In the book Educated, Tara Westover recounts growing up in an isolated compound in Idaho with her family. She did not receive a formal education and most of her 'homeschooling' involved conspiracy theories and home-spun faith-based nonsense. She did not even sit in a classroom until she attended college which almost all of her family discouraged her from doing before and after. She is now Dr. Westover.
Teachers, if you're worried about whether or not your students are going to meet some artificial construct like "annual yearly progress" - stop it. They will not. And that is absolutely fine.
Art can still do a lot of good and can make a real difference in their lives. At the end of the day, that's the point, right? Art is important. Of course it is. But not because of standards or objectives or AYP.
I suggest adopting an 'art for life' curriculum by finding ways to make art a part of everyone's lives. To me, that means focusing on connection instead of content. Emphasize community and cooperation over craft. Grace instead of grades. As I keep coaching folks, it's time for Maslow's before Bloom's.
Tara Westover's story resonates with me because I also grew up in a situation where I came to realize I was living in an isolated and unhealthy environment also. When I was a kid, I lost nearly a year and a half of school altogether in 3 years. I spent some of my fifth and sixth grade years, the worst years of my life, living in a car with my mother who suffered from schizophrenia - not that I or anyone else knew that. I won't go into detail here - that's for my own memoir. I was kept home from school so much of my fifth grade year that I was held back and had to repeat it. It was humiliating. I barely made it to school enough the second time to be allowed to move onto the sixth grade - maybe half (so 90 days). I think they let me pass out of pity. No one at school knew what was going on at home - though some knew something was wrong. It took me years to get out and on my own. Maybe I'll be a doctor someday.
I'm not going to give you any of that 'whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger' stuff. I don't believe that. A lot of what doesn't kill you can can nevertheless maim you. Sometimes for years; sometimes for the rest of your life.
But art can help someone get through tough stuff. I know it helped me. And I didn't have an art class or art teacher to help me. Just my imagination and paper and pencils and colored pencils. And a desire to have something that was mine, that I could control and get better at. A place on paper and in my head I could escape to. Some place I could process all that stuff I couldn't put into words; wouldn't dare talk about. Things that I could only put on a page.
Your students want that too. That's what you can do this year. That's what art can do.
Not everything will be okay. But some things will. Art can help.
I've been thinking about this diagram a lot lately, especially since moving to teaching online, aka The Great Transition, aka The Online Odyssey. This diagram never came up in my education program and not a single supervisor or administrator has referred to it that I can recall. But I think it speaks to an incredibly important point at the core of our collective vision of teaching.
The diagram is known as the project management triangle, a decidely not-creative name for something that definitely applies to creative work like artmaking or teaching, though one of its aliases is the "iron triangle" which is much cooler but iron isn't really our go to in contemporary society. There are many versions but I like this one because it uses the CMYK color wheel (subtractive color) used for printing so it's a more artful representation of the concept. The point of the triangle is to illustrate that every project or endeavor has constraints and these constraints are linked like fingers playing Cat's Cradle. The elemental constraints of a project according to the triangle are time, cost, and scope or quality. In graphic design, for example, I've seen this diagram used to relate how clients often demand Utopia, meaning they want a quality product produced cheaply and quickly. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant has probably come across people with this attitude towards their food order on a regular basis. To counter such attitudes and help manage client expectations, the iron triangle may be invoked: "Choose two". As a result, the client can better understand that under normal circumstances, something quickly and cheaply produced will likely be low quality (e.g. your plastic spoon), while someone that is produced cheaply and of high quality will be expensive (e.g., an overnite delivery), and finally that it is possible to produce something of high quality cheaply, but it will take time. It is an insufficient model, ultimately, as it is not perfectly realistic. Trading between constraints is not always possible depending on the situation and external factors not shown can influence results. Nevertheless, it is a useful starting point for understanding our recent global transition to online teaching and learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As teachers, we know that folks often have unrealistic expectations of us, especially right now. There seemed to be a general perception that pivoting an entire education system overnite would actually go smoothly, despite the lack of support, preparation, and resources. Over and over, the expectation seemed to be that this transition should be fast, cheap, and, above all, good. But that was impossible. Nevertheless, we often internalize those expectations, adopting these unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Do we turn around and do that to our students? There is a difference between thinking 'the impossible is possible' versus 'the impossible is probable' or 'practical'.
I call this "100% thinking" but perfectionism works just as well. It's implied every time you hear that 'gOtTa GiVe 110%!!!' mentality. Obviously, utopian thinking can be harmful if not outright dangerous for both to us and our Ss. Utopia is not just a place that doesn't exist - it SHOULDN'T EXIST. After all, any one person's utopia might be another person's dystopia. But it seems like utopian thinking is the norm in education - often encouraged if not demanded by our workplaces and field in general. It can seem even cultish at times. We're told over and over that teaching is a calling, and of course, if it's a calling (a religious concept rooted in self-sacrifice), then sacrificing everything is not only 'good' but expected. After all, most if not all of us got into this career to do good, right? So we burn the candle at both ends, thinking that's what it means to do 'a good job' while giving everything we have and ending up not keeping enough for ourselves, just to end burning out or worse. Of course teaching cannot be selfish. It's not about me. But we also can't afford to be completely selfless - for our own and our family's sake's. It has to be about us - all of us, which includes caring for ourselves as well as others. And unrealistic expectations help no one. I don't think we talk about this enough as teachers - that we have two little hands, 24 hours in a day, and only so much energy to give. These are our creative constraints. We can do a lot with that. Perhaps more than most could dream of. But we still have our limits. After all, a painting has boundaries. We should as well. Because after all, art is about being human and humanity, ours as well as our students', must be at the core of what we do. We can do so much! But we can only do so much!! Can't we take pride in all the good we do, without feeling like it is never enough? Because we are enough. We're here. We're trying.
What do you think? Have you been guilty of trying to provide teaching that is good, fast, and cheap? Have you backed off of utopian thinking in favor of more realistic aspirations? How do you practice self-care and maintain realistic expectations for yourself and others?
My amazing art teachers,
We are living in historic times. The term "unprecedented" has already become something of a cliche in 2020. Right now, again, a light is being shinned upon racism and police brutality across the United States and around the world. Equilibrium is shifting beneath our feet and the air is thick with possibility. Americans must choose. Anyone with a platform, no matter how large or small, must use that platform to speak out for justice. And every teacher has a platform.
Today, I'll be using mine.
Workplaces and organizations across the country are deciding whether or not to join the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by 4 police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As I write this blog, it has been 11 days of demonstration and upheaval. My own workplace reached out to teachers and staff seeking input. I'd like to share my statement below:
The meaning of an artwork is defined largely by its context in relation to the viewer. The meaningfulness of learning is often determined by its relevance in relation to the student. I do not know how one can learn or teach about art in a vacuum separated from the real world and its myriad of messy issues without also severing from both context and relevance. In that circumstance, an education becomes purely an abstract, academic exercise, delivering content suitable primarily for bubbling in letters on a standardized test and not the knowledge necessary to live and even thrive in the reality outside the walls of the classroom. There is no act in relation to racism, specifically the death of George Floyd, that is not political. To be apolitical is in fact a political choice. As Foucault theorizes, there is no escaping power, as freedom cannot exist but in its relationship to power, like how light and dark define each other. And right now there is a darkness being brought to light. Let's keep in mind the number of times we mentioned the word "COVID" and "corona" and "pandemic" within content and instruction over the past 3 months. 3 months from now, how often will we see the words "race", "Black" or "justice" looking back? The answer will come to define us. Racism is a virus. The only vaccine is light. Why would we talk about one virus any less than another?
I hope you are talking to your students about race and justice right now. I am. White teachers especially must stop carrying on as if everything is hunky dory. And yes, I said hunky dory. In any case, I made a video for my teacher-students in my online classes and posted it publicly to make myself open to feedback from other anti-racist educators. I don't want a pat on the head or a like. My intention is not virtue signaling, though I understand if that's how this post may be perceived. What I hope to demonstrate is making yourself open to feedback and correction from others in your community. Not scripted and this video went over 10 minutes, and I wanted it to be shorter so I apologize for taking too much of your time. Also, video quality is potato quality. I just ask for honesty if I can do better. You can too.
White teachers like myself must do better. Because there is no point in Killing Color Wheels until Black Lives Matter.
What can you do? Below is a list of resources you may use to educate yourself and others:
Hello! It’s been a while! Sorry about that. How about a quick update?
It’s May 2020. I was supposed to be analyzing data and working on finishing my dissertation. Now I’m not. We all had other plans.
The vast majority of art teachers never planned on teaching online either. 2020 has been full of surprises so far. For now, much of the world congregates mainly online instead of in public, ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ as we wait for the day when we can launch ourselves from our burrows like hyperactive meerkats getting shot out of cannons. But who knows what life will be like even after the COVID-19 storm passes? Will we be back to school in the Fall? Will we still have our jobs in a few months or another year from now? Will there be a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion this year? Despite our everyday lives becoming mostly virtual, it feels somehow even less futuristic than Neuromancer, Snow Fall, or the Matrix might’ve led us to believe.
I missed blogging since I’ve been away. It’s great to have a place for more recreational writing. But I had been forgivably absorbed in my dissertating. Now because of our current circumstances, it looks like I might need to figure out how to completely redesign my study since there may or may not be classes to visit and make art with in the immediate future. What form exactly my study design will take is still yet to be seen. For the time being, I’ve shifted my focus to designing a course on teaching K12 art online for art teachers. My ulterior motive is that this slight detour will help me get back on course.
We’re all trying to figure out distance learning right now, among other things. Around the globe art teachers are rethinking the role of art and technology and doing it post haste. Many art teachers are struggling, having received little to no training or preparation, while others feel disconnected and unsupported as their schools go all in on their classroom or ‘more important’ subjects. Yet there are also many ‘American Ninja-ing’ up that steep technology learning curve and flourishing online in unexpected ways. Many more are somewhere in the middle just trying to, in the immortal words of Tim Gunn, make it work.
As teachers, we’re all used to ‘building the plane and flying it too’, but this is more like building the plane 50,000 feet up while desperately flipping through the pages of Baby’s First Flight Manual to find the Table of Contents. It’s been rough is what I’m trying to say. Many of these teachers are not only trying to teach other people’s children, but doing all this simultaneously while supervising their own children. The situation is less than ideal. Our students could be anywhere, anytime, if they show up at all, and might have no art materials. It might feel like teaching art via message in a bottle.
All our daily lives have been turned upside-down. Coping with fear, anxiety, and stress can be difficult as we hunker down through this uncertain crisis with an invisible threat. We depend on the Internet for so much of our lives right now. I can’t help but be grateful at least to be trapped indoors in a time where so many have unprecedented access to a near endless stream of entertainment and information online. Video chat is something commonplace. You can download most any video game you want or if you don’t feel like playing, watch a live-streamer play it for you. We can waste infinite hours and kilowatts scrolling through memes and shopping at Amazon. With all this time indoors, I can’t help but reflect on the current state of the world and how we got here. Where the heck are we going?
How did I end up designing and teaching art teachers how to teach online?
I’m far from some tech guru or the end-all-be-all of distance learning. I had grown up with names like Atari, Nintendo, and Sega at home and the irradiated green pixels of Oregon Trail or Number Muncher on the single classroom computer relegated to the corner of the room. In high school I loaded Doom from a floppy disk of shareware and sent instant messages to kids my age across the country on America Online. I created my first digital artworks in MS Paint. The height of our hacking capabilities was figuring out how to use our graphing calculators to play Snake.
It was 2002 when I built my first website as an art project in Dr. Craig Roland’s Art Education & Technology course at the University of Florida. I still remember every project and what I made for each. We created funny animated gifs using famous artwork, self-portraits in Adobe PhotoShop 6.0 & 7.0 with real-world objects and images on flatbed scanners, tried some basic html coding, built a creative website using Macromedia Dreamweaver, and made a collaborative art ed webquest for our future students. The artwork we made was alive, interactive, and out there for the whole world wide web to see. My old college website is still floating out there, a relic of a more DIY Internet, bravely refusing to be deleted after all these years. I built more than a dozen or two creative and professional websites since then, along with a number of digital and web-based projects. Why don’t I make neat, weird things online like that anymore?
It was my experience in Craig’s class and the skills that I learned there that allowed me to get a job working at the Center for Instructional Training & Technology (CITT) on campus. I remember the office was on the second story just past the potato and above the french fries. If you went to UF you’ll know these landmarks. It was exciting that folks thought my background in art and education was a plus, and that even though I may not have been technically advanced, they believed they could work with the skills I had and that I could learn the technology as necessary. But they couldn’t teach me to think like an artist and a teacher. This point would be echoed 15 years later by a local business leader speaking about why he prefers to hire art majors and creative thinkers to work at his tech startup rather than people with only a technical background.
My job was fairly straightforward and often boring. But it was also a pretty relaxed and fun place to work as a young person in college while also gaining a ton of marketable skills. It was my job to edit and sync Microsoft PowerPoint slides with audio for a distance learning program in the Gerontology department. I should’ve walked away with a minor in gerontology after all those hours of listening to lectures from professors and healthcare professionals and guest speakers. It did nevertheless instill a very long-term perspective of learning into me during my pre-service teaching career. Maybe that’s partly what influenced me to emphasize art and creativity for a person’s entire life. Similarly, partially because it was a university using public funds and grants, there was a keen awareness of digital accessibility. I had never considered accessibility really before that job and the kinds of questions we would have to answer and the diversity of user experiences we would consider is something that I’ve tried to retain to this day. Craig's class expanded my own expressive abilities, while CITT expanded my awareness of audience and difference.
Looking back, there were lots of other bits of discrete knowledge I picked up while at CITT. For example, I was also implicitly learning how to chunk learning in ways ideally suited to the structure of online courses. That was the first time I saw those alien words “module” (aka unit) and “course shell” (aka classroom) that online teachers know so well. The format is as old as formal education. Basically, the gerontology courses were closer to online textbooks brought to life through timed slides and recorded audio. Including video was well beyond our capabilities back then and YouTube didn’t really exist yet. I wasn’t involved in the class discussions or grading or anything once the classes went live. The behind the scenes content development was interesting but also rather mechanical. It wasn’t anything like the experimental, artistic creations from Craig’s class. I wanted more of that and would spend my down-time tinkering with creative websites and animations destined to become flotsam on hard drives and servers. But it was fun and today I don’t come across a lot of unusual websites like you did back in the early 00s and before. I know they’re still out there, but maybe we’re less likely to wander from the well-tread path now.
I remember how I constantly experienced imposter syndrome while I worked at CITT. I was ‘faking it until I made it’ constantly and to be honest, I never felt like I ever ‘made it’. I wasn’t an especially competent html coder, could barely ActionScript in Flash, I didn’t know how to program much more than some Excel functions and Word macros, could hardly cobble together a style sheet, the latest web innovation becoming standardized, and I didn’t know any other programming languages. I had taken a Business Computing course a couple years before where we built a faux company with a complete faux employee database and wrestled with formulas in Excel until our eyes bled. That had also been a tremendous learning experience, but mostly in troubleshooting, resilience, and brute force. My strengths at work was software, amateur art & design, novice pedagogy, and not a whole lot else. I was constantly afraid I’d be exposed as the charlatan I was but somehow I managed to get away with the whole charade by learning things. And also looking busy. I always recommend that students ‘punch above their weight’ meaning they should go for the jobs and apply for the opportunities that they feel at least a little underqualified for. You’ll grow more; stretch more, I think. Everyone feels like an imposter at some point anyway when taking on a new role. Might as well mean it. I imagine some of the art teachers I’ll be working with in the distance learning class might feel similarly these days.
It was a nice setup at CITT. They hired folks with the understanding that the job was also a learning opportunity and we were able to teach ourselves on an as-needed basis for projects. It was cool working at a place that respected independence and actively encouraged their employees to improve themselves. Surprisingly, I worked at several schools much less concerned with giving teachers the time, money, space, and yes, trust, to learn on their own. I read a lot of Flash for Dummies, Dreamweaver for Dummies, and HTML for Dummies. There were LOTS of tutorials online. All the time I was there I kept making artistic little websites, watching tutorials, and grinding Runescape in the background. I eventually learned some Flash animation. I collaborated on the storyboarding and writing, character and background design, animation, and game design for a neat public health project intended for children with PKU condition that you might find on the Wayback Machine but otherwise is gone from online. It was about a boy meeting an alien from outer space, ensuing hijinks, etc. I’m not sure if the project ever came to fruition, but I did revisit it later and found a lot of my work intact and a lot discarded and re-designed. Such is the cut-throat world of public health cartooning. I save everything though and maybe I'll post some of the animations but just for now here is the background art I created.
When I was at UF I also became involved in our local NAEA student chapter where I became president and not coincidentally webmaster, again putting to use my skills from Craig’s class. Eventually I went on to become a national student chapter president, where I redesigned that website. The other student presidents and I held honorary board seats and in that role we were able to show off our website to the rest of the leadership, many of whom were impressed by our outreach and tech savvy, would eventually insist on a long-overdue update to the NAEA website. An ad hoc committee was organized to provide recommendations on which I served with Craig. There I was, helping shape the digital face of art education in America.
All of that happened directly because of the opportunities I had in Craig’s class. This is the epitome of relevance. Ever since then, I’ve tried to dedicate myself to ensuring students can take what they do in my class directly out into the world afterward. How can I set them up for success outside of class, immediately, as a result of our time together? I was able to thrive AND survive because I gained expressive AND professional skills. In other words:
Ask not what you can do for Art, ask what your art can do for YOU!
How can I provide my students with their own Ruby Slipper moments, where there is no telling where they might go with the skills and abilities they acquire?
My mirror experiences in Craig’s Art Ed Technology class and working at CITT is the perfect example of the “Adapt versus Adopt” dichotomy Craig talks about in his essay Art Ed 2.0 Manifesto (reprinted below with author’s permission) which can be traced back to Presnky (2005) and is echoed in Delacruz (2009). In Craig’s class, he invited us to adopt new approaches resulting in new processes and products - something unexpected and unique with a global audience and unlimited potential. At work at CITT, I manufactured content on a digital assembly line where I adapted old approaches and products like slide lectures to a new format, an automated slide lecture online, that was nevertheless extending the reach of the university and therefore extending opportunity and making higher learning more inclusive and accessible.
Five years after I graduated from UF, I was in my fourth year of teaching art and at the NAEA conference in 2009 when he presented this foundational piece. Now the world is very different than it was two months ago, let alone 10 years ago when this was originally presented. And yet the ideas are even more relevant now. Like it or not, whether you’re a technophile or neophyte, the distance between art teaching and technology has collapsed for better or worse. As I contemplate where we will go from here as art teachers and as a field, I find myself returning to Roland’s vision for the future of art education.
I’m fortunate to have been able to work under a digital art education pioneer. He asked us to figure out what we could do with the tools we were handed. He asked us to not stare into screens and punch keys alone but to play and blend the digital and analog by using our hands and objects and processes, like a dolphin jumping between air and water but between virtual and actual, engaged in new ways of thinking and making, like an artist. From drawing to scan to screen to print to film and back again ad infinitum. That is what I think of when I think of an art education that, as Craig puts it, is “High Tech & High Touch”. This, I believe, is what the future demands of artists and is what I hope my students will also take away from their time with me as well.
I fully appreciate now how rare of a treat Craig’s class was and how far ahead of the curve he put his students. I tried multiple times to replicate elements of that class but never to the same level of success. For one reason or another, I myself never managed to create my own stand-alone art and technology course. For what it’s worth, I felt like in most of my teaching tenures after, both K12 and Higher Ed, it was always a fight just to get my Ss access to technology labs and devices. I knew of colleagues in art education doing really cool stuff online with their students or creating maker spaces, but I had $900 to start an entire K5 art program from scratch, for example, and didn’t have much high tech work to showcase myself. I’m sure a lot of my students feel the same way, saying things like “I wish” or “if only”. At my first teaching job, ironically on a technology magnet campus, I couldn’t get a digital projector but instead had to use an overhead projector and a sheet of dry erase board hooked over a chalkboard with a broken wheel with some crude wire hooks. The principal, an excellent example of the Adapt mindset, thought simply typing using word processor software was being a digital content creator. Smh. I remember how the mostly white, mostly well-off minority of bussed in academy students learned to build websites and edit photos while our mostly black local students only used computers for typing and testing drills - no longer the Digital Gap but the Digital Divide, where class and race determines not just what technology you have access to but also dictates your technical aspirations. I understood how frustrating it was for many students to feel like they had to unplug as they entered the school building and felt like they were stepping back in time. Now teaching this class online, I will finally have a fully-integrated art ed and technology class, so to speak, just not the way I had originally imagined. That’s life. How can I create a space where creativity and equity are centered rather than marginalized?
Speaking of life, we like to think we’re more immersed in technology now than ever before in the history of humankind. But as I like to remind my students, a pencil is technology. A simple graphite pencil was a cutting-edge innovation for hundreds of years. But just like the apps in smartphones that older generations assume young people wield like adept magicians, most folks simply pick it up and use it without sophistication or awareness of the creative possibilities. Yet every art teacher has taught their students how to hold a pencil and how to manipulate it to achieve desired effects. It’s the same with a mouse, a finger-swipe, and whatever comes after. Now it’s vectors and pixels. In the past it was pigment and clay. In the past the technology was vastly different but our dependence was not. This has been true since we discovered fire and its ability to cook our food, warm our bodies, light the darkness, harm our enemies, and produce drawing supplies, ie charcoal. Technology has been fundamental to our evolution as humans and art has always been there. Since the beginning, our tendency towards innovation has provided us with the means to not only survive but also thrive creatively. Technology is the very mechanism of our evolution. While some fear that with each step embracing technology more, that we lose a bit of our humanity, but with each incremental advancement, it is the inescapable presence of art that at the same time retains what makes us human. We cannot have one without the other.
Art teachers have always been tech teachers. While the latest advancements may frustrate us momentarily, that too shall pass. Our tech legacy is as old as our species, and while it is important to pause and take stock of where we have been and what we already know, it is even more important to ask where are we going? I very much want to help my students to successfully adapt to this new normal and whatever follows. Times of disruption are also times of possibility. So the silver-lining may be that we have been given the opportunity to rethink the way we do things. Our collective relocation to the Internet temporarily might provoke us to re-imagine what art education looks like. What does art do for people in their daily lives, especially during tense times? What can we do with our students online that isn’t possible in the classroom? What will post-Internet art education become? Will we just go back to the way things were or will there be some new artistic path laid out before us?
Now that I have the privilege of designing and teaching a distance learning class for art teachers starting this week, these questions have been at the forefront of my thoughts these last few weeks. So I’m back here at my blog, thinking out loud with you as I try to guide art teachers navigating this new online frontier we’ve all suddenly found ourselves in. As I’ve stressed over and over again, I believe vulnerability is a fundamental but too little acknowledged component of creativity, teaching, and learning. Many of my students, I imagine, are probably feeling vulnerable as well. Naturally, if you are doing something you don’t know how to do, that you haven’t necessarily been trained to do, you too would probably feel off-balance. Remember back to your Maslow’s Hierarchy and pretend it’s that “You Are Here” map from the mall. Where is that arrow pointing right now? The old self-actualization summit can seem like it might as well be in space compared to what a lot of folks are worrying about right now - safety and security. Belonging can feel tough too as we distance ourselves physically and our communities are dispersed. In many cases our very identities feel threatened - we’re all first year teachers again. There are lots of folks looking for advice and support these days. I hope I can help. Nothing is normal.
What will that mean for my students? What will that mean for their students? What will that mean for any of us? Fecho’s concept of wobbling, introduced to me by Dr. Brian Edmiston at OSU, is an appropriate analogy. We’re all feeling wobbly these days. That wobble can be productive, though it may not necessarily feel that way in the moment as it signals the presence of a possible new path - a chance for change. Like a sailor or a skateboarder, we can become more comfortable with wobble, even becoming at home in it. In a classroom, we want our wobbling to develop into swaying, where we mindfully bring together our cognitive and emotional sides, our elephants and riders, as Edmiston would remind us. Will a 3 week long class be long enough for my students and I to learn how to sway together with our elephants?
This will be my first time teaching a distance learning course about distance learning. I always enjoy a good meta. The first time you do anything is not going to be your best performance possible, I tell myself. And that’s fine, especially now. But at the same time, I feel such a tremendous responsibility to my teachers, for helping them feel more confident and successful. I need to find my own balance between these extremes, allowing the pressure to productively push me without letting it punish. Accept that we are in survival mode, but perhaps acknowledging that we can survive in style. We can keep an eye on the horizon and an eye out for gopher holes. As I approach this new experience, I have to remember my “why” just as I do in any class and as I always tell my students to do.
How can we make the most meaning possible?
It’s easy to lose sight of meaning in chaos and turmoil. But meaning is purpose. Meaning is hope. Meaning is beauty. Artmaking is meaning making, regardless of whether you’re a professional artist or amateur. When we make meaning in the world, that is art. And boy, do we need meaning - in our daily lives, in our relationships, and for the future of our society. We MUST have art. Why are we here? Other than to kick ass and chew bubblegum.? We are here to make meaning. How do we make meaning? Have you tried making art?
Join me as I embark on this virtual adventure into teaching K12 art teachers online and possibly even, one day, a completed dissertation. More on that last part soon - hopefully. For now, it seems like a good time to revisit Craig’s seminal essay, Art Ed 2.0 Manifesto. I want to comb through his writing in a little more depth having only briefly touched on some of its ideas here. I’ll discuss how this foundational reading has influenced my teaching and continues to inspire me in my next post and update you about how the class progresses. Until then, we’ll be together, apart. Thank you for reading.
NEXT POST: Art Ed 2.0 2020
Read Art Ed 2.0 Manifesto (2009)
*Since I’m publishing this post coincidentally during Teacher Appreciation Week - thanks, Craig!*
In some ways it probably seems a bit old fashioned to talk about “truth,” especially when it comes to art. Within contemporary art circles keen on postmodern practices that reject essentializing truths, an artist or viewer hanging their hat on truth probably would seem quaint, even laughable.
After all, “truth” has often been a weapon wielded by the powerful over those they would dominate or destroy. Acknowledging the ways the truth can be abused and distorted has been the project of artists like Jenny Holzer with her “truisms” and entertainers like Stephen Colbert who coined the term “truthiness” in 2005.
In perhaps a small way, I can relate to those who have been harmed by those claiming to know the truth. As a young person, I was forced to reject ‘truths’ which I had been taught and raised to believe - ‘truths’ that had come from the one person on this planet I trusted more than anyone else. Children are more likely to confuse what is real and not real, but this ability improves as they mature. Some kids believe in Santa Claus, only to eventually figure out that their parents weren’t being completely honest with them. Instead, I believed I lived in a world that didn’t really exist. It may be difficult to understand, but as a child of a mentally ill single parent suffering from untreated schizophrenia, I inhabited the same strange and horrifying ‘reality’ as my mother. I had to discover on my own, painfully slowly, that our isolated, hidden world was not real, but a shadow cast by my suffering mother’s delusions and fueled by media, especially politics and televangelism. For a long time I was intensely angry, thinking I had been lied to and I blamed her for our struggles. It wouldn’t be for many years that I would understand that it wasn’t her fault and forgive her and myself.
Perhaps these formative experiences determining the nature of reality, and perhaps my own curious nature, have lead me to value skepticism, evidence, and logic. And I don’t see these values as irreconcilable with my artistic values of subjectivity, ambiguity, and irrationality. I love reality and all of its complicated and confusing paradoxes and tensions. I’ve learned enough about the world to know that I don’t know much. I can live in a world with more than one truth, even many sometimes conflicting truths. What I cannot and will not do, is live in a world where “Truth isn’t truth.” Truth may be an ideal towards which we are constantly striving and forever failing and yet can never relent from that ambition. Yet our reality is increasingly influenced by our belief in what we see. Our contemporary politics demonstrate not our ability to think critically as individuals perhaps as much as the persistent power of propaganda and populism to move the masses. But as we have been shown again and again in history, only disaster is the consequence when truth conform to the whims of power. Truth must always trump power. The truth has to matter.
Thanks to the Internet, our current mass media revolution, the creation and distribution of manipulated and fabricated images has exploded. Photo trickery once reserved for celebrities and models in magazines and advertisements is now in the palm of people’s hands thanks to Instagram and Snapchat filters. Pursuit of “the perfect body” has essentially been weaponized. Anyone can portray an idealized version of themselves in exchange for clicks of validation and attention. Those clicks translate to addictive chemical signals in the brain as well as cash money. While fact checking and gatekeeping may still be the purvey of reputable news outlets, web publishing has all but eliminated any barriers to entry. The tools and means to manipulate photos is at the fingertips of billions. Soon, the same will be true of video. For now, there is still an underlying reality - even if it is beneath layers and filters or just beyond the frame. It is a distortion but not a simulation - yet.
Are these photo manipulators artists? Are the creators of the filters? Are they creating a lie to help us realize a truth, as Picasso stated? Are these examples of Photoshopping and filtering similar or different from other examples of image manipulation? Do you think there are negative consequences when the public is constantly exposed to these kinds of images?
Since the days humans first manipulated fire light to tell epic tales with shadows cast on cave walls, we have used illusion to entertain and embellish, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Since the development of computer-generated imagery (CGI), filmmakers have become incredibly adept at creating reality-defying special effects resulting in unprecedented spectacles like this year’s Avengers: Infinity War and past blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and the Matrix. Over the years, special effects technology has gradually become cheaper and more accessible, granting amateurs abilities film studios once dreamed of. For example, a fan-made modified version of the 2018 film Solo: A Star Wars Story was recently released online with the lead actor’s face replaced by that of a CG Harrison Ford, the actor who originally brought the character to life, realizing a fantasy of some franchise fans.
In fact, there is an entire hilarious genre of replacing the faces of other actors with that of cult-favorite Nicholas Cage. We’re a long way away from Méliès and Harryhausen.
Already, fake images and hoax stories can go viral and spread across the globe in an instant. In contrast to the 5,000 copies of a rhino print in the 1500s, a hoax image can be seen by millions in seconds. It’s possible for “fake news” to influence elections here and elsewhere.
And what does the future hold? For a truly sobering vision of the future of altered video, the following research demonstration shows how it is currently possible to puppeteer the faces of a world leaders. This increased access and ease raises serious questions and concerns. Perhaps you too can imagine some of the terrifying scenarios such technology could cause? Oh dear.
As I write this post, I can barely even keep up with current events let alone make predictions. Just this November, the Chinese government unveiled a realistic AI newscaster to ‘inform’ the public.
Pretty impressive when compared to the most advanced foax-caster of just 10 years ago. Indeed, today AI can create people out of thin air. Welcome to the simulation.
Are we still in the realm of art, you might wonder? Below is an AI generated artwork, the first to be sold at auction. Do you think this is art? Do you think AI could be a new artistic medium? Who is the artist? Is it the AI, the programmer, or the person who came up with the idea? Can a machine be an artist? Are you excited for the possibilities of humans and machines collaborating on artwork? Do you think machines will eventually take over making art from artists? In the future, do you think it will matter if a human or AI made an artwork? If this is art, are the modified movies art? Are the puppet politicians and newscasters art? Why or why not?
"The boys and girls now in our classes have grown up with technology since infancy. They live in a world of speed and change and mechanization. What is quite often incredible to their teachers they can accept as a matter of course!" These words, written in 1966 by art educator Vincent Lanier sound like they could've been referring to students today. Lanier was an early advocate for studying visual culture and new media, which at the time was television, and starting where students are. While positive steps have been made in the last 50 or so years, are we really any better as a field at confronting the questions raised by popular media and technology? Are we helping our students live critically in today's (and presumably tomorrow's) media saturated world?
Is it time for artists and art teachers to engage seriously with the idea of truth once again? If you are placing your faith in the current generation’s ability to discern the difference between real and fake images, I have some bad news. A Stanford study released in 2016 examined the ability of middle, high, and college students to evaluate evidence online. 15 assessments were given to thousands of students asking them to identify the differences between news and ads, reliable and unreliable sources, and good and bad information. The researchers described the results as “dismaying,” “bleak,” and “[a] threat to democracy.” I can confirm Stanford’s results anecdotally. I gave some of the same assessments to almost 50 students in two of my classes this semester. My results mirrored Stanford’s. Interestingly, three semesters ago when I gave my early childhood students the choice of which topic we would skip, critical thinking was at the top of their list (behind STEAM/Design Thinking). Does that imply those of us wanting to teach critical thinking to our students will have a more difficult time engaging them in the topic? Would you try giving the Stanford civic online learning assessments to your students?
In response, I asked my early childhood educators to tackle critical thinking head-on in one of their art-integration mini-lessons this semester. They were required use art making or looking to teach their peer groups (organized by desired grade levels) how to tell the difference between fact and fiction, real and fake, or subjective and objective; or about common misconceptions or misunderstanding (and how common they are) in their subject areas. To prepare, we discussed many of the examples I’ve mentioned so far here and Part 1 and practiced some critical thinking strategies for kids, especially questioning strategies. Afterwards, students broke into groups based on preferred subject to watch videos on questioning strategies and practice with each other (links at the end).
When they shared their lessons, I saw an impressive variety of topics and strategies intended to help their future students improve their critical thinking skills. Their ideas gave me hope and encouraged me further to continue to explore critical looking in future classes. But we need to do more. What can we do in our classes to help our students look more critically? Part of the answer are some of the things we already do to help our students learn to use their eyes, but perhaps with an extra dash of skepticism. If I had to come up with an arbitrary list to help us have more thoughtful experiences with images, it might go something like this.
For more reputable suggestions on how to improve encounters with artwork and images, you might prefer consulting several works by Jame Elkins, including How to Use Your Eyes, or perhaps the classic Ways of Seeing by John Berger.
But perhaps it’s impossible to improve on the elegant simplicity three questions popularized by art educator Terry Barrett that I learned when I was studying to become an art teacher:
We can also look to the work of artists and media critics whom try to expose the workings of popular media. Many engage in parody and satire such as organizations like Adbusters. But I'm increasingly interested in can be found in the work of performance artist Joey Skaggs and his use of pranks
Do you use strategies to improve critical thinking in your classroom? Which strategies work for you? How do you approach this topic?
People being fooled is as old as time, and as long as there have been images, they have probably been used to fool and mislead. The ability to trick is rooted in our cleverness and can be used to catch a meal (or mark) in a trap or delight the eye in a trompe l’oeil painting. But as technology increasingly improves our deceptive capabilities, we must be cautious with our observations and reserve judgment rather than jumping to conclusions. We must make decisions based on the best evidence possible and maintain a healthy skepticism so that we resist being easily fooled but are not debilitated by constant doubt. We must lead with honesty and integrity and demand the same from our institutions and leaders. We must all open our eyes and see more carefully.
I reject “post-truth.” I reject those that might think critical thinking is not important for their grade level, subject, or classroom (or students in general). I reject the idea that after 13 or more long years of education we as a society can accept an inability to think critically from our graduates. What is the point of all of this education if our students aren’t able to make informed decisions based on good evidence? And while every teacher can claim they are developing some part of the brain, the eyes are the art teacher’s domain. In what other classes and how often are children being taught how to see? If we don’t teach critical looking, who will? If our students can’t discern between fact and fabrication, how safe will any of us be, let alone the truth? It might not be the job some of us signed up for as art teachers, but can we afford to ignore that responsibility when our basic values may be threatened?
We will undoubtedly continue to struggle to learn that there must be more to believing than simply seeing. We can never fully prepare our students for what the future has in store. But I believe we can help our students by teaching them the tools necessary for critical looking and thinking. We can teach our students how their brains work while dispelling myths and misconceptions. It is up to educators, and especially art educators, to ensure that our students have opportunities to develop critical looking and thinking skills. All our futures may depend on it.
Compared to all this, those color wheels just don't seem that important.
Continued from Part 1: What is Real?
Questioning Strategies for Teachers*:
Bloom’s Taxonomy List of Q Words*
Question words for critical thinking
What's Going On in This Picture? from The New York Times
"Intriguing images stripped of their captions and an invitation to students to discuss them live." (Thank you Kimberly!)
An imaginative YouTuber devoted to skepticism and debunking Internet hoaxes while educating and entertaining
*Links primarily for K-5 as I’m currently teaching Early Childhood majors. I’d appreciate any links you could share to middle and high school critical thinking resources!
Thank you for reading! If you like what you read, please like & share!
#criticalthinking #medialiteracy #visualliteracy #art #arted #arthistory #artfuture #teacherprep #teaching #learning #technology #truth #posttruth #truthoverpower
Albrecht Durer’s Rhinoceros print from 1515 is one of the most influential animal images of all time. In Durer’s lifetime, 4-5,000 copies were probably sold. This was remarkable in a time when most people in Europe were illiterate. Some argue that, at the dawn of mass media, the demand for images like Durer’s may have outpaced that for texts.
The print was created to capitalize on the sensational appearance of the first live rhinoceros to be seen in Europe in nearly 1,000 years, a gift to the king of Portugal from an Indian sultan. For the majority of people across the continent, Durer’s print was the only opportunity they would ever have to see the exotic creature.
Notice anything off about Durer’s Rhinoceros? For comparison, here’s some photos of your average Joe (or Josephine)-rhino for comparison.
Did you notice that Durer’s rhinoceros’ body appears like it’s covered in rigid plates like armor? Or the scales on its legs? Or maybe that extra little horn on its back? A real Indian rhinoceros doesn’t have those characteristics. These inaccurate details might be due to the fact that Durer never actually saw the famous rhinoceros himself. Instead, he had to rely on a drawing created, ironically, by an artist unknown today.
For centuries, Durer’s rendition was taken to be a true representation of the rhinoceros, apparently even appearing in German science textbooks as late as 1930. Do you think Durer told his audience he had never actually seen a rhino? See that text at the top of the print? It’s an inscription which among other things states, “This is an accurate representation.” Instead of being upfront possible mistakes, Durer doubled-down by explicitly telling his unsuspecting audience his image represented the truth. Was the motive for Durer’s inaccuracy mere misunderstanding, creative embellishment, or an intentional fabrication to drive up sales?
Fortunately, people don’t get fooled so easily by pictures anymore...
While we’re talking about important animal images, let’s fast forward and look at a more contemporary example. Below is a photograph of a 49 meter long giant squid that washed up on a shore in Santa Monica, California a few years ago.
Giant squids such as the one pictured above were once considered more myth, imagined by sailors and fishers, reported to be capable of dragging entire ships beneath the water with ease.
Scientists now confirm that giant squids do exist. But not because of a photo like the one above. That photo is fake. Below are the original images that were edited together to trick the viewer.
Here are two photos of an actual giant squid that washed ashore in New Zealand.
Still impressive, but this squid is probably not going to be taking down the Nautilus anytime soon. Certainly not as dramatic in comparison to the previous photo. Here at the dawn of a new type of mass media known as social media, the creator of this super-sized squid image may have suspected that a more fantastic image would be more likely to go viral. In this case they were right as it gained enough attention to be debunked by National Georgraphic, a reputable naturalist magazine.
Would you call the person that made this image an “artist?” Why or why not? What do you think are is the motivation for the creator of a hoax image? Sometimes the 'creators of these images remain completely unknown and other times they are quickly forgotten. In some cases, the creators are able to profit from their images but that often requires denying their images are fake. Is it a desire for attention, a penchant for mischief, an enjoyment for manipulating others, a joke, guerrilla advertising, or just a quick buck? Is it harmless or harmful?
Consider these images - all hoaxes. Why do you think the creators made these hoax images? Would you consider the creators of these images “artists?” Why or why not? Are these images different from the giant squid hoax? Could any of these images have negative consequences? Do you think altering reality is an artistic goal? Would you ever create a hoax image? Why or why not?
Do you think artists have any responsibility to truth?"
Did you know that one of the first photos in history was a hoax? In the early 19th century, there was a rivalry between two pioneers, Louis Daguerre and Hippolyte Bayard. The former would eventually be called “the father of photography,” while the latter claimed to have actually invented photography. Bayard, after developing his photographic process, intended to share his discovery with the French Academy of Sciences. But Francois Arago, secretary of the academy, convinced Bayard to wait. In the meantime, Arago’s friend, Daguerre, was able to announce his own photographic process and thereby gained fame and riches. Bayard received the consolation of a small cash prize for equipment. Perhaps in anger or protest or self-pity, Bayard set up his camera and posed limp and lifelessly for a self-portrait in 1840 titled “Self Portrait as a Drowned Man.” He released the photo to the public with text claiming he had committed suicide due to his unfair treatment. It began, "The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you."
Bayard did not give up however and would continue to invent, going on to create the process of combination printing, a means of photo manipulation allowing the artist to create scenes that didn’t really exist by combining parts of different photo exposure. This process was the predecessor of the photomontage, a technique popularized in recent years by Photoshop, widely available photo editing software. An especially effective example of photomontage would be "Leap Into the Void," 1960, by artist Yves Klein.
The photo was published in a fake newspaper created by Klein called "Dimanche - Le Journal d'un Seul Jour," which translates to "Sunday - The Newspaper for Only One Day." The photo shows the artist apparently leaping from a roof and falling towards the street below, his arms outstretched and face seemingly elated, as if he believes he can fly, in stark contrast to the implications of gravity and the hard pavement below. The image seems to allude to popular notions of artists as 'free spirited' risk-takers, 'rebels' that defy the rules, or impractical dreamers. That seems contrasted with 'the tortured artist' archetype, or at least a tragic conclusion, as the viewer considers the harsh reality moments away for the plummeting artist. Unless, of course, you the viewer believes that people can fly.
Picasso famously said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” Do you agree with Picasso? Do you think Yves Klein made a lie that makes us realize a truth? If so, what truth? Was Bayard lying to tell a truth also? Was Durer? Do you think this was an effective approach?
Does it make a difference that in each of these cases the creators wrote or said that they were really telling the truth? Do you think this was a necessary part of the illusion, like a magician claiming they are performing "real" magic, or are they just liars? Do you think they cared if anyone figured out the truth or not? If we reverse Picasso's quote, is it also possible to tell a lie with the truth? Can you think of an example?
Of course, the ability to manipulate photos is not only of interest to artists, the mischievous, and profiteers. When the powerful and political wish to manipulate the public, they too turn to technology. Similar techniques that allowed Klein to make his impossible image would also allow Stalin's oppressive regime to try to alter not just reality, but history, by erasing individuals from photos and documents in an attempt to eliminate not only dissent but the very existence of dissenters. Censors were able to make it as though they had never even been born. Would something like that still be possible today? What, if any, is the difference between Yves Klein's photomontage and the censored photos of the Stalinist Soviet Union?
Among artists one can easily find at least two camps of thought - luddites that reject technological advances in favor of more traditional media and techniques, and technophiles that experiment with the possibilities and challenges of new media and approaches. Interestingly, Klein seems somewhere between the two. On the one hand, Klein was using advances in photography to create his artwork. On the other hand, Klein apparently used the photo as demonstration of his outlandish claim that he could travel to the moon under his own power. He called the folks at NASA fools. Klein both used science to his advantage while simultaneously denouncing scientific progress represented by the space agency. How do you make sense of this apparent conflict? Is it common for people to maintain such contradictory views?
History, I would say, proved Klein the fool 9 years later in 1969 when American astronaut Neil Armstrong took a photograph of fellow astronaut 'Buzz' Aldrin standing on the surface of the moon - one of the most famous and important photographs in history. Ironically, today conspiracy theorists claim that the photos, as well as the entire moon landing, was a hoax. They're wrong.
Clearly we have some issues telling what is real and what is fake in our modern world. Indeed, we always have it seems. But while disbelief in this case might simply represent a fringe view, belief in conspiracies from 'flat earth' to 'chem trails' seems to be increasingly prevalent. Once this may have been due to lack of information but today we exist immersed in a glut of information. Like any human endeavor, technology is a double-edged sword. Fire can cook food, provide warmth, and illuminate the darkness. But fire can also burn, maim, and kill. The same advances in photography that allow for the creation of incredible and amazing images can also be used to manipulate and control.
Contemporary artist John Baldessari says, "If anybody believes a photgraph is telling the truth they are living in the dark ages." But is it really that simple? Dismissing all photos as untrue doesn't seem that much more helpful than claiming all photographs are true. This of course seems to be our post-postmodern dilemma - avoiding throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Is it possible to see with nuance?
What, if any, responsibility does the artist have for the images they create and their impact? What role should society and the government play when it comes to spread of false information, including images? What is our individual responsibility when it comes to being able to tell what is real and fake? What is our role as visual art teachers in ensuring that our students are media literate?
Join me in a couple weeks for Critical Looking - Part 2: The Future of Truth, where we'll continue to investigate these questions and more as we venture into the future of images and our role in media literacy. Thank you as always for reading!
As students enter class, they see a prompt written on the board:
If creativity were an animal, what would it look like? Draw it.
“If you captured creativity under a bell jar, what would you see when you looked inside? Would you know creativity if you saw it? Have you ever wondered what exactly creativity is? What do we mean when we say 'creative'?"
“My goal today is for you to leave here knowing less about creativity than when you walked in,“ I tell my students at the beginning of our third class. They are undergraduate early-childhood majors in my Art & Curriculum Concepts for Teachers class, a 2 credit course that meets once a week for a semester. They are required to take two out of the three choices between visual art, music, and drama.
Is creativity the act of creation? Does it happen whenever anything is made? Or are only some creations creative? How do you tell the difference? Does it matter if it’s Paint-By-Number? Does it matter who is doing the creating? Can a painting be creative if it’s made by a paintbrush being held by a long, grey trunk?
Is creativity a kind of thinking, more about ideas than about things? Is it thinking that is divergent; the more ideas the better? Can the thinking be convergent too; an idea honed to a sharp point? Do creative thoughts move vertically, laterally, randomonly, or even transdimensional? Does it move it swim or scuttle or skip? Can it crawl and climb and fly?
Does creativity have to be original? Something that’s never existed before? Is each of us therefore creative, even if we’re remixed versions of what came before? Can it be a reference so obscure that most no one has heard it? Does a drop of unoriginality change an otherwise original whole? Is there anything anywhere that hasn’t built on what’s come before?
Does creativity move gradually, imperceptibly slow like a glacier remaking a whole landscape? Does it increase incrementally as we toil and sweat like the ants in hidden hallways beneath our feet? Can it be ordered into a system like our entire solar system? Or does it strike like a bolt of lightning and disappear in a flash? On a long enough timeline entire civilizations become more like fruit flies, does it matter how long our creations last?
Can it be creative even if you don’t have a reason or know what to do with it? Robots and AI and billionaire space colonies; tiny computers and black holes and quantum thingamajigs. As more and more “What if?” becomes what is, I often wonder to myself can we perpetually do whatever we muse or is there a ceiling on what can be done? I’d like to ask Jules Verne.
Is creativity innovation? Can it be imitation? Iteration? Incremental? Sometimes imperceptible? Can creativity be pointless, another novelty or fad? Or must it change the world and the way everyone thinks? Does it matter if that thinking is good or bad? Can creativity be judged? Can creativity be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is the Baghdad Battery as creative as a phone in someone’s pocket?
Does it spend its time solving our problems or does it appear daydreamy or even lazy and tired? Does it conjure images of a Bart Simpson or a gifted over-achiever? Is it poorly behaved or just bored out of its mind? Is it more interested in problem-finding? And what does it feel like if we feel it inside? Is it cursed to be moody like the myth of the “tortured artist?” Or can something more appealing, like a rollercoaster ride?
Is creativity like a yin and yang, existing in tension between what is and what could be? Does creativity need to make sense to us? Can it be so many different things all at once? Is creativity as indefinable as you or me?
1. Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom? Westby, Erik L and Dawson, V L. 1, 1995, Creativity Research Journal, Vol. 8, pp. 1-10. 2. Predicting Creative Behavior: A Reexamination of the Divergence Between Traditional and Teacher-Defined Concepts of Creativity. Dawson, V L, et al. 1, 1999, Creativity Research Journal, Vol. 12, pp. 57-66.
When creativity experts describe creativity, they describe it differently than teachers. Are experts and teachers describing the same thing? Can they both be right?
If creativity walks into our classroom, do we welcome it? Or is it more like a double-edged sword that seems scary; that we were never taught how to wield? Is creativity something special, that only special people really feel? Or is it as common as the nose on our face? Do we make space for creativity, as a matter of inclusion?
If we thought of creativity like a wagon wheel, what skills and abilities might the hub of the wheel unite? Or if we took creativity apart - if we looked inside - what characteristics might we identify
If creativity is a skill, something anyone can learn, would we know when to use it? And would we be inclined to do so?
Is what’s most important about creativity is what it means to you? And to know what it means, mustn’t one experience it? To see it in ourselves and others and especially to feel it? If so, then shouldn’t we as teachers be able to describe it and provide evidence of our sighting it in the wild? And after thinking about all this, do you still think it’s fair to grade “creativity” so generally? Would I ever find “intelligence” in a rubric from your class?
Is creativity inherent in the arts, the domain of the art teacher, or does it belong to most any field? Does creativity live in the human heart? Does it inhabit moreso the mind? Does creativity occupy my physical body? Are its origins spiritual or supernatural? Or is creativity everyday, as common as carbon? Is it as natural as gravity - a constraint humans intuitively felt inspired to defeat? Necessity is the mother of invention. Shouldn’t we also consider creativity a necessity for our very survival? Our imagination finds ways to pass the second-hand of the school clock as it ticks sadistically slowly. Our dreams can take us away from tedium and trauma alike, transporting us to places of infinite possibility.
But can creativity wither like a raisin in the sun? Are my students still creative if I don’t try to see it? Am I still creative if I say I’m not? Does it disappear if I deny it? "I'm not creative," declare 1/5 of my students. After our conversation, are they still so sure?
At the end of class, my took turns sharing our drawings of creativity as an animal. It was fantastic listening to the reasoning behind their artistic choices and learn the many ‘whys’ behind their images. They were all so meaningful. Originally, I thought of these drawings as just an entry point into our discussion of creativity. A primer. But since then, I’ve decided that I’ll invite my students to to revisit these drawings several times as a way to develop artistic skills, refine their artwork, and think like artists. I see a lot of potential here. But I don’t know for sure, and that is indicative of creativity for me - you have to trust the process. It’s a risk with no guarantee. But rather than another ‘one-and-done,’ let’s try to build something here. There is creative and intellectual juice left unsqueezed.
To make things memorable and meaningful, I think that it is helpful to continually build upon and revisit ideas and skills. Sharpen the saw. I suspect that these early-childhood majors can develop some sophistication in their drawing while simultaneously encouraging them to consider their conceptions of creativity. At the end of this semester, I will post before and after pics with the final versions of these drawings. I’m excited to see how they turn out!
What would creativity look like if it were an animal to YOU? I’d love to see you draw it and share!
Hello! For those of you that are new here, welcome! Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy your time here! And for returning readers, a very special welcome back! I don’t know about you all but this seemed like the summer that never was to me! It flew by so quickly, I can hardly believe that classes are right around the corner (and many of you heroes have already started back!)
The beginning of the year is a great time to revisit your values and reaffirm your beliefs to prepare and get energized for the work ahead. Since several of you are new Color Wheel Killers, I think it’s especially appropriate to share why I’m here and hopefully that will resonate with you and this community will be something you want to continue to be a part of. Together we can advance the field of visual art learning.
I started this blog a year ago as a challenge to myself to be more transparent in my teaching and therefore more vulnerable - to share what I was doing with others struggling with how to teach better and more creatively. I wanted a place where I could share my thoughts about teaching and the things going on in my classroom. It was a risk I’m glad I’ve taken and has since helped me to think more deeply and meaningfully about my teaching practice and research. I’ve taken (mischievous) pleasure knowing that my provocative title has connected with you and others as we think about how better to connect our students to their own creativity through encounters with contemporary art.
So why is my (in)famous logo, poor Carl the Color Wheel, getting dispatched in such gruesome fashion? Well, because blood is cool, obviously. But yes, I know it's not so much the gore but my call for eliminating color wheels that can elicit gasps among some of my colleagues, even accusations of blasphemy. ‘YOU MONSTER!! HOW COULD YOU?!? HOW ELSE CAN STUDENTS LEARN TO APPRECIATE COLOR?!? The color wheel is precious and every child must know it, use it, memorize it, and love it. Blue and red make purple! Yellow and purple complement each other! This is critical art stuff here!’ I worry how some of my colleagues seem to so strongly identify with this tool or see it somehow as endemic of all of art education. I'm not attacking anyone - just an idea.
What do I have against color wheels, the art teacher’s beloved class accessory? For the record, I like color and I think color theory is really interesting. like rainbows. I’m not opposed to circular rainbows.
I consider myself to be in good company in my disdain for the color wheel. Art educator Olivia Gude, whom I’ve followed for years, has likewise repeatedly called for an end to the antiquated practice of making color wheels:
And HS Art teacher Amelia Hernandez recalls an Olivia Gude anti-color wheel presentation from a recent NAEA convention in Chicago where Gude says, “If you still get the urge to teach a color wheel assignment, just lie down on the ground and wait until the feeling passes.”
While I might see similarities between my thinking and that of one of the top movers-and-shakers in our field, I’m definitely not trying to claim superiority by any means. How do I know color wheels are a waste of time? Because I’ve made classrooms full of students paint color wheels (but we made them into flowers, so that’s better right?!? No? No.) I deeply regret it. If you have done this too, I’m not judging you. But if you don’t have a darn good reason for doing it after reading this, then I might.
What is most important about art? This is a question my mentor Craig Roland would ask his students. What’s the one thing you want them to remember about their time in your art class?
Our time is so short with our students and therefore even more precious. Every student doesn’t take art, isn’t required or doesn’t have access to take visual art in school. Will they go throughout their lives with the secret shame of never having made a wheel of colors of their very own? Will they have some disadvantage in life which you could point to? In the typical visual art class, not every student is going to be an artist. In fact, this is most likely true for the vast majority of them. How does the color wheel improve the life of the dentist? The auto mechanic? The garbage person? The postal worker? How will the color wheel help them encounter a contemporary work of art or engage an object in an artful way.
Of course, I’m sure everyone thinks what they’re teaching is important. I didn’t think I was wasting my student’s time as they spent class after class filling in the colors. But why is the color wheel important? Is it important beyond itself? Some call it an important tool. But is the use of a tool in it’s form or in it’s purpose? Certainly, a pencil can be beautiful - but isn’t the beauty of the pencil found in the purpose in which it is employed? An elegant equation? A poignant sentence? An expressive line?
But surely the color wheel has some purpose! I grant you that. I see no doubt that the color wheel serves the painter better than most. It’s a little less useful already for other visual art forms however, say for example the sculptor that works in earthtones or the digital artist whose color palette is based on an entirely different wheel of color based on light rather than pigment. For every person that claims how useful the color wheel was to them, I wonder if I couldn’t find 100 that would say not a day has gone by that they have occupied their thoughts with wheels of color?
Understanding the color wheel will help students see better! They will appreciate color more! First, I’d like to see the evidence for this. Seriously. I’m unaware of any research that demonstrates that an intervention involving color wheel training is correlated with subsequent reports of significantly higher levels of aesthetic satisfaction. Secondly, do you really think the color wheel is the best, or only, way to produce that satisfaction?
Is there a right way to use color? Color wheels allegedly teach students “ideal” ways to choose colors. This must certainly refer to some of the so-called “rules” some art teachers must be referring to when they state that “you must first learn the rules before you can break the rules.” But color preference is personal, cultural, and contextual. The color wheel can tell you what colors might look “pretty” or “nice” together (according to a particular socio-cultural viewpoint) and encourages encourage a formulaic or prescriptive application of color. “Step 1: Follow directions; Step 2: Use at least 1 color and its complement; Step 3: Clean up after...” Sound familiar? Much like a disgruntled older woman in search of beef in the 80s, I can’t help but ask: “Where’s the meaing?”
Color is important to me when it is meaningful. Color is important when it helps us create and understand meaning around us. How do I perceive color? What colors create which effects? What colors might best portray a feeling I’m going for? How do certain colors make me feel? How can I use color to affect my mood or that of others? None of these questions are answered by the color wheel.
I see the color wheel in good company with the elements and principles of art. They are the grammar of art, but not the message. They are they HOW, not the WHY or even WHAT. Humans are naturally driven by meaning and purpose and that is not supplied by grammar but comes from the heart. Certainly not useless, but moreso overemphasized if anything. More sophistication does not necessarily imply more meaning. Greater sophistication comes with practice and practice comes with inclination. Interest can be sparked by a good teacher, but not if we are focusing on what isn’t meaningful. To privilege the mechanical aspects of art over the meaningful aspects is pointless to me. We must always begin with the meaning. We must engage ourselves with the purposes of art and go beyond the superficial aspects.
We are all attached to the past in one way or another. Call it tradition, nostalgia, or sentiment. We all have things we either don’t want or are afraid to let go. But when those things get in the way of learning, when those things reduce what we do in art to the lowest common denominator so it can become a multiple choice question on some irrelevant test, then we must challenge ourselves to abandon those things holding us back. If I was a writing teacher, my site might be called, “Kill Your Cursive.” It’s not the style so much as the substantive role art and creativity can have in the lives of everyday people today and have had throughout history.
If you came out of an art education without ever seeing a color wheel, I think it would still be possible for you to live a long and happy life. I believe you’d still be able to enjoy the colors of a sunset or a butterfly’s wing or a Van Gogh.
We live in an age where we can’t believe our eyes. The majority of young people and adults can’t tell the difference between a fake image or news story and a real one. How have we supposedly helped our students “see” if they cannot even see the difference between what is real and what’s fake? How does this prepare them for an unforeseen future as a fully-functional citizen? Will memorizing a color wheel somehow better aid them participate in the society of the future than critical thinking skills or the ability to consider multiple interpretations, build empathy, or make meaning? Because looking at art can help develop those skills. Reproducing colors in a circle don’t.
To grow, we must be prepared to abandon the old ways of doing things and leave behind the things we may once have found useful, even loved, but that no longer serve us. Kill Your Color Wheels is a reminder to focus on what's important: How can art make a real difference in our students’ lives? Plus, killing a color wheel is silly - and I like silly.
If you are as interested in answering that question as I am, then I hope you’ll continue to revisit my blog from time to time and refresh your own thinking with my writing and research. What old habits or ideas are YOU trying to let go?
Thanks so much for reading and I hope you’ll continue to practice and call for more meaningful, creative, contemporary visual art learning!
For more on my views on color wheels, as well some thoughts on art education and creativity, check out the following podcasts:
Art Class Curator Episode 09 Killing Your Color Wheels with Jim O’Donnell: https://artclasscurator.com/09-killing-your-color-wheels-with-jim-odonnell/
Art Ed Radio: Episode 105 Art Ed Should Thrive, Not Just Survive: https://www.theartofed.com/podcasts/art-ed-thrive-not-just-survive-ep-105/
For a similar take on the elements and principles and their role in art education, please check out Cindy Ingram’s excellent blog post at: https://artclasscurator.com/why-i-hate-the-elements-and-principles-of-art-but-teach-them-anyway/
For more interesting ways to think about color, and more picking on the color wheel, see Olivia Gude’s articles
“Color Coding”: http://www.academia.edu/7339685/Color_Coding
Want to learn more about color and perception? Check out this amazing TED Talk by neuroscientist Beau Lotto: https://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_optical_illusions_show_how_we_see
Want to learn even more about color and perception? Check out “relative color”: http://colorisrelative.com/color/
Want to learn even more more about color and perception? More relative color at: http://purplepwny.com/blog/color_relativity_color_theory_beyond_the_wheel.html
“Especially as a beginner, it can be very tempting to look towards mathematical formulas and rigid step-by-step approaches to picking your colors. Unfortunately, there isn’t any one formula that will work for every situation.”
Note: Sorry once again for the delay of my post! Like I said before, this has been whirlwind of a summer! I can’t believe that a new school year is here already! There are so many things I want to share with you, like the wonderful time spent talking to Art Class Curator Cindy Ingram for her new podcast, my lovely first experience working with the Art of Ed creating my first video presentation for their summer conference, my phenomenal experience working with high school creatives during the 31st annual Art-All State Massachusetts as an Artist-Mentor, my trip to Wichita Kansas to present at the regional USSEA Conference where I shared insights gained examining the potential connections between burns, creativity, my classroom community, and finally the art projects I completed, such as a 90 page creative non-fiction novelette about growing up with a mother suffering severe mental illness, which took me 8 years off and on to complete, as well as some other pieces! Phew!!! Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to weave those experiences into future blog posts for you all! In the meantime I'll have classes to teach and a dissertation proposal that will need approving so please expect 1-2 posts a month for the immediate future! Thanks again for your continued support!
Assessment is not a bad word. Though it seems that way in art education sometimes. I can empathize with folks who find the term 'exhausting.' Saying the A-word might even trigger some kind of low-grade academic PTSD for some. I think it’s because we’re so used to being abused by it, both as students and then as teachers.
But remember that at its core, assessment is simply about value. What we assess is what we look for and what we look for is what we value. What values are you promoting in your classroom assessment? Are you valuing learning over grades? There is a difference. What about dialogue over monologue? Subjectivity vs false pretenses of objectivity? Vulnerability and risk-taking vs the formulaic and the path of least resistance?
Assessment is not the same as grades. Grades at best serve expediency, but expediency is not compatible with learning any more than it is with art. Galloping through a museum to see as much art as possible is not the way to have meaningful experiences with art. Art is slow. Art is demanding. It asks the viewer to notice something,even reflect on what you notice, as opposed to the rest of daily life when we simply go and do mindlessly.
Meeting with every single student to determine grades is also slow (at least compared to a computerized test or mechanically determined grade). Assessment, if it is to be authentic, is also slow. But I believe that we should have the courage to assess face-to-face and to do so through dialogue. In this fast-paced world, we must slow down for our students’ sakes if we want them to slow down as well. We ended my class this semester with final meetings where I met with all 30 pre-service teachers in my class to assess portfolios of writing and determine a grade together.
Even though we have been graded ad nauseam for the better part of 15 to 20 years of our lives, few and far between are the instances where we share responsibility for our own evaluation or even evaluate ourselves. This seems rather strange. These future teachers will go on to emphasize grading because that is what the system demands; that is what they have been subjected to as students and all they know. But shouldn’t they get to have experiences actually grading SOMEONE before they are in a classroom ACTUALLY grading someone before student teaching? Don’t we, as a field, think that, at the very least, self-assessment might build empathy for students and expand the thinking of these future teachers BEFORE they get into the classroom when they can still ask questions and experiment safely?
I told them it would feel weird and uncomfortable, maybe because evaluation is hard and maybe because they have so little practice self-evaluating in traditional settings. Step into that discomfort. It will be over before they knew it. This semester, I used an analogy that I liked quite a lot because I thought it would be very “sticky” – the tattoo artist. Sure, my students get the logic I explained above, but will they REMEMBER when they are the teacher in charge? My answer was the tattoo artist analogy. I told them that traditionally, a prospective tattoo artist would practice drawing for a long time and maybe practice tattooing a piece of meat from the supermarket. When they wanted to graduate to become a professional, they would tattoo themselves. This has two benefits. First, is your work good enough for you to be willing to wear it? Second, you know how it feels when you do it to someone else. It builds empathy. So it makes sense to give a future teacher the opportunity to share the steering wheel when it comes to their own evaluation so that they know how it feels. The problem is, this analogy may or may not be true, because I’ve heard conflicting accounts. I’ll keep looking for one because the truth matters to me but this one may work for a time.
Some students had to mull over very difficult questions that every teacher faces. Whatever they chose would have lasting consequences. Would they evaluate themselves fairly, as they are expected to evaluate their students? Or would they take advantage of the opportunity? It seemed like an obvious teachable moment to put the ball in their courts. I believe their decisions says a lot about who they will become as teachers, and I thought they all showed character as they practiced wrestling with the tough choices every teacher faces in a less risky environment.
Fortunately, the vast majority of them did very well so I was able to relax a bit. A few conversations were tough and awkward but teachable moments on how to move through disagreement. There was no point where I had to overrule anyone, though there were occasions where I and the student came to terms with final grades that were lower than the student hoped. But there were also occasions where perhaps overly-critical students and I came to terms with grades higher than they expected as well. Nevertheless, they seemed sincere in their understanding of how those grades seemed fair. Overall, I loved the experience and it seemed like they all responded well to it. And I have some evidence to back that up. While I’ll wait until my next post to get my exit survey data, I will share that before their experience with authentic assessment in my course, 39% of the pre-service teachers said they were interested in practicing authentic assessment in their own future classrooms, but by the end of the semester, that number had increased to 68% - an increase of nearly 30%!
On Effort & Assessment
Hearing what my students talk about and write about gives me insight into what they value. What I tried to do was listen. I give my students multiple opportunities to reflect on something and may ask them about something several different ways. I tell them this is because I do not want to use only one bucket to catch a waterfall, as I explain to them. I’m looking for the learning when I’m reading and listening to and observing what my students say and do. If I only look one time, that’s like using one bucket to catch all that information. If I look for something multiple ways, then I will use several buckets and increase my chances of finding what I’m looking for, if it is there. We must be sure we find what we are looking for and not what we are hoping for, and likewise, our students should have the opportunity to prove what they have and have not learned beyond a shadow of a doubt. That is justice, and at the end of the day, that above all else must drive our decision making in the classroom just as it must drive a civil society.
One nearly universal theme I heard in students’ self-evaluations was effort being highly prized, privileged in my opinion from accomplishment or acquiring specific skills or knowledge. I’m afraid that this is something of a lowest common denominator from my point of view. Is the person expending every last ounce of their strength and effort attempting to move a boulder more admirable than the clever person that uses a lever and actually moves the stone? Not to me.
Obviously we all need to put in effort! Obviously EVERY student IDEALLY would normally be operating at the edge of their potential in order for their limitations to expand. I have a hard time imagining a single teacher promoting a lack of effort in their classroom. But how do you begin to weigh or measure it and would that be useful at all? Would everyone be successful if they just put in effort? Sounds ridiculous to me. In my opinion, effort would be a quality of the classroom culture to be valued, modeled, and practiced, rather than something academic to be evaluated. Hasn’t it been our desire to REDUCE the amount of effort required for tasks that has driven our technology? Doesn’t evolution privilege the adaptation and not the effort expended? Surely, it is this emphasis on effort above all else that makes people think that, while learning is often hard, it can also be meaningful and fun. If we measure by effort alone, surely the most dismal learning tasks are then the most beneficial, right? If a teacher doesn't grade effort, that doesn't mean no effort suddenly becomes acceptable. It seems to me we grade their effort when students are being forced to do things.
I wonder if, in practice, prizing even effort leads to a deficit view. The student quit due to their flawed character and lack of effort, not because the system is unfair or irrelevant. “They’re lazy!” is the favorite attack upon the disenfranchised. Yet here at college, after so many years of school, is what is most prized? Not first improvement? Growth? Self-fulfillment? Achievement? Surely, all this represents the institutionalized view, as nearly every high achieving student (future teachers) in my class emphasized effort. To the contrary, the best studio art classes I ever taught were guided by the mantra of a familiar green puppet: Do or do not, there is not try.
I don't look for effort, I want engagement. And I was very pleased to hear many respond very positively to their Creative Growth Goals, which honestly I had wondered if having students choose CGGs would’ve worked. And it didn’t, completely, this first semester by any means (well, I started in the Fall but it was formalized in my Spring class). I was worried because I had to remind several students which goal they had chosen at their midpoint meetings. But they seemed truly engaged in their focus on developing a skill or ability such as idea generation or uncertainty or experimentation.
It’s hard, sometimes, to know with great certainty when you are conferencing with students and reviewing their portfolios that the risk of confirmation bias is extremely STRONG when you AND the students both have a horse in the race. I think we have to weigh our judgments carefully and this is why I seek transparency with my students. But what I took away from their positive responses was not so much the specifics of it but that they responded well to being able to choose a goal that was they then were prompted to weave throughout their coursework. Additionally, much like this assignment, they really benefited from prompts to reflect back on their decisions from the beginning of the semester which they could use as a point of reference to assess growth. Students like feeling like they’re making progress, but in many classes students are not given the opportunity to reflect. Comprehensive tests and papers do not serve this function. But I was happy that the students enjoyed exercising their agency in selecting something in the course they’d like to focus on. This is something I want to more deeply engrain through the core of future classes.
Assessment is rarely easy, but for me it is one of the most important things I do in the classroom. But grades, while attractive to bureaucrats and folks that don’t know much about learning, are not the answer. I told my students at their meetings was that the objective of our final meeting was to take all of the rich experiences we’ve had this semester, the story that you have created this semester, and do our best to fit all of that into one of these odd little shapes (as I point to the OSU grade scale). We lose a lot doing this, because it is nearly impossible to reverse engineer that story out of the funny little shape. But you and I will know that there is a lot of meaning in that shape, even if it is hidden. And most importantly, it is the dialogue, reflection and choice - the essential ingredients of authentic assessment - that my students found meaningful which they will carry with them well after they leave the classroom. Paradoxically, this means slowing down and focusing on those art and creativity values, skills, and dispositions that we will practice the rest of our lives. These are the things I value and so that is what I assess.
In my next post, I’ll share the results of the exit surveys my students completed. What did they think of our time together? Tune in next time and I'll discuss the result and reveal how their data will affect my planning for next year! The challenges of change!
Lastly, thanks for your patience in waiting for this post! It's been a few weeks as I had classes ending and beginning; several major deadlines; and some personal matters all coming at the same time. I appreciate your continued support!
Can playing games together help us move toward inclusive teaching? How can we use games to center those students that might otherwise be on the periphery of the classroom community?
When I taught elementary and middle school, I enjoyed playing critique games. Some favorites included a game Harn Museum Educator Bonne Bernau had shared with my undergraduate class called Token Response and a game I made up like “Read My Mind” (a variation on Blind Man’s Bluff). But over the years working in the college setting I admit that, while I feel my critiques are engaging conversations filled with analysis and constructive feedback, they may have been lacking the fun of those elementary school critiques.
“You can’t say ‘you can’t play’” is Dr. Edmiston’s rule when it comes to his students playing games. In our education class, we had recently discussed how playing games together can be powerful tools for community-building and engagement. He asked us to be especially attentive towards how we might meaningfully include those students that we feel may be at risk of being on the fringe of the group. This may be our quieter and more introverted students, those who may have had difficulty fitting in or those that might be more resistant, or students whose culture or background might differ from the majority, like international students. I had planned a critique day for our next class so that we could display and discuss the artwork we had created this semester. Why not livin up our class critique with some games?
I wanted to begin by sharing an experience with my students that I remember affecting the way I looked at art when I was an undergraduate with the added bonus of helping them see some of the most famous art in the world in a new way. We played a game I call “Living Statues.”
Me: Sometimes to understand a work of art we need to become that work of art. Tonight we’re going to play a game that I call Living Statues but you can call it whatever you want. In this game, we’ll be recreating famous works of art. We’ll have statues who will be the models that the sculptors physically pose to match an artwork as closely as possible. Only the sculptors know what the artwork looks like so the statue just has to do his/her best to hold the pose as long as possible. Let’s practice on me. I’ll be the statue and I want to see if you all can help pose me like an artwork I’m thinking of.
Embodying a figure in an artwork is probably one of the most powerful ways to try to understand its subject matter. I love this example because my undergraduate professor Craig Roland introduced it in our methods class many years ago and it has always stuck with me. A few years ago, I was extremely fortunate to be able to chaperone an undergraduate trip to France (occasionally, academia has its perks). While there, I finally had the opportunity to see The Thinker in person at Rodin’s museum in France. As I sat with the pensive statue sketching it in the gardens, I was grateful for the insight that this short activity had impressed upon me.
I’m a huge fan of modeling for students. It is probably one of our most powerful tools as not only teachers but as a species. ‘Monkey see, monkey do’ is how we got here. Imitation AND innovation. Our ability to watch and copy but also to empathize and connect with the experience of others is incredible. For this we can thank our “mirror neuron system” in the brain. For example, “about one-fifth of the neurons that fire in the premotor cortex when we perform an action (say, kicking a ball) also fire at the sight of somebody else performing that action.” If you’re interested, there is some fascinating research on how our brain and senses are built for empathy as seen in both sports as well as art.
BUT this activity also exposes how much of that empathic power we waste on a regular basis by making assumptions based on incorrect observations and assumptions. We look but do not see! I love playing dumb - probably because I take to it so naturally. By purposely doing something “wrong,” as in my pose, I give power to the students to correct me and essentially swap roles with me as the teacher. They get to learn by teaching me how to do the pose correctly. So we swapped authority back and forth and I feel that giving students the chance to correct you, as the authority figure, is great modeling for how they might correct each other without judgment or meanness.
After this modeling of the Thinker on my part (both artistic and academic), we played three rounds. I called for three volunteers to come up and act out our next famous artwork for the class - we needed two sculptors and one statue. I handed the sculptors a folder with an image of the artwork to recreate so only they could see it - the Mona Lisa. Then they tried to manually pose the statue as best they could. The class then got a chance to guess what artwork had been recreated and the class guessed the Mona Lisa successfully. The next group required two sculptors and two statues to recreate American Gothic. We chatted briefly about how posing like these figures might’ve helped them empathize with the subjects of the paintings, but in retrospect these poses are fairly static and I think more dynamic poses might be better candidates for creating empathy with the subjects. On the other hand, we could’ve discussed how the static poses might relate to those stiff family portraits and school photos we all have suffered through.
For the final artwork, I wanted more of a challenge so I chose an artwork without figures! The last artwork to reproduce was A Starry Night. Would they be able to recreate a landscape? By this point, I was calling on students to purposely include some of my quieter students. I felt a group of five would provide them sufficient safety in numbers so it would not feel quite as risky performing. I gave them a few minutes to scheme together discreetly in the back of the room which allowed me to share stories about the artworks we had recognized so far, the group took the stage.
AND THEY DID IT! One person formed the iconic cypress tree piercing the night sky. Another became the moon. And in between three joined hands to create a rolling wave motion that brought the wavy lines of the background to life. From the photo, you can see big smiles and I believe those smiles are all the assessment I need for evidence of a successful collaboration. I think everyone understood these artworks more as a result of our purposeful play. Students who might’ve gone overlooked in most other college classes had experienced being meaningful and memorable parts of our learning!
When students have to improvise, I feel there can be a leveling effect on their relationships that re-orients them all as equals. The structure of having an image chosen for them takes away the power involved in one person possibly getting to choose WHAT they all do together. Since this was already decided, the tension was HOW to do it. Having a clearly defined purpose seemed to help avoid confusion and apathy that might arise from having too many options or a power struggle. With a very limited time frame, there was urgency and so they had to jump right in without time to overthink. Regardless of whether they were introverts or extroverts, they could all contribute to the idea as each one was going to have to physically use their own body to express the different elements in the painting. The fact that it was a landscape but they were figures meant that there needed to be a transformation - turning people into objects and actions - that they all had to figure out together.
While there are times students need to listen and times they need to talk, it is critical that all our students also have the opportunity to DO and to MAKE and to ACT. The rest of the class critique proceeded smoothly although more rushed than I would’ve wanted but I also felt that everyone was a little more relaxed after playing together. If we had only spoken and written, the students I aimed to involve in our games would most likely have remained quiet once again. Ultimately, I was happy to sacrifice some of our discussion time for greater inclusivity.
Games can be egalitarian, as everyone agrees to play, to observe the same rules, and to play their part however they want within those shared constraints. While many games have winners or losers, we can choose to play games that include rather than exclude. We can play games in the classroom that focus on process rather than product so that everyone can win by gradually improving and working together rather than against each other in competition.
Do you use games in your teaching? Which ones work for you?
I'll mostly be blogging about my experiences teaching. I teach a class online right now called Teaching K12 Art Online where I'll be exploring art online with art teachers. I also currently teach a (formerly?) face-to-face course called Visual Culture: Investigating Diversity & Social Justice which is an art, critical writing, and research course for undergrads. Before this, I taught a class called Art Curriculum & Concepts for Teachers where I was experimenting with cooperative & creative teaching integrating art and "going gradeless" with preservice early childhood education majors.