Today I Am….A School

studentlightpaintings1

Students at New Rochelle High School installing their #lightpaintings. Susan Luss’ #lightpainting is projected onto the wall. Courtesy of Susan Luss.

Recognizing the importance that artistic immersion has on learning, New Rochelle High School goes above and beyond providing traditional art education programming to its diverse student body. The school’s expansive arts program integrates visual art, music, dance and theater arts into its curricula, and gives students the option to major in the arts through its Performing and Visual Arts Education Program (PAVE). The faculty at the school is made up of exhibiting artists, professional dancers and recording musicians, who provide hands on mentoring to students in a state-of-the-art facility, which houses a dance studio, music rooms, art and sculpture classrooms and a computer graphics lab. Students utilize the aforementioned infrastructure and guidance to build a multidisciplinary aesthetic vocabulary and portfolio that prepares them for studying the arts in college and beyond. In addition to being immersed in ample art making facilities and mentored by teachers who are also working in various art fields, the school has its own museum and cultural center on its campus, called The Museum of Arts & Culture. It is the only Regents-chartered museum inside of a school in the state of New York.

luss_1

Installation view of Susan Luss’ show today, I am… at the Museum of Arts & Culture at New Rochelle High School. Courtesy of Susan Luss.

The Museum of Arts & Culture gives student artists the opportunity to experience how art is contextualized and displayed from an institutional standpoint. The museum also provides a unique chance for young emerging artists to encounter a spectrum of contemporary art practices by exhibiting the work of established professional artists who also serve as artists-in-residence at the school. New York City-based artist, Susan Luss, was recently the artist-in-residence at New Rochelle High School and became a mentor to students in the PAVE program. On January 18, 2020, Luss’ solo show today, I am . . . opened to the public, featuring a site specific light-based painting and installation of found object assemblages, works on paper (from her paper light series) and dyed canvas grid paintings. Also on view with today, I am… are three student-led collaborative exhibitions that were inspired by participatory art activities, inquiry based explorations and classroom discussions.

studentlightpaintings3

New Rochelle High School art teacher Alexandra Rutsch Brock’s class working on their installation for the CAFE windows. The window on the right is by AP Art student Molly Weckesser who collaborated with Susan Luss. Courtesy of Susan Luss.

Luss’ art involves the harnessing of natural light sources, architectural grids and found materials, in order to create fluctuating installations that refract, reflect and extend spatial and environmental conditions. When I met Susan at her exhibition, we spoke a lot about the different ways her art embodies everyday life. Luss’ work isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ blueprint. It changes, transforms and adapts to the environment that surrounds it. For example, her unstretched canvas grid paintings can be displayed as traditional paintings, ritually wrapped up as a bundle, worn as a cloak or installed outdoors where the wind’s force gives it a performative context. Luss’ relationship to her materials and the space that they are made and exhibited in represents her own experiential development as an artist.

20200130_175050

Susan Luss, #lightpainting, 2019-2020. Photograph by Adam Zucker.

In addition to her own works of art, Luss worked with PAVE students and their teachers, Alexi Rutsch Brock, Moira McCaul, Joanna Schomber and Scott Seaboldt, to distill and scaffold her complex and multifaceted process in a manner that became relatable and accessible to each student. While working with Luss, students developed their own personal understandings of art’s connections to science, math and the natural environment. Classes and individual students worked on site-specific installations that altered the typical layout of the school, and offered a contemplative interpretation about the potential for both natural and synthetic forms to be considered art. Collaborative artworks that the students created include #lightpaintings and #asphaltforensics. These installations were made after Luss visited students in their classrooms and showed them examples of her own #lightpaintings and #asphaltforensics. She then presented students with templates on which they drafted designs and worked with their peers to actualize their public artworks for the whole school to experience. Additionally, students were prompted to research Luss’ work and respond to specific cues provided by their teachers, so that they developed a vocabulary around installation art. This was the first time that conceptual installations and public art works were realized in the school.

#Lightpaintings are made by designing and arranging colorful translucent shapes over windows, which capture the sun’s light and project it onto adjacent architectural structures. During the day, walls and objects within New Rochelle High School are bathed in light paintings from both Luss and art students in the PAVE program. The refraction of vivid light shifts as the sun moves throughout the sky. Therefore, light can envelop the floors, walls and ceilings, depending on the time of day and season.

studentlightpaintings2

Students installing their ‘asphalt forensic’ works. Courtesy of Susan Luss.

The students’ #asphaltforensic installation raises awareness around the potential of transforming everyday objects into aesthetic experiences. Luss has been making these installations using collected objects from around her home and studio. The methodology is similar to other contemporary conceptual processes like knolling, where different objects, which generally aren’t associated with art, are artfully arranged in a manner that is pleasing to the eye. Students were asked to carefully select ephemeral objects from the suburban and urban environment that encompasses their route to and from school. The items were then installed within a geometric design created by one of the PAVE students, so that each item had to be carefully considered within the confines of the manufactured space. Occasionally, light from Luss’ #lightpainting would seep into the room and interact with the #asphaltforensics installation, adding another dimension to the overall environment.

20200129_100512

Susan Luss, #lightpainting, 2019-2020. Photograph by Adam Zucker.

Creating site-specific art within a non-traditional art space like a school, teaches habits of mind (see: Eisner, 2002) such as flexible purposing and thinking outside of the box (in this case, outside the ‘white box’ or cube that is indicative of institutional art spaces). Installation art in particular is often rhizomatic, meaning that it can grow organically in a multitude of directions. The artist is guided by the art making process rather than a fixed result. Creating an installation requires reflective thinking, which is performed by exercising cognitive, social and emotional actions throughout the development of the piece. This is evident in the PAVE students’ collaborative efforts. Working as a group to realize their #lightpaintings, meant that they had to communicate well and collectively figure out new methods for making their artworks when initial concepts proved to be unsuccessful.

Displaying art outside of the gallery or museum, places it in a common environment meant to be shared by everyone, no matter what a person’s prior knowledge about art may be. The more accessible art is to us, the more confident we become in interacting with it. John Dewey (1938), stated that knowledge is formed by giving meaning to the sensory experiences that surround us. We learn when we take notice of sensory information (qualities) that are present in our environment and are able to attach language to these experiences. In assigning vocabulary to these qualities, we store them for later recall and sort them into categories so we can see connections between that particular experience and other experiences. Since the act of simply living automatically causes us to experience sensory information we are often oblivious to it. It is only when we act upon, assign feelings and react to the information that we form a learning experience (Zucker, 2019).

Art’s symbolic impact is dependent upon the interpersonal relationship between the artist, the materials and the viewer. Each viewer brings their own social, emotional and cognitive experiences to the work, which extends the work’s meaning and significance. Works of art are synonymous with the lived experiences of the creators and viewers, and therefore are in flux just like the events and scenes of our daily lives (Dewey, 1934).

The crux of a good art educational curriculum is a combination of creating, responding, presenting and connecting artwork to the culture at large. New Rochelle’s PAVE program ensures that students go from being proficient to advanced performers who are confident and bold visual conveyors and communicators. Having their work displayed for their peers to engage with is efficacious for the student artists. They have not only created a beautiful new set of sensory experiences in their school, but provided their classmates with ample opportunities to embrace art in their everyday lives.


today, I am… is on view at The Museum of Arts and Culture through February 14, 2020.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Eisner, Elliot W. 2002. ‘What can education learn from the arts about the practice of education?’ The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. http://www.infed.org/biblio/eisner_arts_and_the_practice_of_education.htm

Dewey, John. 1934. Art as Experience. New York : Minton, Balch & Company.

Dewey, John. 1938. Experience & Education. New York: MacMillan.

Zucker, Adam. “Seeing is Feeling – Art & Experience for Visually Impaired Individuals.” Artfully Learning, 11 Feb. 2019. https://theartsandeducation.wordpress.com/2019/02/11/seeing-is-feeling-art-experience-for-visually-impaired-individuals/

Mondo Museum: A Sim that encourages decolonization and experiential learning

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 4.54.15 AM

Screenshot from Mondo Museum. Courtesy of Viewport Games and Kitfox Games.

Imagination is one of our greatest and most humanizing characteristics, and playing games is beneficial for shaping our imaginative instincts. When I was growing up, I witnessed the evolution of video games from 8-bit side-scrolling forms of gameplay to expansive environments where players could explore the gaming environment at their own pace. This transformation also changed the narrative structure of games from typically binary themes (i.e. go through levels and beat the bad guys) to more player-centered experiences. Coming from a background where free-play and imagination were valued and rewarded, I enthusiastically gravitated towards the latter type of video games. Computer games like SimCity, Dino Park Tycoon, Sim Hospital and The Sims, are some of my all-time favorites, because they gave me agency to make creative, logical or absurd choices. There was flexibility in the gameplay that made me feel like I was truly responsible for the frame to frame progression of the game. Every action had a reaction and there were so many different ways a scenario could play out. I had my share of triumphs and disasters in each game.

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 4.53.59 AM

Screenshot from Mondo Museum. Courtesy of Viewport Games and Kitfox Games.

I haven’t played a video game in several years, but when I heard about the upcoming release of Mondo Museum (sometime in 2020), a museum themed management sim, I became very excited. This game combines both my adolescent and current interests and passions. A museum simulator is a curator and video game aficionado’s dream come true. There are several benefits to playing management sim video games, and they relate to many of the studio habits of mind that we learn via the arts. In order to be successful in the game, players need to brace themselves for ambiguity, be flexible in their actions and reactions to change, establish cross-disciplinary connections and make assessments as to what went well and how their process of play can be improved.  The game enables us to realize how consciously arranging cultural objects, which span time and place, provides historical and contemporary context. By researching objects from the collection (or on loan from another simulated institution) and curating them into gallery spaces, the player creates compelling narratives and gives their viewers ample opportunities to make cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary discoveries.

Mondo Museum’s gameplay is also intended to build empathy (another artistic habit of mind) because you see what others are going through as they move throughout your museum. The viewer experience inspires and influences the player to make equitable decisions that enhance their engagement with the museum. Furthermore, you advance in the game by curating exhibitions that make relevant connections between the museum objects and their aesthetic, cultural and historical context. For example, a player can gain ‘combo’ points by creating a thematic exhibition that displays works of art that address the topic from multiple cultural perspectives. Organizing shows thematically and showing the heterogeneity of sociocultural concepts, is one way that real-life museums are shifting the gaze from the Western Canon to a global and intersectional representation of culture.

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 4.51.04 AM

Screenshot from Mondo Museum. Courtesy of Viewport Games and Kitfox Games.

Mondo Museum supports the proper contextualization of culture through ethical cross-cultural partnerships with other museums. The provenance of works of art and artifacts are represented by the region and culture they were created in. You build your exhibitions by participating in a discourse with curators and directors from museums around the world, in order to gain knowledge about the intent and function the object had/has for the people who made it.

While the game is still in development, the idea of having the gameplay reflect contemporary issues around equitable access to museums and decolonization, is something that drives the game’s designer, Michel McBride-Charpentier. He intends for the game to address and raise awareness around a major issue affecting museums and cultural institutions throughout the world: the colonialist practices of collections acquisitions. In other words, major museums have established collections of cultural objects through unethical means like looting and nefariously brokered deals. McBride-Charpentier states, “the way that [museums] have built their collections in the West is mostly based on colonial looting…Instead of representing that, this game is showing a more utopian version of what museums should be like” (Jackson, 2019).

While Mondo Museum will present a stylized version of a museum, the ethical principles behind decolonization are very realistic goals that would behoove museums around the world to make right. Elisa Shoenberger writes, “the decolonizing project will have starts and stops as each museum, cultural worker and audiences have difficult conversations and reflections about the meaning of museums and who the institutions are intended to serve” (Shoenberger, 2019). One obvious way of decolonizing a museum, is to return the objects of historical importance to the contemporary cultures where they hold significance. There are so many examples of objects in museums that were acquired during colonial and imperial eras and have since been requested by the people in the region they originated from. Returning the objects to their cultures of origin (known as repatriation) would ensure that current and future generations have access to primary resources regarding their cultural heritage.

Another objective is to create a dialogue through partnerships with cultural organizations and individuals from nations that have their objects in foreign museums. In a recent post (see: Exhibiting Empathy), I describe how the Seattle Museum of Art is collaborating with African artists whose experience and background provide relevant insight about the works in the museum’s African art collection.  By having advisors who are a part of the society where the art is from, the museum ensures that the narrative is both properly presented and connected to the contemporary life of its originating place. Too often, works from African nations are presented in Western museums as ethnographic mementos, which ignores the fact that there is a continuity of the specific culture (the same can be said about art by North American, South American and Australian indigenous peoples).

Penn Museum in Philadelphia, has a renowned collection of art and artifacts from the Middle East dating back to 4,500 years ago. Although the museum states that 95 percent of their Middle Eastern collection “was excavated by Penn archaeologists” in partnership with local governments, it still raises issues about ethical acquisitions. Art critic Olivia Jia questions the idea of an ethical excavation, “given the fact that many of these excavations occurred against a backdrop of strife-ridden fallout from British colonial rule, and were co-sponsored by the British Museum” (Jia, 2019). Furthermore, the museum has presented their Middle Eastern objects through the lens of the archeologists, which gives Western narratives precedence over the stories that are intrinsic to the region where the artifacts and art objects were collected. To shift the narrative towards a more local and decolonized perspective, the museum established an innovative program called Global Guides, where they hire refugees from the Middle East as docents who lead visitors through thematic tours of the permanent collection. The docents provide unique insights and personal connections to the work. Analyzing exit surveys for the Global Guides program, Jia was amazed to discover that many participants never had an actual interpersonal connection with an individual from the Middle East until then. The presence of docents like Moumena Saradar, a Syrian refugee and only one of two Muslim staff members at the museum, has an empathetic impact on both visitors and museum staff (Jia, 2019).

Mondo Museum is only a simulated game, however its mission to reject colonial narratives reflects a very real issue that is at the forefront of artistic and institutional practices. Furthermore, Mondo Museum’s experience and equity driven platform is similar to the operational missions at brick and mortar institutions, where the viewer’s experience and participation are given elevated attention. Many museums no longer serve as ‘banking models’ (see: Freire, 2008) where visitors are presented with didactic displays of objects and text. Instead, they are being transformed into environments that enable viewers to curate their own experiences in dialogue with the museum’s collection and architectural space (Zucker, 2019).

Museum scholar and critic Seph Rodney explains that today’s museums are incorporating distinct factors that are in-line with visitor’s needs, such as “social interaction, spiritual sustenance, emotional connection, intellectual challenge, or consumerist indulgence” (Rodney, 2016). From the preview and demo of Mondo Museum, it appears that all of these elements will be integral to the management sim’s gameplay. These undertakings provide experiences that support experiential learning, collaboration, socialization and the democratization of cultural spaces. Museums that acknowledge their visitors’ unique personalities and treat them as participants, are likely to retain them. In Mondo Museum, that retainership leads to winning the game. It is McBride-Charpentier’s hope that players of the game will become more engaged and active participants at their local museums. He says “I would love it if people play this and then were inspired to go out to the real museums that might be nearby” (Jackson, 2019).


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Freire, Paulo. “The “Banking” Concept of Education.” Ways of Reading. 8th ed. Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford- St. Martin’s, 2008. 242-254. Print.

Jackson, Gita. “Upcoming Museum Sim Lets Players Combine Artifacts to Tell Cool Stories.” Kotaku, 11 Oct. 2019. https://kotaku.com/upcoming-museum-sim-lets-players-combine-artifacts-to-t-1838977490

Jia, Olivia. “Refugees Connect Their Personal Stories with a Museum’s Ancient Artifacts.” Hyperallergic, 19 Feb. 2019. https://hyperallergic.com/484835/global-guides-program-penn-museum/

Rodney, Seph. 2019. The Personalization of the Museum Visit, Abingdon: Routledge.

Rodney, Seph. “The Evolution of the Museum Visit, from Privilege to Personalized Experience.” Hyperallergic, 22 Jan. 2016. https://hyperallergic.com/267096/the-evolution-of-the-museum-visit-from-privilege-to-personalized-experience/

Shoenberger, Elisa. “What does it mean to decolonize a museum?” MuseumNext, 7 Feb. 2019. https://www.museumnext.com/article/what-does-it-mean-to-decolonize-a-museum/

Zucker, Adam. “Summer Reading.” Artfully Learning, 10 June 2019. https://theartsandeducation.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/summer-reading-list-2/

 

Summer Reading List

Congratulations teachers, you are at the finish line for the year! While it is time to trade the classroom for wherever your heart desires, the truth is that art and education never take vacations. Therefore, while you are just relaxing or traveling from adventure to adventure, the following very concise selection of books will keep you feeling inspired to vacation artfully.

I don’t know about you, but museums are an essential part of any travel itinerary I make. This post features two influential books that address engaging experiences at art museums. Museums have evolved into so much more than a repository for fine objects. They have focused on fostering participatory-based relationships with their diverse visitors. The two books that I am recommending below are important resources for understanding contemporary museum models and ensuring that you are making the most out of the museum experience.

Exploring museums in this manner is a vital a learning tool, and should be part of any art (or science, history etc.) curriculum. Museum exploration is a key tenet for social, emotional and cognitive learning, because it enables viewers to perceive and respond to things in a unique way. The museum experience acknowledges that viewers will fulfill their own desired paths while interacting with the physical space, the collection and one another. Museums are great examples of spaces where differentiation of learning styles and dialogical methods (see: Shor & Freire, 1987) for creating knowledge are implemented.

I previously wrote about some pedagogical functions museums have within society in the post The Classroom in the White Box


Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 12.59.34 PMThe Museum Experience by John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking (Whalesback Books 1992), is an experiential research-based book about why people go to museums. In a very clear and concise manner, the authors explain what visitors often expect prior to visiting a museum; what they do when they get there; and what they take away from the experience. The quantitative and qualitative data collected for this book is explicitly explained in a manner that is helpful for anyone who is interested in museology, sociology, curatorial practice and museum education.

Essentially, The Museum Experience is contextualized from the perspective of the viewer. Therefore, it should be especially helpful for museum administrators, curators and educators who are looking to increase engagement and recurring visits.

For example, the book discusses the different ways that visitors move throughout the museum and how they behave while creating their pathways throughout the building. The interactive experience is described in three overlapping categories: Personal Context, Social Context and Physical Context.

There is a strong pedagogical focus around making the museum experience central to individuals and groups. This vision is bolstered by the philosophy that viewers are meaningful co-constructors of knowledge and experiences within cultural institutions. This philosophy and methodology is applicable to all areas of the museum or institution from accessibility (i.e. museum layout and exhibition design) to special programming that focuses on equity and equality. Museums must be places where everyone in the community is welcome and have the agency to engage with the overarching museum environment. Taking astute account of visitor-centered experiences in conjunction with the demography of visitors is necessary for museum staff to create welcoming participatory spaces that enable visitors to feel comfortable and inspired.

The next book recommendation below takes a very precise and critical look into the individualization of museums and cultural institutions.


Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 1.26.35 PMThe Personalization of the Museum Visit, by Seph Rodney, Routledge (2019)

Seph Rodney specializes in museology and the ways that we engage with our cultural institutions. His first book, titled The Personalization of the Museum Visit scrutinizes the history of Western museums in order to explore the current framework many institutions have put in place to develop a viewer-centered participatory environment.

Rodney’s research reveals that contemporary museums no longer serve as ‘banking models’ (see: Freire, 2008) where visitors are presented with didactic displays of objects and text, but rather environments that enable viewers to curate their own experiences in dialogue with the museum’s collection and architectural space. Just as pedagogy has progressed to fulfill diverse learning styles and student-centered interests, museology  has taken account of unique interests and diverse identities.

Rodney explains that today’s museums are driven to incorporate distinct factors that are in-line with visitor’s needs. Akin to our collective culture, these needs are influenced by factors such as “social interaction (meeting friends for drinks, for example), spiritual sustenance, emotional connection, intellectual challenge, or consumerist indulgence” (Rodney, 2016). Contemporary museums have addressed these needs by creating inviting spaces for visitors to congregate or contemplate; interdisciplinary events that bring large and diverse groups together; adult and family workshops; artist talks, panel discussions, screenings and other informative programming; and novel culinary and commercial spaces.

Another key area for museum operation is crowdsourcing methods for developing a communal dialectic and collaborative aesthetic in tandem with the public. For example, museums have increased their mission to co-create meaning by giving viewers agency as co-curators, collaborators and exhibitors.

Rodney cites examples of crowdsourcing: In 2014, The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, exhibited collaborative drawings created by visitors while they were at the museum. In the same year, the Frye Museum in Seattle initiated an exhibition called #SocialMedium, which featured a selection of works made by visitors utilizing social media. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston gave curatorial agency to the public during their exhibition Boston Loves Impressionism, by asking them to vote on the selection of works to be displayed in the show. The popular vote resulted in the final collection of paintings within the exhibition.

These undertakings provide experiences that support experiential learning, collaboration, socialization and the democratization of public spaces. Museums that take heed of the visitors’ unique personalities and treat them as participants, are likely to retain them.


This concludes another edition of suggested books that would be apt for readers of this blog. These titles and the previously suggested publications, fuel my own artful learning and enduring understandings about education, visual art and placemaking. I hope that you will also find meaning in what you read here and make significant connections to your own practice. Happy summer and happy reading! Please feel free to contact me if you have any particular book recommendations in relationship to the integration of contemporary art, museums and educational practices. 


Additional References and Notes:

Freire, Paulo. “The “Banking” Concept of Education.” Ways of Reading. 8th ed. Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford- St. Martin’s, 2008. 242-254. Print.

Rodney, Seph. “The Evolution of the Museum Visit, from Privilege to Personalized Experience.” Hyperallergic, 22 Jan. 2016. https://hyperallergic.com/267096/the-evolution-of-the-museum-visit-from-privilege-to-personalized-experience/

Shor, Ira, and Paulo Freire. “What Is the ‘Dialogical Method’ of Teaching?” Journal of Education, vol. 169, no. 3, Oct. 1987, pp. 11–31, doi:10.1177/002205748716900303.

 

Are we there yet?

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 10.09.56 AM

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, A QUESTION IS A SENTENCE DESIGNED TO ELICIT A RESPONSE. TODAY, WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE SLOPPY FUTURE HOLDS (detail), 2018. Installed and on view at the Brooklyn Museum

“Are we there yet?”

To answer this question, we might respond with several questions of our own, such as: “who is WE?” or “where is THERE?” It is a question that can be either simple or loaded. We might think about career or personal milestones that we have set (and whether we have been successful in checking them off the list); places we have gone to (perhaps as a child you consistently asked this question to the adults on long car rides); or social, emotional and cultural viewpoints. The answer to “are we there yet?” is completely subjective and largely depends on individual and/or group experiences and perspectives.

On Saturday, March 23, my wife and I joined the artist, Kameelah Janan Rasheed and several others on an ‘artist’s walk’ between the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Central Library. We began our discussion on the steps outside of the museum, where Rasheed’s I AM POROUS. TODAY, I LEAK PREPOSITIONS. SO, I WILL ASK AGAIN, DO YOU HAVE A SIEVE? (2018) is installed. The installation is composed of several vinyl propositions affixed to the concrete steps, which read (to name a few) ‘after’ ‘before’ ‘above’ ‘along’ and ‘below.’ Rasheed prompted us to pick a word that spoke to us and our relationship to others and stand next to it. We then partook in a conversation with the other people who chose the same word. My wife and I choose the word ‘after’ and along with three other strangers, we engaged in a discussion regarding the language functions of the word. Our cohort came up with definitions, syntax, concepts and intersectional relationships for ‘after’. We then regrouped with Rasheed and the others and discussed how all the prepositions have multiple meanings in regards to how we think about past, present and future narratives and constructs.

We then went into the museum and gathered around Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s A QUESTION IS A SENTENCE DESIGNED TO ELICIT A RESPONSE. TODAY, WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE SLOPPY FUTURE HOLDS (2018), which consists of four textile banners, on view within the museum’s entrance. The artwork’s intent is to prompt individuals of all ages to elicit responses to problem posing questions (Freire, 1970) including: “Are we there yet?” “After hope, then what?” “Is this the last time?” and “Did you think it would get easier after this?”

We were invited to congregate around a question that we felt was most pertinent to our own lives and discussed it with others in our group who chose the same question. The responses ranged from personal to collective and addressed themes that are social, emotional and political. We spoke about what we thought the future might hold in relationship to our sense of self, collective identity and the environment. In times of flux and ambiguity (which largely define our contemporary culture), it is helpful to come together and share feelings, aspirations, assessments and ideas about how we can address pertinent societal issues going forward.

After several people shared their responses to the questions, we walked roughly six minutes down Eastern Parkway towards the Brooklyn Central Library, where Rasheed’s interactive project Scoring the Stacks (2019) is installed in the main lobby. The participatory installation instructs visitors to select cards (possibly referencing card catalogues of yesteryear) with ‘scores’ that direct and elicit specific actions. For example, one card tells the holder to go to the reference ‘Society, Sciences & Technology’ section and choose a blue book, read the last page and choose a word that you would like to use in future conversations. The participant answers their prompts and deposits a carbon copy (they take home the original in a folio) into a box, which is then utilized for other participatory projects, which include: collaborative flash fiction writing, songwriting and choreography.

20190324_113311

20190324_113356

An example of one of my responses to a prompt from Scoring the Stacks.

Scoring the Stacks is symbolic of how we can learn through noticing deeply and making connections to past and present information, while thinking ahead to the future. While going through the library on the de facto scavenger hunt, I became more aware of other things, such as the library’s special collections; other interactive exhibitions on view; and the diversity of the people who utilize the library’s breadth of resources. Sharing my own insights and hearing the insights of others made the experience incredibly fulfilling and efficacious. Throughout the two-hour artist’s walk, I enjoyed listening to all of the thoughtful responses from each individual and opening my mind to new perspectives and information.

Participatory-centered artwork has major benefits on the way we construct knowledge and experience in a collaborative environment. Rasheed’s installations at the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Library are the crux of inquiry based learning, where questions and actions, rather than statements, become the impetus for the creation of knowledge. Rasheed’s practice embodies a constructivist form of pedagogy, centered on formulating knowledge through socialization and collaboration. In fact, prior to becoming a full-time artist, Rasheed was a high school history teacher.

Rasheed’s artistic practice combines progressive pedagogy, history and literacy, focusing on the intersection of these elements with multicultural identity and placemaking. Scoring the Stacks is both an engaging activity and a teachable moment, where we co-create new knowledge in collaboration with the artist, in order to make insightful realizations about our unique relationships with history and public spaces. The Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Library are ideal environments for an artful activation of public space, because they function as pedagogical institutions for the community at large.

Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 12.26.04 PM

Installation by Kameelah Janan Rasheed at the Brooklyn Central Library. Photograph by Kelly Kimura (@pageonesixtyone).

On the atrium of the library is a quote from Rasheed, which reads like a mantra for self-discovery and interconnectivity with the world around us: “having abandoned the flimsy fantasy of certainty, i decided to wander.” This quote brings to mind the idea of playful exploration and experiential learning, which makes building knowledge a worthwhile lifelong process. When we allow ourselves to let go of convention in favor of exploration and embracing ambiguity (both studio habits of mind that the arts teach us), we gain a wide range of metacognitive and critical thinking skills, while exhibiting empathy and expressing ourselves through multifaceted means. American educational philosopher, Maxine Greene (1995) states that the arts empower our minds to examine and interact with the unknown and uncertain. Therefore, I don’t think the question “are we there yet?” can ever be repletely answered, because we are always learning and creating new personal and communal experiences each and every day.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder. Pg 12.

Greene, Maxine. 1995. Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Springgay, Stephanie, Irwin, Rita L., and Kind, Sylvia Wilson. “A/r/tography as Living Inquiry Through Art and Text” Qualitative Inquiry. 2005 11: 897. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rita_Irwin/publication/258181966_Artography_as_Living_Inquiry_Through_Art_and_Text/links/00b7d5323b351ac803000000.pdf

The Classroom in the White Box

1280px-amsterdamse_vondelschool_naar_de_wekelijkse_museumles_in_het_stedelijk_museum,_bestanddeelnr_910-9352

Children during a museum lesson at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1960.

Museums should help us to realize that history and culture are not static, and is informed by a multitude of people, places and events. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and the museum’s job is to present an open-ended vision of human ingenuity, that inspires us to ask big questions and keep coming back for more. At their best, museums represent a multicultural world that is synonymous with our daily lives, by incorporating knowledge and information in a contextualized way so that viewers can make significant connections to everyday experiences.

A Museum is a School (2011–), is a site-specific installation by Uruguayan artist Luis Camnitzer that displays the statement: “The Museum is a school. The artist learns to communicate. The public learns to make connections” on the facade of museums throughout the world. When on view (such as at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, or Museo Jumex, Mexico City, Mexico) the work publicizes a succinct message that museums act as a collaborative learning environment for the community at large.

Museums enable us to view the work and sometimes the process of artists, makers and innovators (which is diverse depending on the museum’s disciplinary focus), while prompting us to develop our own experiential connections and relationships with their work. When done well, museum exhibitions have long lasting personal relevance and leave the viewer inspired to pursue and engage in further discoveries, insights and lifelong learning.

The idea of a museum as a communal classroom is a large reason why many museums have created innovative educational programs, where visitors can actively engage with aesthetic and informational content in unique ways. Museum educational programs exist for a wide range of groups and individuals, and museum educators have done a nice job scaffolding instruction and programming to ensure diversity and democratic access to the arts, science (STEAM), history and culture at large.

If the museum or gallery space is a classroom, then the role of a University and college art museum or gallery is especially important. That is the crux and thesis of The Aesthetics of Learning, an exhibition featuring the work of artists Joseph Beuys & Henning Christiansen, Juan Downey and Catherine Wagner, on view (through March 1, 2019) at the The Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College. In their careers, Beuys, Christiansen and Downey each taught at the University level. Wagner, works in California and teaches art at Mills College in Oakland.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The exhibition’s curator, Alaina Claire Feldman, selected works of art from within Baruch College’s art collection that relate to pedagogical systems of learning, as well as physical educational settings. Feldman, who is also the director of the Mishkin gallery, wants us to make deeper connections between how we spend our time viewing, analyzing and relating art to our personal and collective development and understanding. The show’s curatorial statement asks us to consider “what does learning look like? What does learning sound like? How are aesthetics a conduit for rethinking the ways in which knowledge and power are formed?”

A performance by Joseph Beuys and Henning Christiansen, four photographs by Catherine Wagner and seven etchings by Juan Downey, convey principles of seeing, listening and action/participation, within an interrelated aesthetic and pedagogical framework. Each of these facets are important for both experiencing art and learning, because we make associations and acquire knowledge through a combination of social, cognitive and emotional reactions. Seeing, of course, is represented in each of the art works on view.

Wagner’s black and white photographs of educational settings, sans students or teachers, treat the classroom as a skeleton/foundation for learning. The four photographs on view are part of a series titled American Classroom, which presents a wide variety of objects and architectural elements related to educational spaces, in order to focus on the psychical and instructional scaffolding that stimulates and builds knowledge and learning environments.

We employ our sense of hearing and listening while experiencing a digital recording of Schottische Symphonie / Requiem of Art, a 1970’s performance by Beuys and Christiansen, which features the two artists tuning a piano. Beuys and Christiansen were both renowned for their experimental and empirical style of making art, as well as teaching. In their performance, which took place on August 21, 1970 at the Edinburgh College of Art, the experiential process signified the moment where both art and learning coexist. This reflects a pivotal pedagogical ideology, which is that we learn through making. While we can reflect upon the final product (as evidenced through critiques), the real significant eureka effect happens during the creative process.

Lastly, we utilize our sensation for action and participation via Juan Downey’s Do It Yourself series of etchings. In this body of work, Downey presents us with schematics and diagrams, which represent a collaborative transformation of knowledge, expertise and innovative activity. Downey prompts us to consider the real-life implications of assembling machines, which seek to solve common issues, and enhance our means of sustainability. The viewer can assess these sketches for potential sculptures, and perhaps build upon the information in a tangible manner. Overall, Downey invites us to be active respondents and participators in the communication and application of knowledge.

The Aesthetics of Learning signifies the role museums and galleries embody, in order to inspire experiential learning and the creation of knowledge. Museums and galleries become a profound educational environment when they engage visitors to utilize their sensory perception, prior experience and newly formed knowledge, in direct response to works of art (or whatever else is on view). The museum should not be a static collection of artifacts, but rather, an active vessel for incubating innovation, progressive discourse and awareness for ourselves and the world around us.

A published report from the American Alliance of Museums (formerly the American Association of Museums), titled Excellence and Equity, states that “the public dimensions of museums leads them to perform the public service of education—a term that in its broadest sense includes exploration, study, observation, critical thinking, contemplation and dialogue” (American Association of Museums, 1992). This statement falls in line with the aforementioned themes and work in The Aesthetics of Learning, as well as the ongoing programming within a large variety of museums throughout the world.

The museum is the school and the community.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

American Association of Museums. 1992. Excellence and Equity. http://ww2.aam-us.org/docs/default-source/resource-library/excellence-and-equity.pdf?sfvrsn=0