Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Public Museum Use


There is a vast world of information and knowledge to be had, if only an educator takes it upon themselves to help reveal this world to students. Through many not for profit agencies, this world of knowledge has been protected and shared with the public by way of museums, galleries, national parks, cultural history centers and the like. This uncovery for the student could be done by traveling afar to another portion of the country via the internet, visiting a nearby city by bus, or simply by being encouraged to peer a little bit closer at the immediate, surrounding community and the hidden information that lies beneath the surface. Through these experiences a student will engage in hands-on, first person learning that will remain with them and perhaps influence their world for the rest of their lives. 
A youth’s mind knows only what they experience in their daily lives, in the routine of class schedules, extra curricular practices, and family struggles. If a student lives in an urban or suburban area, or comes from a more affluent family stature, many more opportunities to expand their informational world are available, and more than not, supported. However, if a student resides in small town, USA, or comes from a low-income family existence, little opportunity to expand their horizons exist. Their world remains in an immediate state of cause and effect, with little knowledge of the vastly complex, outside world that they live, unless an educator steps up to the challenge of this need.
In my experience, hailing from a virtually invisible community of 500 residents, my experience of the bigger world beyond its circumference came from yearly, family vacations (until I was ten) to specific destinations, or college prep English classes in high school, where once a year we would take a trip into (three hours away) Chicago to the Shakespeare Theater, The Art Institute or The Science & Industry Museum. Through these experiences, “engaged by rich and meaningful experiences,” (Attenborogh, 92) my awareness of the arts and other relational opportunities for further exposure to new and exciting information was opened up and I became a sponge for new information that made my life less mundane.
Once away at college, a professor took us on a field trip to the nearby Des Moines Art Museum and would occasionally stroll us through the Cedar Rapids Art Museum. I also spent a semester arts term in New York City, where various professors exposed a myriad of avenues of expression and information, then made more “real” to me. Educators made these experiences possible for an under privileged adolescent from “little-nowhere-town” and allowed me to become connected to “our history, from beauty, from other cultures, and from other forms of expression.” (Attenborough, 88). They made the information available, went “to great lengths to encourage the acknowledgement of the arts” (Attenborough, 87) as important to view and understand. But, this was also mainly due to the proximity of the artifacts to my physical being, as I was experiencing a world that was outside my own.
This form of exposure was crucial for my development as a person, let alone a teacher or an artist, and provided “a way into a myriad of subjects, which (made) those subjects more approachable and accessible.” (Attenborogh, 93) For, within these experiences, lies the moment that sparked a cultivating, memorable, lasting effect upon the student (me), and who they (I) will eventually become. One never knows. But, one thing’s for sure that we do know, that the failure to provide these experiences, as an educator, will not produce anything.


Contemporary Issues in Art Education; Yvonne Gaudelius, Peg Speirs; Prentice Hall; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458; 2002

Commemoration & Honorarium


Commemoration of some one person or event at a given period of time is a form of honorarium, to recognize and share the importance of that one person, or many, and what contribution to our immediate family, community or world history they have taken part. Within each cultural region, religion and society, specific events have taken place to shape the common knowledge of the world that they exist in today. “The benefits of developing strategies for a socially engaged curriculum (in the classroom), through the study of contemporary art, are numerous.” (Milbrandt, 319) Whether through war, famine or peaceful goodliness, the historical importance of these events and people who took part in them, have been memorialized (commemorated) in a variety of creative ways to include public sculptures, denominations of money or through Nationally recognized holidays of remembrance. 
People and events have brought us from the dark ages to the democratic and technological age of cyber-sharing and will continue to make breakthrough changes and complications. They have taken part in the shape of the present moment. We honor them through words, through monuments and the fact that we wish them to live on. To continue educating and remembering those historical figures/events is to hold them in highest of esteem, to either repeat or not repeat history from the lessons learned. To use them as a frame of reference in the arts classroom helps in developing “programs that build moral courage and connect, rather than distance...students in learning, with life as the content demanding critical investigation.” (Milbrandt, 324) However our culture has chosen to remember these who have helped to shape and impact our way of life, there is something in the remembering that resonates a message through time: when we view a public work, hold history in our hands or dig deeper.
 The commemoration of the memorium object that is designed to represent the person or event speaks but only if they are continually encouraged, encountered, studied and ultimately remembered. And they can only be remembered if information is continually passes through the ages and shared along with the physical installation of such objects into the flow of society. “Such commemorative works are crucial for us as a culture because they help us remember and understand who we are by the values or actions we choose to honor.” (Milbrandt, 320) We erect monuments, elaborate gravestone markers, karve metal and stone, in the production of statuettes, crafted coins, and larger-than-life sculptures, through whom are passed down heritage and “critique of society” (Milbrandt, 318) through morals and common values that our human nature identifies with. It is in the memory and sharing of that memory that we try to shape history for the betterment of society.
As art educators, we have the opportunity to investigate these commemorative pieces of history in ways that other educators may not have the advantage, mainly because the vast amounts of memorabilia that recognize the specific place in history or person, have been designed by artists. This opens the door for levels of “active intellectual inquiry about a subject...in constructing meaning behind the work” (Milbrandt, 317) for our students. To be able to help students bridge the gap between the historical significance of the event or person and the commemorative value that we as a culture place on that significance in the form of art, will ultimately strengthen them to participate and engage in their learning as more than purely creation of art.

Contemporary Issues in Art Education; Yvonne Gaudelius, Peg Speirs; Prentice Hall; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458; 2002

Individual Identity


From the time that we are very young, our developing personalities and ultimate identities are being shaped by what we experience. But what each of us, individually experience is related to many factors included in our environment, “constructed through our interaction within overlapping and intersecting communities to which we belong.” (Congdon, 108), all determinant by our culture, our gender and specific roles that each play in a specific society.
This being said, there are many factors that influenced my perspective and individual identity. What that meant for a working class, caucasian, little girl in rural Illinois was that you could plan on attending Catholic mass each and every Sunday, singing with the choir; you were a member of the Girl Scouts, selling cookies and earning badges; you never broke the rules or stepped out of line to become reprimanded and you were allowed to play anywhere within earshot and with anyone as long as they were not trouble makers. Affected by my gender, geographical, religious and familial upbringing, I perceived my grandmother as the all-omnipotent being in my tiny universe. As my parents were very young, I spent most of my time with her, learning all of my gentle habits, creativity and morals from her, mainly caring for others.
However, as I got older and began to question life itself and was sent off to college as the first ever in my family to attend a four-year undergraduate school, a drastic change happened to my environment and my experience as an individual. For the first time, my role in society changed. No longer did anyone know me by name, or know my family personally and I was able to pursue the queries that lay in my head without question or someone looking over my shoulder to judge me on my decisions. A whole new world opened up. 
Initially, I went off to pursue a degree in physical therapy, but suffered a mental breakdown, forced to reassess my strengths and interests, settling on English Literature and art. My identity changed then and there. No longer was I trying to live up to someone else’s standards of excellence, but I had to become motivated to live up to my own expectations of myself and what I could achieve. The college professors then became my trusted family members.
Now, as I look back on the past, and have come back to my home environment, with the knowledge from my experiences outside this area, my eyes wide open to the possibilities that could be, I tend to still question why things are done a certain way. For a creative child, this environment was not equipped to tend to my needs, and so my private experiences have produced in me a need for public action. I now see how the arts in the schools are overlooked and how individual creativity and curiosity are downplayed to athletic and political mentalities. 
With my experience, my choice in curricular matter for my own students then stemmed from those deep seeded roots of not getting what I needed from the primary and secondary levels of education. I wanted to provide for my students the opportunity to explore their own creativity and the assurance that it was acceptable to do so as they shaped their own identities. However, I also had to keep the mindset of the community and what was preconceived as acceptable about art close at hand while we engaged in our learning.
My hope for my students, and for all people that I come in contact with, is that I am able to help shape their identities in such a way as to encourage them to pursue whatever it is in their interest to pursue without hesitation, no matter the consequence. For, if they are forced to wait too long, as I had to, for their dreams to materialize, they may have forgotten what it was that they dreamed that made them happy once in the first place. However, based upon their own experience, they will no doubtedly find new roads to follow that will continue to shape their identity, for better or worse who is to say. 


Contemporary Issues in Art Education; Yvonne Gaudelius, Peg Speirs; Prentice Hall; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458; 2002

Monday, March 26, 2012

Asking Questions


The two questions that Barrett asks students to refer to, in the book Contemporary Issues in Art Education, are simply two questions that ask the students to dig deeper into their personal experiences and interpret the works of art from their own perspective, from their own shoes: “What do you see? and What does it mean?” (p293) This pair of questions, as pointed out by Barrett, can produce both descriptive and interpretive statements from the students. The students can pull from their own experiences, by describing the work in ways that no one else may be able to comprehend.
    By using these questions as a starting point, when viewing a work, the educator can then help students identify certain themes that may have influenced the artist, the mood that is present by the use of color, line and shapes that can all be written down, shared with each other and then built upon as repetitious viewings, revisiting, of the same work are touched upon in future lessons. They will retain the information more so, if it then becomes meaningful to them as was quoted of Paul Ricoeur, that “an interpretation is incomplete until the interpreter has meaningfully appropriated the significance of the work for his or her own life.” (p294) If students are able to eventually bridge the gap between the artist, whom they do not know, and themselves, whom they are struggling with in knowing, and be able to use this type of questioning in other subject matter that they observe and interpret as well, it will “better one’s life” and create a purpose within themselves and the world around them.
    Once students are allowed to express what they think something means, know that they are in a safe environment to do so and to realize that their interpretations are of value to the whole collective of the class. And, once students are able to share their interpretations with others, they will soon find that their world is not so small and that more people struggle with or experience the same ideas and thoughts that they are experiencing by viewing the work.
The student’s emotional and social issues of the time will be identifiable in the works that they are observing and interpreting, because many of the social issues that are present are enduring themes that have been present throughout history, and thusly the students will learn how to verbally communicate with the class about the artist who produced the work without ever meeting them, but by engaging with a dialog of knowing themselves.
The mysteries of these enduring social ideas will begin unfolding before their eyes, once students are allowed to use their voice to describe what they think that they see and what they think it means. Because there are no right or wrong answers, and no one person has experienced the world in quite the same way, each interpretation will leave a lasting impression upon them and change the way that they view the world around them, not only through the lens of an artist, but through the lens of their own eyes, looking at and interpreting the work with their own voice.

The Art of Small Actions

Every day that we draw breath, as we walk this Earth, our surroundings and ideas change all around us with the energy of life. In our students’ lives, as well as our own, we are exposed to an assortment of actions that, in turn, have reactionary effects, no matter our background status. Children learn this reality as their lives are growing and taking shape, influenced by the world around them. Our classrooms should not ignore the contemporary issues that they face each and every day, but embrace them (whatever they are) and learn how to engage in and continue growing through whatever influences their every life. We, as educators need to help them foster the idea that even in small actions, when combined with other small actions, great possibilities can occur as an end result.
    Students who are faced with issues such as crime in their neighborhoods, domestic violence and/or drug abuse, or are simply bombarded with the vast ‘pop culture’ media of our age, sometimes do not understand how to interpret these ideas, to change them, to question the morality or truths that they posses. By questioning the student’s knowledge of the world around them and incorporating these ideas into lesson plans of a greater thematic idea, of suffering and pain or rites of passage, educators will help to make the information that the students are learning more relevant, more meaningful and easier to translate and then communicate.
Students need to be helped to realize that their confusion in understanding these ‘facts of life’, that they go through in an every day-in-the-life, are the some of the very same enduring ideas and themes that many artists, writers, musicians and thespians have attempted to communicate and have struggled with as well. When educators take on a thematic approach, that of teaching to those enduring ideas, with the lessons that they teach, the contemporary issues that students deal with daily, from the culture that surrounds them, students will gain a vast understanding of how to deal with those contemporary issues.
Teaching from a thematic approach will encourage students to think deeply and compare their lives to those of the subject they are identifying with. However, this is unlike an issues-based curriculum, where the contemporary issues they face are the basis for instruction. A thematic approach will prove to help students to become more sympathetic to those enduring ideas and find ways to convey and identify with the reasons why they are lasting experiences across the history of human kind and how they have affected their lives at present, Instead of dwelling on the issues at hand, they will survey the topic and then relate it to their lives.
If placed properly throughout the curriculum, contemporary ideas, when paired with enduring themes, can serve the classroom environment as an engagement tool, a motivational tool, a jumping off point to the greater, more heart-felt meanings that lay beyond the subject matter that they are studying. For, “it is important that children imagine and work to realize the possibilities of a world that values other than material possessions and cultural practices that disrespect and destroy.” (Guay, 313) They will come to realize that cultural issues and moral values, beliefs and conflicts throughout history have not changed, but the commentary on these themes and how others have dealt with them have. To bridge this gap from their social lives to the classroom will not hinder them, but bring them closer to being able to carefully and critically analyze their every day choices in cause and effect.

Contemporary Issues in Art Education; Yvonne Gaudelius, Peg Speirs; Prentice Hall; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458; 2002

The Art of Small Actions

Every day that we draw breath, as we walk this Earth, our surroundings and ideas change all around us with the energy of life. In our students’ lives, as well as our own, we are exposed to an assortment of actions that, in turn, have reactionary effects, no matter our background status. Children learn this reality as their lives are growing and taking shape, influenced by the world around them. Our classrooms should not ignore the contemporary issues that they face each and every day, but embrace them (whatever they are) and learn how to engage in and continue growing through whatever influences their every life. We, as educators need to help them foster the idea that even in small actions, when combined with other small actions, great possibilities can occur as an end result.
    Students who are faced with issues such as crime in their neighborhoods, domestic violence and/or drug abuse, or are simply bombarded with the vast ‘pop culture’ media of our age, sometimes do not understand how to interpret these ideas, to change them, to question the morality or truths that they posses. By questioning the student’s knowledge of the world around them and incorporating these ideas into lesson plans of a greater thematic idea, of suffering and pain or rites of passage, educators will help to make the information that the students are learning more relevant, more meaningful and easier to translate and then communicate.
Students need to be helped to realize that their confusion in understanding these ‘facts of life’, that they go through in an every day-in-the-life, are the some of the very same enduring ideas and themes that many artists, writers, musicians and thespians have attempted to communicate and have struggled with as well. When educators take on a thematic approach, that of teaching to those enduring ideas, with the lessons that they teach, the contemporary issues that students deal with daily, from the culture that surrounds them, students will gain a vast understanding of how to deal with those contemporary issues.
Teaching from a thematic approach will encourage students to think deeply and compare their lives to those of the subject they are identifying with. However, this is unlike an issues-based curriculum, where the contemporary issues they face are the basis for instruction. A thematic approach will prove to help students to become more sympathetic to those enduring ideas and find ways to convey and identify with the reasons why they are lasting experiences across the history of human kind and how they have affected their lives at present, Instead of dwelling on the issues at hand, they will survey the topic and then relate it to their lives.
If placed properly throughout the curriculum, contemporary ideas, when paired with enduring themes, can serve the classroom environment as an engagement tool, a motivational tool, a jumping off point to the greater, more heart-felt meanings that lay beyond the subject matter that they are studying. For, “it is important that children imagine and work to realize the possibilities of a world that values other than material possessions and cultural practices that disrespect and destroy.” (Guay, 313) They will come to realize that cultural issues and moral values, beliefs and conflicts throughout history have not changed, but the commentary on these themes and how others have dealt with them have. To bridge this gap from their social lives to the classroom will not hinder them, but bring them closer to being able to carefully and critically analyze their every day choices in cause and effect.

Contemporary Issues in Art Education; Yvonne Gaudelius, Peg Speirs; Prentice Hall; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458; 2002

Finding Commonalities

To understand a work of art, we must first understand ourselves and in so doing, relate our own lives to that of the artist in question. In order to help students question the meaning behind a specific work of art, we must first ask them to question the life of the artist. This requires much research, either on the part of the educator or on the student, but also deep reflection. We must help them to develop questions about the work that not only reflect their own dealings, but the cards that have been dealt to another, to relate to situations that they may or may not have experienced.
Understanding aesthetic valuing in art, known also as the philosophy of art, centers its focus around such questions as these, that ask students, “what is art?” and “why is it considered art?”, reflecting on “how they arrive at their conclusions, decisions, and solutions through processes of meta-thinking” (200). Students who are engaged in these conversations with their art educator and within themselves will ultimately develop the ability of looking deeply at a work of art, and also life in general. They will gain an understanding of observational qualities, to note the work’s realistic, formal, and expressive qualities, or a combination of all three. Students will be intrinsically rewarded, in time, by ultimately being able to uncover the bigger ideas that the artist raises through this mode of questioning, relating to it as it pertains to their own relative lives and the life of the artist.
    To help students develop this understanding, educators must also be avid, participating students, always questioning and ever-hungry for knowledge about the artist in question. They ask themselves the very same questions so that they may be able to help students think critically and become open to the honest responses that life encounters can only tell. They (educators) must also be “willing to journey with the students into the worlds of contemporary art have the opportunity to touch students’ lives in ways that educate about life and its realities” (199). For, to stand at the doorway of a work of art and be able to serve as the student’s tour guide through the imagery is the educator’s key and tool in opening those doors in the student’s mind. By doing the initial leg-work, art educators “plan encounters with works of art that raise questions about society and the human condition” (200) and the student can then relate it to their own waking life.
    As educators continually research and seek out more in depth information about certain artists and/or themes, that are of important issues prevalent through various art works, they will be continually feeding the well of knowledge for their students. They will be able to pass along and relate that information, teaching students how to do the same. “As issues are found in the contexts that surround works of art, they integrate well with the contexts for subjects...issues that run the gamut from the general to the particular. Generalities that deal with the human condition...” (202) By doing this, educators can provide students works that add a dose of healthy perspective on life, by viewing their own through the looking glass of another.
    For, it is by discovering meaning within ourselves and questioning the human condition of others that we, as human beings, gain a more firm grasp on the commonalities and linear truths that span the world over. “Works of art can help students realize that other people in the world may share the same quandaries or excitement about life” and “develop a respect for the multitude of ways that artists create art works that speak to us.” (203) To be able to understand ourselves, we can ruminate over the meaning of the work of another.

Contemporary Issues in Art Education; Yvonne Gaudelius, Peg Speirs; Prentice Hall; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458; 2002