Social and Emotional Learning – Our Public Space, our Personal Experience Pt. II

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Krzysztof Wodiczko, Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection 2012, Union Square, New York, NY. Courtesy of More Art

Krzystof Wodiczko’s artistic practice transforms public spaces into sites of collective memory and historical memorialization. He has worked with diverse populations including the homeless, war veterans, and victims of global atrocities such as Hiroshima. Wodiczko’s work is often temporal and doesn’t physically alter the space. Rather, he creates a metaphysical alteration of our perception of events and public spaces by projecting poignant imagery and narratives directly on well known buildings, statues, or other iconic structures in urban environments. His installations are largely politically charged and powerfully engage the viewers to reflect on their own trauma and relationship to both past and current events.

For example, Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection, comprised of videos of fourteen U.S. Veterans talking about the effects that going to war has had on them. Wodiczko projected the video on the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Union Square so that each participant’s image embodied the form of the sixteenth President.

Wodiczko’s work presents a great opportunity for educators to discuss the personal ramifications of historical events and iconic sites. Public art works such as Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection supports social and emotional learning (SEL) because it shapes social awareness, self awareness, and relationship skills by bringing a diverse population together inside the park to share in a moment of empathy. In making these poignant projects, Wodiczko relies on a strong collaborative relationship built on trust and engagement from both the subjects of his work and the viewers. Another major aspect of Wodiczko’s work is bringing an awareness and contemplation of the social and emotional connections we have to public spaces. In conjunction with Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection, More Art developed a curriculum for middle school classrooms that explored the historical and contemporary functions of Union Square and the role of public spaces within the community at large.

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Social and Emotional Learning – Our Public Space, our Personal Experience Pt. I

Freire (1970) called for an educational model where we learn by participating in social and political events. To him, education and politics are inseparable and the student is as equally responsible in the creation of knowledge as the teacher is. There are many examples from contemporary art that vividly depict these ideas. This ongoing examination will take a look at socially engaged works of art within the public space that are made in collaboration with diverse populations.

Ofri Cnaani’s Moon Guardians (2013), was a video installation (produced by More Art), which the artist projected on a historic building in Gansevoort Plaza. The site-specific project examined the socio-historical context of New York City’s Meatpacking District, which has undergone significant changes throughout its storied history. In realizing this project, Cnaani worked with local public High School students who interviewed several longtime residents from the neighborhood. Many of these residents, including a butcher, a drag queen, an art gallerist, and an elderly couple, could no longer afford to live there. By reflecting on their memories of the neighborhood before it became the fashionable hub it is today, they portrayed a vibrant narrative of its diverse history. Cnaani filmed them in a style that is distinctly haunting. Each of these characters appeared every night, lit up from a vista on the building, and performed moments from their lives when they lived there. The result was a powerful juxtaposition of old and new New York.

Moon Guardians symbolically details the relationship between the oppressor (gentrification) and the oppressed (displaced longtime members of the community) by conflating the two groups together. We are invited into the past, but cannot fully escape reality because we are aware that the people we’re viewing are essentially spectres that appear from within an unfamiliar frontier. The working class, small business person, and loft dwelling artist have vanished in favor of high-end products, chic-boutiques, and luxury apartments. The contradictions between the gentrifiers and the gentrified and the realization of the inequity between the two groups is exemplary of what Friere coined the ‘critical conscious.’

Ofri Cnaani speaks about Moon Guardians (2013) from More Art on Vimeo.


Notes:

Freire, Paulo (2007). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

STEAM based learning through Contemporary Art pt.1 – Art and Ecology

Brandon Ballengée’s Love Motel for Insects is a great example of how contemporary art has the ability to enhance a K-12 curriculum that focuses on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) learning. Love Motel for Insects is an ongoing public art installation raising awareness about local ecosystems by connecting humans and nocturnal anthropods.

The nocturnal insects are attracted by UV lights, creating a performative scene when the sun goes down. These ‘social sculptures’ bring humans and insects together in an intimate setting and offers a unique opportunity to witness tiny and often elusive organisms in action. Ballengée accompanies these installations with talks and workshops. Love Motel for Insects is a great example of how we can use art in a non-intrusive manner to create something that gives us insight into the natural world.

Everybody is an Artist

Joseph Beuys’ concept of social sculpture is perhaps one of the most important ideas that unite the fields of art and education.  He advocated that through art, human beings can make a greater contribution to society. A social sculptor is anyone who creates a structure –literally or figuratively– within their community using actions, thoughts, social interactions, and objects.

Artistic learning might very well be the most vital piece of an individual’s understanding of the world and their place within the human experience. In art (unlike math, applied sciences, language, and grammar) there are no right or wrong ways to approach a problem. Art teachers set up circumstances that will allow students to formulate an aesthetic, social, and emotional understanding about how to shape their own ideas. Eisner (2002) said that this way of thinking artfully addresses moments in life that cannot be approached using formulas and rules.

Art Education is important because it enables certain ‘habits of mind’ such as (to name a few) listening and empathy, flexible purposing (a John Dewey term that describes how thinking enables shifting directions and finding many outcomes or new avenues of insight), making judgements in the absence of rules, and resisting closure (not to be complacent with one method or solution).

Even though there is no proof that art has a direct correlation to test scores and assessment of other core subjects, the arts develop students into well-rounded individuals. Art allows for a visual understanding of our environment. Student artists learn to think critically and creatively, which can lead to a more comprehensive observation of their surroundings as well as a more empathetic understanding of culture.

In summery, artistic learning gives students the confidence and ability to become active learners; empathetic and expressive communicators; and advanced problem solvers beyond the scope of pragmatism. Not everyone will or should become professional artists, however, they can employ art in their daily lives to succeed in many circumstances.


Notes:

Cufarro, H (1995). Experience: Variety and Continuity. In Experimenting with the World (pp. 55-67). New York, NY: TC Press.

Eisner, E. (2002, September) What the Arts Do for the Young, SchoolArts, (pp. 16-17).

Eisner, E. (2002). What the arts teach and how it shows. In The arts and the creation of mind (pp. 70-92). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Howard Schwartzberg and Reality Art

Brooklyn based artist and educator Howard Schwartzberg realizes the potential that art can have in everyday life. Schwartzberg’s curriculum is called Reality Art, an embodiment of social and emotional learning, where the students’ learning experience is centered on gaining skills necessary to achieve positive goals, feel empathy for others, and build positive relationships. This is structured through experiential learning and art making that is inspired by everyday life.

Schwartzberg believes that incorporating art –and thinking artistically– within other disciplines facilitates student’s learning more fluidly. Schwartzberg encourages students to enter what he coined the “freespace for expression and observation.” This conceptual space centers around a collaborative learning experience involving interpreting, analyzing, and making art about the world outside of the classroom. It is akin to the idea of “Social sculpture,” Joseph Beuys’ concept of individuals utilizing artistic practices in the community for socially engaged purposes. Schwartzberg also developed a curriculum for non-art teachers to bring the benefits of artistic learning into their classrooms. The concept maps for his curriculum can be viewed here.

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Howard Schwartzberg’s Scaffolding (2017) is a painting that rises from the floor to high up onto the wall. It is comprised of sewn together student paintings (left behind by former students), which have been flipped around so that they’re viewed from the verso. The piece reflects on Schwartzberg’s own artistic process working with materials that investigate the objectivity of painting, combined with his experience teaching in Public Schools. Scaffolding refers to instructional techniques teachers use to guide them toward both mastery and independence in the learning process. The role that the teacher plays should be more along the lines of ‘coaching’ rather than directing. Art is the perfect discipline for this type of learning, because art making involves a combination of personal experience and depiction strategies that are best achieved through experiential learning.

This painting is part of his “Left Behind (Student Work)” series, which was created in response to the detrimental shift from public education to for-profit schools. Other works in the series have titles that also refer to experiential educational strategies such as Collaborative Learning, and Think Pair Share.

Tim Rollins and Visual Literacy

Tim Rollins is an artist and arts educator based in New York City. While Rollins was teaching middle school art in the Bronx, he became an after school mentor to students, providing a safe space for them to discuss, analyze, and create collaborative works of art. In 1982, he formed the Art and Knowledge Workshop with a group of students called Kids of Survival (K.O.S). Rollins and K.O.S have exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide.

Understanding art as being an interdisciplinary practice, Rollins and his students interpreted well-known works of literature. Through sharing their ideas about the text, the students identified key themes that they felt related to their personal experiences, their community, and socio-cultural spectrum at large (as they experienced it). In doing so, they have appropriated “the classics” to make powerful comments on events from everyday life. I find the students’ responses to be incredibly enlightening:

Educating Through Art

Artfully Learning is an experiential and critical cross-examination of the fine art world and the educational sphere. Through the lens of both art historian and educator, I explore examples of artwork that have symbolic learning capabilities inside and outside the classroom. So why is this important? Why are two seemingly divergent worlds actually more similar and vital to each other than it would seem? First, the discipline(s) of art, as well as education are at a crucial time in our society. Politicians are threatening the foundation of both art by proposing to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities; and education by suggesting the elimination of the Department of Education and deemphasizing public schools in favor of “school choice.” Secondly, the arts within an educational environment are vital because both areas of interest have numerous benefits across our cultural landscape. These benefits called “habits of mind” were nicely described by Lincoln Center’s Capacities for Imaginative Learning program as:

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These criteria are essential for developing an art education curriculum, but they are also evident in many works of contemporary art being made by professional artists. The following series of posts will look at how we might think of responding to contemporary art using the tenets of educational theory and practice.