was only a short segment within a larger textbook, and the reaction of indifference from his professor when he asked why the class had skipped over those topics, prompted Kaphar to look closely at the ways that black figures have been treated within historical works of art. These insights have led to his seminal artworks re-examining of Western civilization, which revivify and highlight the African American subjects who have been marginalized throughout art history.

Kaphar’s painting, Shifting the Gaze, is a repainting of Frans Hals’ Family Group in a Landscape (c.1648), a 17th century portrait of a wealthy Dutch family standing in front of a lush forest near the shore. While the family is portrayed distinctively so that we know they are of a particularly noble status, Hals mysteriously included a black boy in dark clothing, sandwiched between the mother and daughter. His positioning seemingly several inches behind the family, gives the perspective of his being nearly invisible. If not for his white collar he’d hardly be seen at all. His brown skin and tunic blend into the dark green and brown tones of the trees in the background. He actually becomes more of a background formal element than a contextual figure within the painting. In the object description by the head curator of Old Master painting from the museum where the work is held, the dog next to the daughter –ironically rendered nearly as invisible as the boy– is mentioned and analyzed, while there is no acknowledgment of the boy’s presence whatsoever. (Text has been edited from a previously published post)

The Laundromat Project – For 15 years and counting, The Laundromat Project has been championing communities of color and supporting social change, through fostering collaborative learning, dialogue and creative endeavors between artists and their neighbors. The organization has made a sustainable economic and sociocultural commitment to building pluralist communities, where neighbors embody and portray multigenerational, multiracial and multidisciplinary identities and experiences through making art together.

The Laundromat Project amplifies the voices of BIPOC artists in their own communities, and reflects the importance of art-centered community building by stating that “When artists and communities collaborate toward collective goals, we create meaningful transformation and wellbeing. Making art and culture in community and fostering new leadership helps shape a world in which members feel truly connected and have the ability to influence and shape their communities in creative and effective ways.”

I Can’t Breathe, a Public-participatory Workshop and Performance from S&DRF on Vimeo.

Sean Leonardo – Leonardo’s performance artwork critically addresses and dismantles traditional notions of gender and race. An overarching theme in his art is a grappling with the idea of manhood. He scrutinizes popular ideas of hyper-masculinity and how stereotypical cultural obsessions with idealized male identities affect the social, emotional and cognitive development of men. Subjects that inspire his performances include professional sports, comic book superheros and BIPOC popular culture.

When Eric Garner was killed by an NYPD’s officers illegal choke hold, Leonardo responded with I Can’t Breath, a series of performances through which he teaches self-defense and de-escalation methods to the public. During the performance, Leonardo coaches his participants through four physical maneuvers:

1) How to break an arm hold.
2) How to reestablish distance if someone grabs your shirt.
3) How to block a punch.
4) And lastly, how to apply the very same choke hold, that took Eric Garner’s life.


Steve Locke, Installation view of A Partial List of Unarmed African-Americans who were Killed by Police of Who Died in Police Custody During my Sabbatical from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, 2014-2015, 2016. Photograph by Melissa Blackall Photography.

Steve Locke – Locke is a multidisciplinary contemporary artist with a long and accomplished history in education and community art-centered activism. His art envisions ways of memorializing and raising a collective consciousness for marginalized individuals and communities affected by racist ideologies and actions. By poignantly addressing systemic racism and implicit bias within the community at large, Locke’s work exemplifies some of the ways we can empower the voices of those who had their voices violently silenced.

A Partial List of Unarmed African-Americans who were Killed By Police or Who Died in Police Custody During My Sabbatical from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, 2014-2015 (2016), is a monumental installation that displays the names of 262 people killed by police brutality. Locke’s stark memorial, which provides details regarding each person (i.e. age and gender) and the way they were killed (i.e. date, location and weapons/tactics used), covered an entire wall inside the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts as a part of the exhibition . Locke’s list reflects the ongoing movement to #SayTheirName, which is a public campaign that encourages publications and social media users to focus on the individual humanity of each victim and use their names in the discourse around systemic racism.

Project Row Houses – Project Row Houses is a contemporary community building model, supporting cultural diversity within the Third Ward through art-centered placemaking. Founded in 1993 by Rick Lowe, a contemporary artist from Alabama, Project Row Houses supports the local community by offering creative solutions to social, economic and educational issues within the Third Ward. When Lowe developed the idea for Project Row Houses –in collaboration with artists James Bettison (1958-1997), Bert Long, Jr. (1940-2013), Jesse Lott, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples and George Smith)– he incorporated several specific projects that would uniquely address the needs of Third Ward residents. Project Row Houses provides local artists with studios; safe and affordable housing for those in the community; support for young single mothers; an incubator for small independent businesses and tutoring/mentoring services for students.

In light of ongoing gentrification in many diverse working class and low-income neighborhoods, the need for affordable housing, job training, student-centered education and economical workspace is at an all-time high. Lowe realized that providing creative space could be a catalyst for other socially engaged projects that incorporate studio habits of mind in order to create much needed social, economic and educational improvements. (See prior Artfully Learning posts about Project Row Houses)

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Still from Dread Scott’s performance On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide, 2014, produced by More Art. Courtesy of More Art.

Dread Scott – Scott’s alias pays homage to the 19th century activist Dred Scott, notable for suing for his freedom. His art intends to make us uncomfortably aware that the United States of America was founded on racism and genocide. In his performance On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide (October 7, 2014), Scott referenced the 1963 civil rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama, where city officials used water cannons in an attempt to suppress activists who were organizing against the city’s racist segregation policies. In a feat of physical endurance, Scott attempted to cross from one side of a public plaza to the other while being bombarded by a powerful stream of water shot from a fire hose.

Scott recently staged a reenactment of the German Coast Uprising of 1811, which was a slave rebellion in Louisiana. By and large, Scott’s revolutionary inspired artworks re-present history by illuminating marginalized and underrepresented sociocultural events that we all should be aware of. Other projects like Wanted, make us painfully aware of our implicit and explicit bias, and critique racist methodologies that are frequently involved in the policing of black communities. In this body of work, Scott uses the familiar imagery of police sketches used on ‘wanted posters’ to expose the harsh reality of racial stereotypes and systemic racism. Each poster contains a sketch of a black individual, drawn by artist and former Newark (New Jersey) police sketch artist, Kevin Blythe Sampson, along with a description of the subject. An example of one of the posters reads: “On Saturday May 17, 2014, at approximately 12:30 AM, a male black, 16-24 years of age was wearing a black waist length jacket and dark pants. The male was observed engaging in conversation with other males. The police allege that the suspect moved suspiciously when officers approached…”

Although the concepts and imagery in Scott’s artworks are resolute, they leave ample space for us to reflect on the collective trauma around systemic racism and find insightful ways in which we can propel history forward. (See prior Artfully Learning posts about Dread Scott’s art)

Clarissa Sligh – Less than 65 years ago, there were separate schools for children based upon the color of their skin. When the contemporary artist Clarissa Sligh was growing up in Virginia county, she wasn’t initially allowed to attend schools with white children. In fact, when she was fifteen (in 1956), she was a part of a school desegregation case (Clarissa Thompson et. al. vs. Arlington County School Board). However, Sligh’s practice as an artist focuses on transcending the traditional binary structures of race, gender, sexual orientation and class. She is continually interested in exploring these themes through an intersectional lens, which means that the aforementioned aspects of humanity are not isolated from each other, and exist through a complex, but relational network.

Major issues in Sligh’s art involve explorations into transformation and change. She is interested in the constructs of gender and sexual orientation, which is evident in works such as the Masculinity Project (1996-1999) and Jake (1996-2000). She also addresses race and social injustice in bodies of work like The Witness Project and It Wasn’t Little Rock, Revisited, Romanesque (2012). A common stylistic strategy she employs in her work is the juxtaposition of images with text to create a multidisciplinary narrative around the subject she’s depicting. Through her artistic explorations and experiences conversing with black men, women and transgender people, Sligh poignantly portrays how a person’s identity goes beyond identifiers such as their race, age, social status, weight or gender. She also expresses how discrimination and injustice impacts interwoven forms of social stratification (such as the aforementioned identifiers). Sligh’s ongoing collaborative project Transforming Hateis a multi-disciplinary and collaborative artwork, which seeks to create an open-ended framework for expressing collective intersectional identities. (See prior Artfully Learning posts about Clarissa Sligh’s art)

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Afflict the comfortable/Comfort the afflicted on view in Cauleen Smith’s solo show Give It or Leave It at the Frye Museum, Seattle. Photograph by Adam Zucker

Cauleen Smith – Smith’s work as a visual artist and filmmaker delves into intergenerational issues that Black women experience. She is best known for her feature length film, Drylongso, which is about a young Black woman named Pica, who is on a mission to document the trials and tribulations that Black men in Oakland, California face. The film speaks to the systemic racism that disenfranchises Black communities throughout the country. Pica’s inspiration behind photographing the men in her community is to create a record of an ‘endangered species’ as she believes they might one day become extinct due to the violent and dystopic conditions that threatens them on a consistent basis.

Smith’s other multimedia artworks seamlessly connect themes such as non-Western spirituality and cosmology, science fiction, feminism and narratives from the African diaspora. Her experimental films and installations such as Sojourner and Pilgrim weave together key figures, ideologies, events and places within the timeline of Black mysticism, healing and cultural history. Through connecting Black women from different periods in time, Smith creates a non-linear narrative that celebrates the ingenuity of the human spirit and inspires liberal thinking around building unity and pride in the face of adversity.


Duneska Suannette, installation detail from How Was School, 2018. Photograph by Adam Zucker

Duneska Suannette – How Was School? (2018) by Duneska Suannette was a site-specific installation (at the JCC in Harlem in an exhibition on American education organized by Art in Flux) of an elementary school classroom environment for the viewer to carefully explore. On the door leading into the room, a sign cautioned viewers to “tread lightly.” This was not an understatement, because Suannette installed bungee “trip wires” in a web-like formation several inches above the floor. This classroom-cum-obstacle course, while reminiscent of the laser maze in Mission Impossible or Oceans Twelve, signifies a poignant metaphor for the trials and tribulations that BIPOC students experience in public schools. Wallpaper decorating the classroom was crafted from colorful letter jumbles overlaid with black letters, which spelled out statistics regarding the lack of equality, equity and justice for students of color in the education system. While viewers navigated through the classroom, a looped video was projected onto a wall playing news stories and footage from scenes school board meetings where the uneven treatment of lower-income students in schools was a heated topic of debate.

While I was gaining insight from the poignant classroom messages, I was greeted by Suannette, who asked me how my day was. We engaged in a conversation about equal, equitable and justice driven education, and what it means to give all students a safe, positive and creative learning environment. I then focused my attention on the many empowering elements within the installation. For example, the classroom was made up of stations, including a reading area containing a treasure trove of children’s books about intersectionality of identity and multiculturalism, a play area with black dolls and other uplifting objects and materials representative of a diverse student body. It is more important than anything else for all students to feel acknowledged and valued in their schools. Examples of literature, toys and imagery that express pluralism are great ways to inspire empathy, mindfulness and positive interactions within a heterogeneous educational setting. (Text has been edited from a previously published post)

Sugar Hill Museum – Based in New York City’s Sugar Hill section of Harlem, the Sugar Hill Museum utilizes contemporary art, historical artifacts, archives and storytelling to create community and inspire some of the youngest members of society to become lifelong lovers of learning. Many of the families who visit the museum are affected by generational poverty and lack of equitable housing, health and educational resources. The goal of the museum is to provide a sanctuary space for an intergenerational dialogue that will spark playful ingenuity and give children agency to express themselves through observing and talking about art, as well as creating their own narratives through making art in response to their social, emotional and cognitive experiences.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center has compiled a list of 95 publications for their essential Black Liberation Reading List.

Blakemore, Erin. “How Dolls Helped Win Brown vs. Board of Education.” History. 27 Mar. 2018.

Cossins, Daniel. “Discriminating algorithms: 5 times AI showed prejudice.” New Scientist.  27 Apr. 2018.

Drew, Kimberly. This is What I Know About Art. New York : Penguin Workshop, 2020.

Hawkins, Devan. “The coronavirus burden is falling heavily on black Americans. Why?” The Guardian, 16 April 2020.

Du Bois, W.E.B. (2016). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Dover Publications, Incorporated; Unabridged edition.

Du Bois, W.E.B., et al (2019). Black Lives 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois at the Paris Exposition. London: Redstone Press.

Du Bois, W.E.B., et al (2018). W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Leong, Kristin. “Black Teachers Matter. Black Students Matter. Black Lives Matter.” EdSurge, 3 June 2020.

Powell, Richard J. “A Conversation with Martin Puryear,” in the exhibition catalogue Martin Puryear by John Elderfield, Richard J. Powell, et al, Fort Worth: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007.

Scarbrough, Elizabeth. “Burying the Dead Monuments.” Aesthetics for Birds, 18 June 2020.

Scott, Dread. “America God Damn.” The Art Newspaper, 5 June 2020.

Thomson-DeVeaux, Amelia, Paine, Neil and Wolfe, Julia. “May’s Jobs Report Brought Good News – But Not For Everyone.” Fivethirtyeight, 5 June 2020.

Finding hope, exhibiting empathy and artfully learning through Quaranteens

My high school experience was largely defined by sociopolitical events. Freshman and sophomore years were book-ended by anxieties related to Y2K and the partisan fallout from the infamous 2000 presidential election. I was just starting my junior year when the September 11th attacks took place. Although we were given the option of taking the day off from school, many of us chose to spend time with our friends and teachers. My school provided a sanctuary space for students and faculty to try and make sense of the events, while openly discussing our feelings and lending support to those who needed it. The formation of empathy and sense of community is pivotal to our social development and mental well-being. Exhibiting empathy and collaborating with our peers are key principles of a good educational framework.

The class of 2020 has endured an even more distressed four years of schooling. They began their high school experience with the 2016 presidential election, which was arguably more divisive than the 2000 election, and their senior year has significantly been altered by a global health pandemic. At the moment, the physical school year has been curtailed, making attending graduation with their classmates and experiencing the joys of end of the year academic and social celebrations unthinkable. However, that hasn’t stopped students from giving up hope in the world that their generation will go on to lead. It has been inspiring to see some of the artfully poignant and uplifting documentation from students responding to life in times of COVID-19.

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The artist’s view from sheltering in place. Still from the film Oh, the places you’ll go by Olesya. Courtesy of the artist and EVC.

Quaranteens are a collective of New York City high school students and their teacher Kate Levy, who is the Co-Director of the Youth Documentary Workshop at the Educational Video Center. The Educational Video Center (EVC) is a “non-profit youth media organization dedicated to teaching documentary video as a means to develop the artistic, critical literacy, and career skills of young people, while nurturing their idealism and commitment to social change.” Prior to the pandemic, the group had been working on a documentary film that addressed their commitment to nurturing social relationships within their community and compassionately supporting social change.

In light of the pandemic, the Quaranteens have continued to utilize the medium of storytelling and multimedia art processes to document individual and collective adolescent experiences in response to the abrupt and drastic changes in their daily lives. Although they cannot meet together on set, the students have been working remotely and virtually sharing videos, photos and articles that communicate how the pandemic, New York’s shelter-in-place order and the closure of the city’s schools have been affecting them. It hasn’t been easy as Levy reflects that “Students have sick families, new responsibilities at home, and are woefully unprepared to manage their own schedules in an online learning environment. At times, the only thing I can do with students is help them develop a schedule or recommend mental health resources. I ask myself every day ‘what is the best way to engage students in a fulfilling learning process, one that doesn’t stunt their growth as lifelong learners, nor destroy any opportunities for pleasure in their pursuit of knowledge. In reality, the best I can hope for is that my students remain in contact.”

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Still from a short film by Ashlee. Courtesy of the artist and EVC.

As this instance and many others have shown, being away from the physical school environment for such a lengthy period of time can be detrimental. Educational experts fear that extended time away from in person learning will lead to significant social, emotional and cognitive atrophy and widen the inequity gap (see: Lederman, 2020 and The Learning Network, 2020). Levy continues to reflect upon the impact that school closures have, proclaiming that “Education is about community, and the obstacles for online learning are just too much. School buildings were a place for my students to access the internet, get fed, connect with many mentors and supports all in one place, socialize, exercise and stimulate their minds.”

Although the aforementioned struggles are incredibly problematic to maintaining a semblance of progressive learning, especially in a constructivist and student-centered environment where students thrive from collaboration, relationship building and group dynamics; Levy and her students have gone above and beyond the challenge, even with so little time and resources to properly prepare. I asked Levy what she is most inspired by as a result of the uncharted process of taking this project, which relied on interpersonal collaboration, into a remote setting: “From time to time, my students reflect on their work, and express pride in their work. They also have received some submissions from other students across the United States and have been really excited about that. One of my students is an amazing editor, and I am really pleased he’s been able to hone his skills.” So not only have the students expressed a critical eye and an efficacious outlook for their work, but they have made connections with people outside of their social network and extended their socially engaged vision and concept across the country. Furthermore, the students are showing their digital dexterity by expressively utilizing forms of media that their generation came of age with to make powerful statements documenting moments of living, working, learning and just getting by in light of significant local and global current events.

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A video by Quaranteen artist Khalil, discussing his experiences communicating with different generations in his household and how reactions and responses to social, cultural and emotional issues contrasts from one generation to another. Courtesy of the artist and EVC

It is refreshing to see some of the more positive aspects of remote learning via this project, which lets students express themselves creatively and communicate with their peers in a profound and socially engaged manner. High school is a time for both innovation as well as for fitting into groups. Adolescent learners in the arts are meaningfully expressive, which means that they feel their art must say something. This is the time in their artistic development when the concept and aesthetic experience simultaneously inform their creative process. They consider their work as a fluid body (part of a series, period/movement and style), which takes viewers’ experiences and observations into account. They are interested in a cultural discourse, which includes the artworld (i.e. galleries, museums and other sources of visual and material culture). Often times, they will appropriate works of art or iconography from the visual lexicon to make statements regarding their sense of self within the cultural landscape. It is important to qualify this phase of development with prior artistic learning, so that students can combine their artistic backgrounds with contemporary experiences and knowledge in order to create meaningful and expressive works of art that significantly impact their audience. This is clearly exemplified through viewing the multidisciplinary artwork by the artists in the Youth Documentary Workshop. It is evident from the work of the Quaranteens collective that these young artists are able to view their work through a critical and reflective lens, while symbolically communicating and considering the range of impacts it might have on viewers.

One of the artists in the Quaranteens collective named Olesya responded to my prompt of “why do you think art is a good medium for communicating messages of hope and unity?” by saying “Art means different things for different people. So art can invoke powerful meanings and feelings while expressing a message about hope and unity. It can create sort of a median ground so people can be inspired and do something about a social justice issue. And that’s what Quaranteens is about and what we are trying to do.”

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Lederman, Doug. “The Shift to Remote Learning: The Human Element.” Inside Higher Ed, 25 March 2020.

The Learning Network. “What Students Are Saying About Remote Learning.” New York Times, 9 April 2020.


The dog did my homework


Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, Poker Game, 1894, oil on canvas. Private collection.

Dogs, often endearingly called ‘a human’s best friend,’ are a longstanding popular subject for realistic and imaginative portrayals in art and culture.

Canines have been bred over centuries for work, play and leisure, and these aspects are represented in paintings, photographs and films throughout art history. Anthropomorphic depictions of dogs are perhaps most famously recognized via Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s paintings of dogs playing poker. The most iconic version of these paintings, Poker Game, was composed in 1894, followed by a series of 16 oil paintings in 1903. The suite of paintings were commissioned by the Brown & Bigelow publishing company to advertise cigars.

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Still from William Wegman’s Around the Park, 2007. Courtesy of Madison Square Park

In the 1970s, William Wegman, a conceptual artist living in California, started a collaboration with his Weimaraner named Man Ray. Wegman juxtaposed Man Ray into photographic tableaux and films that exhibit the dog depicting human-like attributes and behaviors. The imagery, while humorous and offbeat, also criticizes the codification of social and cultural life. They are a reaction to banal stereotypes and structures that epitomize quotidian American life. As Wegman explains, “I liked taking order and shifting it” (Hicklin, 2019).

When Man Ray passed away in 1982, the beloved dog received the honor of being Village Voice’s “Man of the Year.” Four years later, Wegman got his next dog, Fay Ray, another Weimaraner, and the duo resumed another collaboration ensued. When Fay Ray gave birth to a litter, the puppy progeny joined the artist collective. Fays lineage has continued to contribute to the creation of photographs, paintings, films and public artworks.

In the midst of schools being closed and students and teachers meeting remotely for class, an unlikely group of scholars have started to hit the books. Students have been photographing curated scenes of their canine companions ‘doing schoolwork’ and sharing these photographs with the world. These popular compositions symbolize the surreal aspects of this moment in time and are a comforting way to alleviate some of the uncertainty that our collective faces.

The following, is a photo essay of images from social media that explore this genre of fetching academic-themed dog photography:


Was promised a treat after completing the reading. Courtesy of Marie-Amélie George


This dog’s snout is always stuck in a book. Courtesy of Libby Adler.


Tiny desk, big book! Courtesy of Ryan Sorensen.


Yep, we’ve all been there. Probably pulled an all-nighter. Courtesy of @CapSavage24.


Art history can be overwhelming…hang in there! Courtesy of @NoWeHaventMet.


Bert the Schnauzer-Poodle meets with the professor. Courtesy of Michael Gibbs Hill.


Don’t forget the cats! They always pounce on a good book. Courtesy of  @Ladie_Chief.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

@ProfMAGeorge. “I ask my students to send me photos of their dogs doing class work. It’s an under-appreciated photography genre.” Twitter, 15 April 2020, 2:50 p.m.,

Hicklin, Aaron. “William Wegman: ‘Weimaraners are serious and try hard. They’re spooky and shadowy’” The Guardian, 5 Oct 2019.

Artist see, artist do


A newborn macaque imitates tongue protrusion. Evolution of Neonatal Imitation. Gross L, PLoS Biology Vol. 4/9/2006, e311 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040311

You have likely heard the saying “monkey see, monkey do.” This phrase refers to how primates, a taxonomic order which humans are part of, learn by purposefully imitating the actions and social cues around them. Our ability to learn through imitation is beneficial to the progression of individual and collective culture, and for forming empathetic understandings about one another.

Imitation is an element of social learning, which is a key component of our social, emotional, cognitive and creative development. Social learning is based on our observation of others, and how we learn through the experience of viewing and actively participating with social models around us. Whether we choose to imitate a certain action or response is typically contingent upon the reaction that action receives (Rymanowicz, 2015). For example, we are more likely to structure our behavior around actions that give us emotional benefits and positive reinforcement. We learn about ourselves and the world we inhabit through observational learning, which is why it is important for us to model actions that exhibit kindness, compassion and cooperation, so that others who observe and imitate us determine positive ways of interacting with people and the environment.

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Joseph Beuys, I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974,  performance at René Block Gallery, New York City. (c) Joseph Beuys.

The arts encompass a range of activities that teach us to observe and respond to the world in a thoughtful, purposeful and humane manner. Imitation through observation is important for meaningfully creating and perceiving works of art. Artists learn to refine their own individual voice by exploring, discovering and making insightful responses to influential artworks and artistic concepts from the past and present. The ways that artists reference familiar aesthetic movements and subject matter, implies their understanding of the skills and values that make a compelling work of art. Sometimes artists will incorporate certain details of preexisting images in their work, adding to the tradition of an artistic mode, and other times they will outright take an image and remix it into something less traditional. Appropriation, is a conceptual style of mimicry, whereby the artist carefully observes the details of an existing image or artwork, and then creatively distorts and re-presents that image in a novel way, which gives it new or extended meaning. Works of art and artistic styles have been imitated, re-presented and utilized across culture, in order to express socially conscious messages that raise awareness and communicate cultural values. On a personal level, making art can be a pleasurable experience, because of the positive reinforcement and critical attention that a work of art might receive. In order to get to the point where your art is readily understood by others, you need to develop the vocabulary, skills and techniques that a good art education provides.

The mass appeal for artistic instruction has been an impetus for highly successful endeavors from artists who teach art via digital platforms. The earliest broadcasted series of art instruction in North America, was You Are an Artist, which aired on the NBC network. The program was hosted by an artist named Jon Gnagy from 1946 through 1950. Gnagy was born and raised in rural Kansas and developed a variety of skills as a craftsman early on. He taught himself how to draw and paint and won awards for his artistic prowess at the Kansas State Fair when he was 13 years old.

You Are an Artist, debuted via NBC on May 13th, 1946 and established Gnagy as a household name to millions of viewers. The show was syndicated through 1970. The format of the show was simple. During a 15 to 20 minute time slot, Gnagy would guide viewers through a drawing, showcasing particular skills and techniques in a relaxing manner that was very easy to understand and follow. As the series progressed, Gnagy added an art historical component to the show, by conducting a formal and contextual analysis of a well known work of art in each episode. When You Are an Artist went off the air, Gnagy hosted another T.V. program called Learn to Draw. This series was based on his book (published by Arthur Brown & Bro., INC, NY 1950) and art making activity kit also called Learn to Draw. Gnagy has sold over 15 million copies. The show, book and activity packs were influential to many renowned artists’ education, including Pop-Artist Andy Warhol and Disney animator Ron Husband.

About his work as a television art teacher, Gnagy reflected that his purpose was “to get as many people to be observant of the things around them….If people are observant, and learn a few principles of drawing, they can re-create from memory anything they want to draw” (Adams, 1952). The title You Are an Artist, is similar to the ethos of this blog, which is inspired by Joseph Beuys’ philosophy that everyone has the ability to live a creative life by seeing, thinking and doing everyday activities through the lens of an artist (see: Everybody is an Artist).

While Jon Gnagy was the pioneering American television art teacher, the best known personality is Bob Ross, whose series The Joy of Painting, which was broadcasted on PBS from 1983 to 1994. Prior to becoming a television personality, painter, and educator, Ross devoted twenty years of his life to the US Air Force and was based at the Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. The scenic backdrop of the Alaskan wilderness provided Ross with a wealth of inspiration for the landscapes he created, specifically the recurring imagery of snow capped mountains and wild forest growth. He took art classes in Anchorage, Alaska through the U.S.O club, however, he was more inspired by the wet-on-wet, alla prima painting technique he discovered by watching artist/educator Bill Alexander’s television program called The Magic of Oil Painting. Ross’ renowned incorporation of Alexander’s teaching methodology, is one of the greatest tributes a student can ever give to their teacher.

Ross’ The Joy of Painting, taught millions of viewers worldwide about the joys of painting and how to turn mistakes into art (“We don’t make mistakes; we just have happy accidents.”), a motto which can be found on posters hanging in the classrooms of art educators across the world. Ross believed in everyone’s ability to learn and develop artistically, and structured his show in a way that made learning engaging and efficacious for a wide variety of learners. When internet platforms for streaming video premiered, Ross’ pedagogical program had a comeback, reaching new generations and teaching them to enjoy the act of viewing and making art. Perhaps Ross’ staying power is due to the calming manner in which he encourages his students to pick up the brush and go with the flow.

Whereas Gnagy, Alexander and Ross focused on the formal aspects of art instruction (i.e. the elements of art, principles of design) and feeling efficacious by being creative, other artists teach us how to use art to deal with pertinent social issues. Joseph Beuys’ performance I Like America and America Likes Me (1974) is a great example of social learning and the idea that art can be used as a way to compassionately bridge the gap between people, places and things. In I Like America and America Likes Me, Beuys spent a week inside of an art gallery with a wild coyote. For 8 hours a day over the course of a 3 day period, Beuys interacted with the coyote via symbolic and repetitive gestures, while the coyote cautiously observed him, sometimes even acting aggressively towards the artist. By the end of the three days, the coyote and Beuys had built a relationship of trust and seemingly understood one another. The coyote even welcomed a hug from Beuys.

Cannupa Hanska Luger is influential for his community-centered advocacy and using art as a way to make bold statements to support environmental justice and the sanctuary of indigenous cultures. Luger was born in North Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation, which has been a contentious site for clashes between the federal government who ran an underground oil pipeline through the natural landscape, and indigenous communities who hold the land sacred. Luger was one of the many activists who responded to the environmental threat that the pipeline poses on the landscape and the health of indigenous communities. He created iconic mirrored shields for the activists, known as water protectors to hold up. In addition to creating many of these shields himself, Luger recorded an instructional video where viewers can learn to build their own mirror shields for the Standing Rock water protectors. Luger’s statement about the message these shields send is powerful:

“This project was inspired by images of women holding mirrors up to riot police in the Ukraine, so that the police could see themselves. The materials I chose to use were affordable and accessible, and I chose to use a reflective mylar on a ply-board instead of glass mirror for safety and durability. This project speaks about when a line has been drawn and a frontline is created; that it can be difficult to see the humanity that exists behind the uniform holding that line. But those police are human beings, and they need water just as we all do, the mirror shield is a point of human engagement and a remembering that we are all in this together. The project represents how just one person can acquire one sheet of plywood and cut it into 6 shields, those shields could stand on the frontline protecting hundreds behind them in prayer for the water, and right behind that line stands a camp where there are thousands of people standing for the water protection for the 8 million people down river, who all use the Missouri River as their water source. And so the Mirror Shield project demonstrates how one person can help protect 8 million.”

In a bit of much needed good news, a federal judge recently ruled that the government had not studied the pipeline’s “effects on the quality of the human environment” fully, and ordered the United States Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a new environmental impact review (Friedman, 2020).

Themes of identity, gender and culture are the framework of Martha Rosler and Adrian Piper’s art-centered lessons, which combine actions such as cooking and dance, with critical theory.

Rosler’s video artwork, Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), is a critique on gender roles, presented in a manner that is the antithesis of popular domestic cooking shows and kitchen advertisement campaigns a la Julia Child and the fictional Betty Crocker. Combining a crash course in culinary arts and feminism, Semiotics of the Kitchen is a wry and informative clapback against oppressive patriarchal views and social structures.

Working inside a traditional kitchen environment, Rosler picks up and recites the names of utensils and cookware in alphabetical order (i.e. A for apron and D for dish), and demonstrates how each item works. Initially, she relays information about these items in a very impassive manner. However, as the alphabet progresses, so does Rosler’s fury. Her disposition grows increasingly more animated and intense, and she makes violent gestures with objects like a knife and a rolling pin, symbolically destroying the lexicon of misogynist domesticity.

Piper addressed racial identity using embodied learning techniques in the work Funk Lessons (1982-1984). The piece consisted of a series of collaborative dance performances and lectures about the history and methodology of the funk music genre. Her students were largely from within the fine art scene, which is a particularly white demographic. In the process of learning to move their bodies with the rhythm of the beats, participants entered into conversations about raising consciousness around intersectional identity and overcoming racial and cultural barriers. According to Piper (1985):

“The ‘Lessons’ format during this process became ever more clearly a kind of didactic foil for collaboration: Dialogue quickly replaced pseudo-academic lecture/demonstration, and social union replaced the audience-performer separation. What I purported to ‘teach’ my audience was revealed to be a kind of fundamental sensory ‘knowledge’ that everyone has and can use.”

When Piper was asked about the stereotypes that build racial barriers, specifically why ‘white people can’t dance,’ she replied that “It’s just a matter of practice” (O’Neill-Butler, 2010).

In a recently published article on Artsy, Rahel Aima describes additional examples of art lessons that can be freely accessed online, from artists including Kim Beom, who guides us towards an artful way of symbolizing our emotions through painterly gestures; and Paul McCarthy, who gives us a lesson in visual culture and what it takes to achieve success in the arts via his parody of the art world (see: Aima, 2020).

Although we are not able to gather in physical classrooms at the moment, we are fortunate to have many of the aforementioned examples to keep us feeling inspired and proactive. I hope that you will find some value, inspiration and joy by watching and partaking in the artful lessons featured within this post.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Adams, Val. “Art Instruction for the Masses.” New York Times, 20 January 1952.

Aima, Rahel. “9 Artists’ Art Lessons You Can Watch Online for Free.” Artsy, 10 April 2020.

Bandura, Albert (1963). Social learning and personality development. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Friedman, Lisa. “Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Wins a Victory in Dakota Access Pipeline Case”. The New York Times, March 25, 2020.

O’Neill-Butler, Lauren. “Cram Sessions:

Piper, Adrian. “Notes on Funk” in Out of Order, Out of Sight, Volume 1, Selected Writings in Meta-Art, 1968–92. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 131

Rymanowicz, Kylie. “Monkey see, monkey do: Model behavior in early childhood.” Michigan State University Extension, 30 March 2015.

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.

Artists and educators may often feel like a they are cog in the traditional education system. We are typically valued upon the level of formal academic training we receive in college and university programs and the degrees that we earn. 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. Not everybody has the option to contribute time, energy and finances to attend four to eight years of school. There are plenty of qualified and passionate people who would be 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 climbing the academic ladder increase our happiness and well-being? 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 at 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:

“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.


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.

Social Distance Learning – Resources, Materials and Lesson Plans


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.


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 instructional 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

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


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.


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.


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.


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

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.

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.

Woodman, Donald.